What would you do for love?
Igor would do a lot, it seems. As the main protagonist of Chernobylite, a single-player survival horror game by The Farm 51, he’s prepared to enter Chernobyl’s exclusion zone in order to search for his fiancé who went missing some 30 years prior. And as if that isn’t dangerous enough, it’s now occupied by hostile forces and hideous mutated creatures. Needless to say, the portal gun he’s created that allows him to warp from one place to another come in handy. That’s the benefit of being a scientist.
Chernobylite picks up with Igor and some hired help targeting the power plant at the centre of the exclusion zone – that’s where Igor believes Tatyana, his lost fiancé, will be. But things go horribly wrong, and so it’s back to the drawing board. Reuniting with just one of his mercenaries back at a run-down base of operations, it becomes clear that before they strike at the power plant again, they need to do some work. They need more men, more information, and more resources. And so your journey truly begins.
Each day, one mission can be selected from a list for you to undertake. You might decide to go scavenging for food, for example, or munitions. Some days, missions that drive the story forward will be available, too – Chernobylite is very story-focused, after all. Your companion doesn’t just have to sit at the base twiddling their thumbs while you’re gone, either. Each day you can assign them a mission as well, though like yourself, they might not always be successful in their task. As you play through the game you can unlock more companions, and even learn skills from them with skill points you’ve earned.
The gameplay itself is your typical first-person affair. Each mission will take you to one of numerous locations in the exclusion zone, and it’s up to you to safely make your way through it to your goal. Sometimes you might encounter ghastly creatures, other times soldiers on patrol. It’s generally best to avoid combat where possible, which you can do by sneaking around or using stealth takedowns. Combat is sometimes inevitable, however, and so you’ll always want to make sure you’re carrying at least one gun, and preferably one that’s well maintained.
It’s nice that missions give you quite a lot of freedom. You can head straight to your goal if you want, or you can take some time to explore, find additional resources, and maybe discover the odd surprise. With our interest piqued by one building during a mission, for example, we found a soldier stuck in a crystalline growth on one of its walls. He asked if we could spare him a bullet so he could end his suffering, but instead we choose to try and find another way to help him. Searching the area we found a piece of Chernobylite, a powerful energy source, and upon picking it up the soldier was freed. He may have been our enemy, but he then promised to remember our face and help us in any way he can in the future.
Once you’ve achieved your objective and are done exploring, returning to your base is as easy as equipping your portal gun from the inventory and using it. Upon returning, you’re able to see if your companions were also successful in their missions, then comes the act of rationing food. With it being scarce, important decisions must be made – if your companions aren’t well-fed their health will suffer and well as their morale. When times are good, however, and you have an abundance of food, you can give them extra rations to put them in a much more positive state of mind. There’s a lot to consider.
The happiness of your companions is also determined by the condition of your base. With just a press of a button you can enter base editor mode, allowing you to craft and place a wide range of objects. Many are functional, such as workbenches that allow you to craft smaller items and upgrade your weapons, while others are purely decorational, such as plants. In order to keep your team happy, however, you’re going to need to balance what you create, and transform your base into something that’s more welcoming and comfortable.
Ultimately, your goal in Chernobylite appears to be to gather enough resources, manpower and information to finally be able to storm the power plant once again. Igor does really want to find out what happened to his fiancé. It has to be said, though, that his state of mind is questionable. Interspersed throughout the game are mysterious scenes that just leave you with questions. As more of the past is revealed to you, and you’re thrown into hair-raising situations that may or may not be real, you wonder if there’s more to the story than meets the eye.
Our only concern with Chernobylite so far is the game’s structure – going on small missions each game day in the same locations may eventually become a little repetitive. Oh, and the English voice acting isn’t very good – you’re better off sticking with the default Russian with English subtitles. Other than that though, we’ve been fairly engrossed by its mix of horror, action, survival, base building and team management. Its 3D scanned recreation of Chernobyl’s exclusion zone looks absolutely gorgeous, too, being picturesque yet also haunting. Check back later for our final verdict on the game once we’ve seen our journey through to its end.