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Life and Death in the Exclusion Zone

19 July, 2007

I recently picked up S.T.A.L.K.E.R. – Shadow of Chernobyl, and I have to say it’s pretty damn good. The game puts you in the role of a scavenger/mercenary in the irradiated exclusion zone around the ruins of the Chernobyl reactor. You have to scout, sneak, scrounge, skulk, scavenge and just struggle to survive in the region, while trying to unravel the mystery of your past. The combination of FPS and RPG strokes a part of my brain that hasn’t been this happy since System Shock 2. Here’s a sample from tonight’s play:

Day 3

I wake up in the attic where I hunkered down for the night. I don’t even know the name of this abandoned village… it’s really just a handful of deteriorating houses and a few sorry stalkers who make this area their haven. I check my pack and take a few items out, stashing them for later in a hidden place, so I don’t have to carry them around. I don’t need the extra weight, and hopefully I’ll be finding some worthwhile salvage while I’m out. Then I climb down the ladder and nod to the few stalkers huddled around a barrel fire.

I check my weapons: a 9mm pistol that isn’t good for much, but at least I have plenty of rounds for it, an AKS machine gun I took from a dead bandit (never mind how he died) which I have hardly any ammo for, and a sawed-off shotgun that is good indoors, or for animals that rush you up close. The stalker standing sentry at the end of the road wishes me luck, and then I’m out of the safety of the village, and out in the zone. I double check that the shotgun is loaded.

My goal is a meeting with another stalker to the north, who might know something about my past and some Strelok character who seems to be important. It’s on the far side of the railroad tracks, and I haven’t ventured that far before.

Stalker

Crows circle overhead as I cross the field, staying off the road on account of the military patrols that sometimes use it (they don’t like stalkers like me). I hear a growl and spot a couple wild dogs tearing at the corpse of a mutant boar I shot yesterday. I raise the shotgun, but they flee as I approach. If there’s only two, they’re not likely to attack me, but I scan left and right as I proceed, to make sure they don’t come back with friends.

I start moving more cautiously as I approach the old garage. Some stalkers and I cleared it of bandits a couple days ago, but they seem to keep coming back. I move from tree to tree just in case, but even before I get there, I start hearing shots. I scan and see that bandits are moving in on a house where a couple stalkers are holed up. I sprint forward, still trying to keep in cover, and circle around to approach the house from the far side, away from the bandits. I get into the house through a collapsed corner, and there are two stalkers in there, friends of mine, one downstairs and another upstairs. I go upstairs and move to a window, just in time to see a bandit break cover and rush the house. I let him get close then let go with both barrels. That does the trick.

More shots downstairs. The guy upstairs with me is covering the stairwell, but he’s too rattled to go down and see. I reload and rush down, praying I’m not running into a hail of bullets. But the shooting is over. There are two bandits dead on the floor – it looks like they came in through the same collapsed corner I used.

The stalker is down too, but he’s not dead. I kneel next to him and see he’s hurt bad, but it’s not too late to save him. I dig into my pack for my last medical kit.

Once he’s patched, I loot the bodies of the bandits. I figure I’ve earned it, and the stalker doesn’t complain. Not much on them though, just a few tins of food, some loose rounds of ammo and a couple shotguns that are in worse shape than mine. I take it all anyway. This is why I made room in my pack.

Heading north again, I stay low to keep out of sight of the military checkpoint at the railway overpass. Those guys will shoot on sight. I find the break in the barbed wire fence and slip through, moving to the north side of the tracks and trying to keep as much cover as possible between me and the soldiers. They don’t see me.

I find my contact in a collapsed house a half a km farther north. He’s lying on the floorboards, surrounded by the bodies of several sickly, grey-skinned dogs. He’s been mauled pretty bad and I’m not sure he’s even alive until he starts calling out for help. I rush to his side and reach for my medkit… shit, I already used it on the stalker back there. I have some bandages, but this guy is going to need a full medkit if he’s going to make it. And I need this guy to make it through, I need him to tell me what he knows about Strelok.

What do I do? If I go back to the village for another one, it’s pretty doubtful he’d still be alive, either bled to death, or finished off by more feral dogs. I look around. There’s another building nearby, and another couple to the southwest, on the other side of the road. I check the near one first, hoping I’ll find some kind of stash and maybe a medkit, but there’s nothing. I check on my contact again – he’s alive, but man, he’s not going to last much longer.

I head for the other buildings across the road. I just get to the far side of the road when shots ring out to my right and fuck, I’m hit. I drop into a crouch and fire both barrels at a pair of bandits, but it’s a stupid waste – they’re at least 200m away. And then I realize just how badly I’m bleeding. I duck behind a tree and tie on a bandage. The bandits keep shooting while I dig out the AKS.

I peer around the tree but there’s a bush in my way and I can’t see shit. I go left in a crouch till I have a clear line of sight to the bandits. One is shooting from behind a tree while the other one is moving forward and circling to my left. Shots are puffing in the dirt around me, but I try to stay calm and sight in on the guy who’s moving. I fire a burst that hits him, but he keeps moving. I fire a single shot, then another, and then he’s down. I duck back into cover and take a breath. I don’t think I got hit again, but when your blood is up like this, who can tell?

Drat, there’s a size limit on these posts, and I lost the rest. I’ll have to rewrite the rest later. Tune in next week, folks. = [

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