Why you Should Try Shadow of Chernobyl


Today we will be taking a look at an older title, one that is well known by us FPS veterans and generally considered to be among the top of its genre. Its sequel will be launching soon and hopes are high that it will be a masterpiece, but in the meantime, this is why you should try – S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl!

S.T.A.L.K.E.R… I’ve heard of this name before, what is it?

Fret not, for a game titled STALKER, you do not do any actual stalking. Instead, we are looking at an early open-world FPS with some survival, tactical, RPG, and horror elements added to it. Think Far Cry 2-6, but without vehicles, far smarter (if at times buggier) AI, with mutated monsters, interesting physics-defying anomalies, some level of ballistics and armour simulation, and relatively large maps separated by loading screens.

The game has a relatively long main quest alongside a multitude of simple, often repeatable side quests. A few are more complicated than that, but most are quite simplistic, though they do give many excellent rewards and make the player move around the game world. Speaking of which…


One of gaming’s most immersive settings!

Shadow of Chernobyl is set in the year 2012, inside of the legendary Zone of Alienation in Chornobyl – a fictionalized version of the Zone mind you, since a second disaster occurred a few years prior. This event destroyed the majority of civilian and military posts in the area and turned it into a beautiful, if ominous location where a man can disappear or be torn to shreds or swallowed by a gravitational or space-time anomaly in the blink of an eye. Heavy equipment such as tanks or IFVs, jets or even helicopters are of limited use in this new environment and nightmarish monsters that defy science started roaming about, sometimes hunting even heavily armed human soldiers with frightening ease.

The Cordon protecting not the Zone from you, but you from the Zone!

Classically cool stuff for sure, but that is not the heart (hah!) of the Zone’s themes. As humans and outsiders learned more about this new Zone of alienation, they started slowly being able to enter parts of it and the survivors managed to get back to the outside world with incredible findings. Parts of killed mutants that may aid in curing blindness or create new medicine? Artifacts made of wonderous materials that may aid in revolutionizing physics or solidify humanity's destiny as a spacefaring species?  Mysterious locations that may grant wishes or help people find true immortality? Cure any ailment or disease, even the darkest and most depressing of our scourges? Or perhaps old and unfortunately not forgotten Soviet secrets – from a dead empire that promise control over the very consciousness and fate of entire countries?

Celebrating the fall of the USSR with the boys!

Inside of the game’s universe, this is the new and greatest ever Gold Rush, a new Klondike if you will. The governments of Ukraine and Belarus have closed down the area to most people, yet mercenaries and a new phenomenon – Stalkers have entered the Zone in search of all of those wonderous things I mentioned above. Named after a term from the classic science fiction novel “Roadside Picnic” which too is a major inspiration for the game – these people are those who illegally roam this beautiful hellhole in search of its secrets. They represent the dispossessed of the world who have nothing left for them outside the Zone or the most avid adventurers and even bandits fleeing from the law.

The bandits fled into a hellhole…

Shadow of Chernobyl’s realization of the Zone has its flaws for sure. It isn’t as large as I would wish it to be, despite being surprisingly dense in content. Still, what we are left with is crowning achievement in gaming. From the horror of the underground to the decaying corpse of the Soviet empire above, to the beautiful tranquility of dirt, steel, grass, and concrete left to be overtaken by nature. Even the radiation and melancholy from the original 1986 disaster… it just feels right as a video game environment. And surprisingly, for all the made-up science fiction stuff within the game – it remains respectful the real-world Zone of Alienation too.

Gameplay – it is a video game after all!

As cool as a video game’s concept may sound, it is the gameplay that often decides just how good it truly is. Shadow of Chernobyl is the first in the series and I will mention that it has some things which were definitely improved or changed for the better in the following games, but there was something here to enamor an entire generation of gamers…

Home sweet home for me…

It is a first-person shooter at its heart so you will be doing a fair chunk of combat with guns or explosives. It has a simplified ballistics and armour penetration system as well as some level of simulation for penetration through obstacles and the environment. With over 30 weapons in the game, almost all of them having different ammo types with different advantages and disadvantages – this was a gigantic arsenal for a 2007 video game. From classics like the AKS-74N to exotic guns like the ZM LR 300 – there is a good choice in variety. There are a few weaknesses though. Shadow of Chernobyl suffers from a weapons ladder system – early game weapons are unrealistically weaker compared to later-game weapons to instill a sense of progression into the player. I understand what GSC Game World was doing here, I really do. But it was a mistake since not only is it weird to have an AK magically do 2 times less damage than a similar 5.56 NATO rifle for no real reason, but it also makes the early game firefights feel frustrating at times. Your Makarov or Fort pistols and Krinkov’s not hitting anything or tickling them – it is annoying. Another weakness is that the animation quality was only average even by 2007 standards.

Actually, a very quick and easy to use inventory screen. Note the artifact!

Thankfully, if one so desires this is fixable. There are dozens of great mods that can fix any issue one can think off inside the game’s gunplay, but I will say that I do believe that even without them it works well. Especially past the mid-game point, the game’s shooting generally becomes fun and responsive and both enemy Stalkers or soldiers or mercenaries and the player can deal lots of damage quickly and efficiently.

Veterans of the series know just how dangerous this sight actually is… never underestimate even the smaller creatures!

Of course, humans are only a part of your problem. Powerful mutants with incredible powers are also a serious threat and need to be handled with care. Some are (literally) packs of dogs – weak individually to an armed and armoured adult man, but in groups they can tear apart even people in advanced armour. Others though can wage war with psionic abilities or turn invisible or crush through concrete like it’s nothing while tanking assault rifle fire to the head – the monsters in Shadow of Chernobyl are powerful and their advanced AI makes them a threat no lesser than its armed human combatants. They know how to fight both the player and other armed men and they never stop being scary or become too predictable.

It should also be mentioned the quest, trade, and dialogue systems. Nothing too complicated, in fact most (but not all!) quests are a type of fetch or destroy an enemy or mutant or clear an area type quest. But do note that even these simple quests can be quite fun… systems-driven game design does that. But more on that a bit later 😊 !

A well told story

I do not like going too deep into the stories of games that I want to market since I may end up spoiling them, but I will mention that there is a surprisingly deep world and story for people who can accept reading through a lot of it. This was not some create something and forget project, GSC Game World really did put a lot of effort into trying to make something well-written as the basis for their franchise. Not all dialogue is voiced and a fair chunk of the game’s story is also taught by the environment or even things like what a certain group of people are using within the Zone or the like.

Make no mistake it is not like Dark Souls, most things are explained in decent detail from the get go, but it does need that extra small bit of effort – to read the text, to ask the NPCs, to look at the game world and think.

If you decide to give the game a chance, I am sure that an inquisitive gamer will easily get almost all of it from their first time playing. And for interesting speculation or going even deeper – youtubers like the Anomalous Dugout can be quite entertaining.

Watch only if you want spoilers… preferable after playing them though :)


Only those who dare may win

One thing I respect a in gaming is ambition. And for Ukrainian GSC Game World, this seems to be something they have in spades.

This is sometimes forgotten but past games often had set design goals, problems they wanted to solve in game design. For Half Life 1 it was the goal to make a coherent, relatively deep story in the FPS medium without resorting to too much reading. Of course, being fun or good was always a goal but this is that little bit extra – how can we push the medium forward. And for STALKER that idea was to make a replayable, to at least some degree AI-driven game where many things would surprise the player at every turn and each playthrough would be different and feel alive and unique.

GSC’s original concept called for the AI to be able to complete main quests and side quests, finish the game before the player, generally be almost completely off the rails and to do as it pleased. Unpredictable bar very few scripted or semi-scripted sequences and quests, this design ultimately did not prove itself to be satisfying to most playtesters and made the game too unstable, its game world not being able to cope with that either. The vaunted AI system called A-Life received downscaling before release. But make no mistake, even neutered, Shadow of Chernobyl’s systems are still impressive. Not just by 2007 standards, but by 2024 standards even.

These guys are about to be jumped…

The mutants seek out food and cover, they can drag corpses to their chosen lairs. Armed Stalkers can hunt them down or patrol the area, engage in firefights and skirmishes and explore around most of the map. They are smart enough to switch weapons and ammo types, to shoot through walls and pester the player or other enemy stalkers with surprising efficiency. The game has a fair chunk of scripting, but the world still feels dynamic and alive. It is a systems-driven game, and the player is just a part of the world. Its most powerful and important part maybe, but still just a part of it.

This almost sick ambition extends to many other systems too. From the ballistics of the weapons and armour, to the numerous artifacts which can be scavenged around anomalies and be equipped, giving bonuses or negative effects to different statistics. Getting enemies into the anomalies mentioned earlier and seeing them be killed off by these paranormal creations… or trying the working if somewhat unintuitive stealth system.

They aimed high. Very high. By all metrics even in 2024, with our far superior technology lifting some of the design limitations – something like the original idea for Shadow of Chernobyl would be considered an outright insane project. But even accepting the logical compromises and going for Shadow of Chernobyl as it released in 2007 (with a better engine though) would be considered an immense undertaking even for AAA studios today. When someone dares so much, they deserve their win.

Graphical powerhouse and its release state

Before going for the conclusion, I need to mention that Shadow of Chernobyl was one extremely beautiful game for its day. With a day/night cycle and dynamic weather, with fully dynamic lighting and good LODs and textures for its time it was among the best-looking games of the year. Yes, it did rightfully lose out to Crysis 1 there, but it did give it a bloody nose and the weather effects are in my opinion a victory for Shadow of Chernobyl.

Sapphire Nation is a GPU fan site after all, and STALKER was one hell of a GPU workout for its day. In the modern era though it is very easy to run and I can confirm that the RX 7600 Sapphire Pulse can do splendid work at 4K/120 in this game! And while I myself am not a console gamer, it’s very recent release on the 8th and 9th generation of consoles is refreshing to see! It works very well there!

The day-time is beautiful, but beware – that’s when human enemies are most active!

Last but not least, the game has a reputation for being buggy and I get why. In 2007 we were not yet used to having very buggy games on release and until its second patch it had some instability on Windows Vista at the time. However, after 6 whole large patches, multiple drivers, and the amazing work on fan patches like the Zone Reclamation Project (which I recommend), it is safe to say that the game is in a good state. To be honest with you, many modern games release in a worse state than what Shadow of Chernobyl was on release. And you cannot mod or fix them yourself…

Modding is immortal… oh and the conclusion…

For those who liked the game I have good news. The modding community loves this series in general and Shadow of Chernobyl has received a lot of love from it. It does help that its SDK (software development kit) and even source codes have leaked online though. An interesting piece of trivia – Shadow of Chernobyl is one of two games that I know off where the first mod for the game released months before the actual game released!

From brand new story campaigns to brand new games set in the same universe, de facto, bug fixes or simple changes… it has a wide array of great mods. Ultimately its sequel Call of Pripyat has even more mods since it had a more modern engine to built off of, but Shadow has hundreds of hours of free and good content created by modders too. And one of the pinnacle mods in all of gaming, NLC7 was based off of it.

Ultimately, I am somewhat biased since this is one of my favorite game series and I do indeed love this game. From its art design to gameplay, story and world – it is near and dear to my heart. But in this case, bias or no bias, I am certain in what I am saying. Any and all fans of FPS or open world games owes it to themselves to at least try it out. It did not become so beloved, one of the most modded games in the world, one of the highest rated originally PCMR games on Steam… for no reason. So do try it. It is often on sale and it deserves most of the praise it gets.

Worst case scenario – you saw what the fuss was about. Best case though – you found one of your new favorite games. 



The articles content, opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed in SAPPHIRE NATION are the authors’ own and do not necessarily represent official policy or position of SAPPHIRE Technology.


Alexander Yordanov
My name is Alexander and I am an enthusiastic PC Gamer from Sofia, Bulgaria. Video games have been my go-to hobby for as long as I can remember. I started with good old DOOM and Warcraft 1 and also had a Terminator console. In time my often outdated hardware has made me read up Tech Guides and try to understand what goes within a game as well as how to appreciate it or understand it better.