The first thing the average gamer will think when seeing screenshots of Chernobylite is "it looks like S.T.A.L.K.E.R.", mainly because of the first-person camera and setting. That's why I have to start this review with a necessary clarification: Chernobylite bears only superficial similarities to the classic GSC Game World game. The developers followed their own path and created something with its own unique identity. So what is Chernobylite? It's good. It's very good, if you're willing to overlook a little jank.
The plot of Chernobylite begins 30 years after the nuclear reactor explosion as our protagonist, one of the project's scientists, returns to the exclusion zone due to new evidence and messages that seem to indicate that his wife, also present at Chernobyl and missing after the disaster, may still be alive. Unfortunately for him, entry into the plant seems impossible as the entire area is controlled by armed mercenaries from the NAR company, which has taken over the exploitation of the strange material called chernobylite that began to appear after the explosion. Chernobylite has a crystalline form and the theory is that it may prove to be the key to providing infinite energy. So our protagonist, based at an old factory near the site, must gradually gather resources, equipment, clues and allies so that he can execute a successful invasion of Chernobyl and learn the truth about his wife.
If I had to describe Chernobylite in one phrase, it would be: Mass Effect 2's Suicide Mission on a much larger scale. Our protagonist's ultimate goal is to enter the Chernobyl plant and learn the true fate of his wife, but to do so he must find a way to overpower all of the security systems and the NAR guard. The game even offers the player the option to start the Chernobyl Heist right from the start, even if he has neither the proper equipment nor the necessary allies, so we're talking about a literal suicide mission. The correct method is to explore the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone to ensure that all the necessary factors for ultimate success apply.
Continuing with the unorthodox comparisons, after the short introduction Chernobylite turns into... XCOM. An old factory is the base of operations from which we will start our forays into the exclusion zone looking for equipment, information and allies as. The structure of the game therefore includes two distinct stages: strategic planning at the base (which retains the first-person perspective) and the missions themselves. Each day begins with the execution of a mission and after its completion you return to the base in the evening for rest and planning. At the base you can build new facilities, upgrade your character, chat with your team members and investigate the evidence you've gathered about what's going on in Chernobyl. Once you're done you go to bed and a new day begins.
The development of the base is done by spending the resources you collect from missions to build new facilities of various kinds, either for the safe and comfortable living of your team members or for the restocking and upgrading of equipment. Chernobylite also has elements of survival, not only because of the resource gathering but also because your companions consume food that you have to provide for each day of stay in the zone, while in the missions there is the danger of radiation in many places. When you are done with base management and ready to start any of the available missions you will have to decide which ones you will take on and which ones you will assign to your team. Story missions can of course only be performed by the protagonist.
The second stage, as we said, is the missions themselves, which play out as a regular open world FPS/RPG. The exclusion zone consists of multiple open maps of relatively small size in which you will find resources, new equipment, clues for your research, various random events and of course the main objective that you have to complete to for the mission to be successful. It goes without saying that you will also encounter enemies on the maps, either NAR mercenaries or more... supernatural threats. I won't say more to avoid spoilers, I'll just mention that the developers have handled the issue of the protagonist's death or "death" during a mission in a rather interesting way. Mysterious, isn't it? The Bioshock touches are evident in many parts of the game.
But I haven't told you at all yet about one of the most important features of Chernobylite: the RPG elements and choices & consequences. Yes, it has some of that! In many cases during missions you will be asked to choose how to handle a situation and the consequences are often significant. Your team members have their own personalities and opinions on events, so if you frequently make decisions they disagree with they get angry, have bad temper and may even leave you! Also, many of the decisions you make may have long-term consequences and cost you the loss of characters, objects and information that will make your life much more difficult later on. Some decisions even have a profound effect on the heist and the characters that will be involved in it. If you completely screw up your choices and your mission now seems doomed, the developers offer a method to fix past mistakes, but you'll have to sacrifice something else. Don't ask for more details, as we said: spoilers.
Forgive me for devoting so much text to the mechanics of the game. I usually avoid it because in this day and age it's easy for anyone to watch a YouTube video and get an idea, but Chernobylite combines so many interesting elements that I thought it's possible that one might not understand the full scope of the gameplay from a few minutes of a video. The developers have created a very ambitious game that to my surprise manages to execute most of its disparate features to a good level of quality. After 25 hours of gameplay I can honestly say that the only substantial flaws I found are related to the so-called production values: the quality of cutscenes, some voiceovers, enemy animation and AI, somewhat clunky gunplay, some bugs, that sort of thing. Also towards the end of the game I started to feel a slight fatigue from replaying the maps, but the finale came shortly afterwards so I don't consider it a big issue.
So Chernobylite was a surprise for me. I was expecting something like STALKER, I found a game with addictive gameplay, interesting sci-fi plot, substantial role playing options and plenty of replayability. Mostly I found a game that managed to combine many different elements into a solid whole, giving them as much depth as necessary without overwhelming the player . I definitely recommend a purchase to those interested in this type of game, but also to players who would like to try something different from the usual.