Even after spending several dozen hours with Farm 51's Chernobylite, I still have absolutely no idea what genre to classify it in. Is it a brutal first-person shooter? A stealth-based survival horror? A resource management/base-building strategy game? All of these descriptions could be attributed to Chernobylite, but ultimately none of them would be capable of doing the final result justice. Chernobylite sometimes feels stretched a little thin between its several ideas and mechanics, but that doesn't stop it from being an incredible experience from beginning to end.
Players are put in the shoes of a scientist named Igor who worked on the reactor that turned Chernobyl into a radioactive wasteland. During the chaos and confusion of the reactor meltdown, Igor's wife, Tatyana, disappeared without a trace. Thirty years later Igor has decided to return to the Exclusion Zone in order to investigate the mystery surrounding the meltdown and figure out what happened to his wife. The problem is that Igor isn't the only one digging into the dark past of Chernobyl. A mercenary organization called the NAR has taken control of the zone, so Igor must put together a ragtag group of fighters and survivors to fight against the mercs and uncover the answers that he seeks.
Explore the Exclusion Zone
Igor's main mission may be to find his wife, but much of the game's missions are centered around finding resources that will aid Igor and his team in surviving within the Exclusion Zone. Many of them have objectives like "Find this supply drop that contains food/medicine" or "Sneak into this location to steal some NAR weapons". These missions take place in a few different semi-open world areas around Chernobyl, and it's up to the player how they complete the objective. I personally don't have the patience required for stealth-based games, so I typically decided to go the guns blazing route. It is very possible to complete the vast majority of these missions without firing a single bullet or really even killing anyone.
The combat mechanics of Chernobylite are really nothing to write home about. Shooting and sneaking both feel fine, but there isn't anything special about them to keep the player particularly engaged. Enemy AI is pretty dumb and follow simple paths or stand still until you attack them. There also aren't any unique shooting mechanics like taking cover or rushing up to use a melee attack. Sneaking doesn't fare too much better though as there isn't an indicator showing when Igor is actually hidden, and there is no way to hide the bodies of soldiers that have been killed. The controls and mechanics are tight and fine-tuned, but this aspect of the gameplay is really just missing a lot of the things that are staples of modern shooters.
Take Care of Your Friends
This is all okay though because the real fun of Chernobylite is the base building and people management parts of the game. While out in the Exclusion Zone, Igor will pick up many different resource types like food or pieces of metal that can then be repurposed into different pieces of equipment back at the base. By building this equipment the player then gets the ability to craft other items that are useful to them like stronger weapons, pieces of armor, ammo, or even food for themselves and their companions. On top of this, the base has certain aspects that have to be managed to keep the team comfortable. Generators can be crafted to keep the lights on and power new pieces of equipment, air purifiers will clean up the pollution that the machines put off, and even furniture can be used to increase the comfort quality of the base. Managing all of this can be complicated, but it also gives an extra purpose to each mission out in the world.
Chernobylite's characters are also terrifically written as well. Igor's team in particular is full of people that are just phenomenally realistic and fun to interact with. Your first team member Oliver, for example, was one of two mercenaries hired by Igor to help on his quest. Oliver's partner however dies during the opening segment of the game, which leaves the proud former soldier wanting revenge against the game's big bad. Oliver never lets his obvious grief and pain get in the way of the mission though, and continues to offer his advice to Igor no matter what decisions the player makes. The other characters are just as developed too. There is Mikhail who has been exploring the Exclusion Zone for years and always has an outlandish story to tell, Olga who has lived in the Zone most of her life and fights tooth and nail against the NAR, and Tarkan who has absolutely lost his mind and believe himself to be in a war against a being he refers to as The Rat King. Obviously, Tarkan is the best character.
No Choice is Final
As you progress through Chernobylite's story, find new teammates, and collect different resources there are a wealth of different choices that the game presents. Each choice in the game can completely alter the way the world looks or how a character feels about Igor. For example, one mission allows you to decide to kill or release a survivor. This survivor however winds up being the significant other of a future team member. If the player kills this character then they risk affecting their relationship with that teammate at a later date. Other missions can also alter the landscape of the world or even unlock brand-new missions for the player to check out. Every decision has a lot of weight, which makes Chernobylite that much more engaging.
Where things get weird though is that these decisions don't have to be permanent. If the player gets their hands on a radioactive element called chernobylite, they can alter the choices that they made. Every time that Igor dies he is sent to a strange dream world that lays out every choice the player made and how they are connected to each other. A shard of chernobylite can then be spent on an individual decision to alter it, which will then completely change the world that Igor returns to. Did lying to a certain character come back to haunt you? Find a glowing nuclear rock and all will be fine. On paper, this sounds like a poor decision that would remove the repercussions to player actions, but there are so many interconnected decisions that it is exhilarating to see what your changes will impact.
A Truly Unique and Charming Experience
I still don't know how all of these cherry-picked game mechanics come together to make a coherent video game, but Chernobylite really is a blast to play. It is definitely a little rougher around the edges than I would prefer for a game that spent nearly two years in Early Access, but the sheer scope and effort that has gone into making the base and team management systems makes the whole thing worth it. Chernobylite shouldn't work, but it has somehow become one of the most unique games I have played in a very long time.
TechRaptor reviewed Chernobylite using a copy provided by the publisher. The game is set to release on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One later this year.
- Well Written Characters
- Unique Game Mechanics
- A Lot of Content
- Slowly Paced
- Rough Around the Edges