Just a couple of months ago, we told you about the intriguing first-person survival horror of The Farm 51, a small independent development studio based in Poland, Chernobylite.
Now the title, after attracting the attention and greed of players all over the world thanks to a Kickstarter campaign crowned by a huge success (the budget has doubled, from 100,000 to over 200,000 dollars) and a peculiar mix of different genres, is finally available. We tell you how it went.
Already from the name, the IP of The Farm 51 is rather strict in indicating the place where the dramatic events that see our alter ego as the protagonist. The nuclear disaster that we all know – recently revived in various forms has already happened for about thirty years.
The reactor of the Ukrainian power plant exploded, killing countless lives and leading to the destruction of a huge area: over 8,000 sq km of territory, even if the exclusion area (that is the most contaminated one, forbidden to civilians) is “reduced” to 3,100 sq km. In addition to the power plant, there is the – ghost – municipality of Pryp’Jat ‘.
In this territory, in the dystopian reality set up by The Farm 51, comes Igor, a physicist who worked at the plant. He has a single personal goal, selfish if we want: to find his partner Tatyana, a scientist, who disappeared the very night of the accident. An obsession, now, that populates the increasingly recurring nightmares of our protagonist. Anxiety is not just about lost love.
Indeed, the ethereal manifestation of the young woman seems to guide Igor to discover the secrets that hover around Chernobyl. Something related to the mysterious energy source released from the accident: powerful, dangerous, and coveted by the military.
This energy source called Chernobylite, in addition to being the cause of the main (and also of the supernatural abilities of a mysterious STALKER under the military) does not simply act as a “background,” justifying the narrative component. Indeed, this is fully immersed in the game mechanics, becoming an integral part of it.
As a good physicist, Igor has somehow managed to harness its strength, conveying it towards a specific purpose: creating wormholes… The latter allows us to open interdimensional gaps and manipulate some past events to modify the present consequences of the actions or decisions taken.
The theme of the manipulation of space-time is therefore addressed in Chernobylite in a rather in-depth manner. It contributes to making the narrative plot (deliberately complex and intricate at first) more bizarre and compelling.
Of course, nothing new or particularly original, but still effective in creating a coherent whole. Everything is then enriched by a rather extensive branching of the story, based on the multiple choices that the player can make during the dialogues with the NPCs or by carrying out certain actions that can now bring him closer to the truth divert him.
Furthermore, such decisions may make it easier or, on the contrary, more difficult to move towards the final climax. Despite the care taken in creating a credible narrative web capable of capturing the player, the development team ends up – as we will see – to dampen its effectiveness. Probably the ambition to create a unique IP has played a trick on the developers.
Let’s start with the undoubted qualities of the title. The first is about exploration. The ” discovery ” phase of the immense radiation-lashed area is intimately linked to the narrative context. It envelops us with care, enslaving the ghostly territory (including the power plant, the surrounding forests, and the ruined city) to the protagonist’s intentions. The map appears vast, overflowing with gloomy and dangerous places to discover. In this sense, the development team did not simply propose its own “version” of Chernobyl.
The game starts from the goals achieved in the Chernobyl VR project(and from an incredible 3D photographic studio that has traced the contours of that battered territory with great precision) allows the player to walk, albeit virtually, in really existing places.
It is no coincidence that the landmarks that we are used to knowing from films, videos, and books are all there: from the big reinforced concrete monsters to the school, from the funfair with the gigantic Ferris wheel to the Red Forest up to the equally immense Duga radar structure, always at the center of the wildest conspiracy fantasies.
To defuse the “dispersion” effect, the exploratory phase was appropriately rationalized by the team, which divided it into distinct areas: small (but dense) sandbox maps functional to anima survival of the title and the completion of the mission system, which we will talk about shortly. Not only that: exploration is enslaved to the collection of a large number of resources. These introduce us to another game mechanic that plays a predominant role in the game experience.
Returning, for a moment, to the “action” part, Chernobylite throws elements from different genres into the cauldron: FPS, stealth, survival. To bring home the skin in the contaminated area, it is necessary to move with extreme caution, avoiding engaging the enemy. In this sense, the stealth and survival dynamics, although elementary, are still quite effective and well placed in context. The game environment allows it and even allows the player to steal materials and supplies potentially without hitting, bypassing patrols, and sneaking away at the most opportune moment.
Instead, when there is no way out, it is necessary to make the guns sing, taking into account the age-old scarcity of bullets. What, the latter, which makes each fight much tenser and reasoned.
We will find only two types of enemies awaiting us: on the one hand, the military (NAR), while on the other, the interdimensional entities, equipped with rather limited attack patterns.
Even on artificial intelligence, you should not expect who knows what goals: creatures tend to charge with their heads down. At the same time, human characters perform fairly basic routines, governed by three different alert levels.
Even without achieving excellence in any field, the mix of genres set up by The Farm 51 works and entertains.
Survival Game Dynamics
As we anticipated, another strong point of the title, which completes, so to speak, the survival game dynamics, is the crafting mechanics. These, of course, are linked to the recovery of materials and the completion of missions that will become available day by day.
The playful experience is marked by days, during which the protagonist can complete – or delegate – the proposed tasks. These can be “urgent,” linked to the plot and particular events, or aimed at different activities, such as recruiting allies willing to accompany Igor on his journey to hell.
The other quests, considered secondary (and to be completed within a certain number of days, under penalty of their disappearance), are above all useful for finding supplies and materials for crafting, essential for the success of the final plan but also – trivially – to survive one more day (given the need to procure, for example, food, medicines, and ammunition).
Resources can even be produced if you have the right machinery in the shelter. This is where the mechanics related to crafting give their best, overwhelming the player with incredible customizations. The shelter can be renovated through various improvements useful not only to produce consumable items and other materials to survive in the dead zone but also to make life in the camp a little more pleasant and comfortable.
Increasing the equipment of the resting place also allows you to have access to more options for upgrading weapons, for the creation of medicines and tools to take on missions, and gadgets that allow Igor to master space-time more effectively.
The construction of various furnishings and furnishings, as we anticipated, has its usefulness since it helps us to improve the quality of life of the protagonist and his companions in adventure. For example, a more comfortable armchair or bed allows us to recover strength more effectively after an exhausting mission.
In the mix of genres that make up Chernobylite, there is also room for the dynamics of micromanagement that we have just introduced. As we said, it is also possible to recruit some companions in our crazy mission.
Each NPC that joins us has specific characteristics and can be more or less useful depending on their assigned tasks. Thanks to their expertise, our associates can also be useful to increase the protagonist’s skill through targeted training with which we can hone different skills, from the use of weapons to survival skills.
The comrades completely depend on us and our choices. In short, we must decide how to distribute the food rations and the few medicines available, when to select the most suitable to go on a mission, manage “human” relationships so as not to wear down the morale of the troops and keep their psyche and loyalty intact as much as possible to our cause.
This particular management part is anything but secondary. The eventual death of the allies is definitive, which makes it necessary to “start over,” replacing the disappeared with new members to strengthen the group and have some chance in the most difficult tasks.
In our view, this is where The Farm 51’s ambition stumbles: so many different mechanics lack the right balance and lead the player to have to pay attention to too many eventualities. They also break the pace of the narrative too much by diluting the playful experience in a forced way.
We have already mentioned the spectacular graphic realization of the Interdiction Area proposed by The Farm 51. The characterization of the game world is disturbing, evocative, powerful. Dark and suffocating atmospheres are enhanced by the skillful use of a dark and dirty color palette and an unmissable soundtrack.
At every step, one perceives the protagonist’s anguish, the acrid smell of death that permeates those places – real – swept by the radiation of the atomic disaster. The developers’ post-apocalyptic Ukraine birth is fascinating, realistic, extreme, and shaped according to the narrative needs of the title.
Furthermore, the presence of variable weather has a direct impact on the adventure. It adds an extra tactical element to the survival mechanics, favoring the stealth phase or making things much more complicated.
To counterbalance this remarkable artistic vision, there is an angular polygonal realization of the NPCs and some technical stumbles relating above all to impromptu interpenetrations.
Chernobylite is, in essence, a small jewel-embellished by the maniacal care with which The Farm 51 reproduces the places of the real Chernobyl disaster, enslaving them to the playful-narrative needs of the production. Unfortunately, the eclectic mix of mechanics is not perfectly balanced. This leads to perhaps too much dilution of the gaming experience, which should be more rendered and a little more rhythmic. The journey to the contaminated zone, however, is highly recommended.
Chernobylite has some interesting ideas, but they are overshadowed by a less than perfect implementation and an extremely repetitive game structure.
- Good 0%