By Michael Fontanini / August 16th, 2021
|Developer||The Farm 51|
|Publisher||The Farm 51|
|Release Date||July 28th, 2021|
|Genre||Action, Adventure, Indie, RPG, Simulation|
|Age Rating||ESRB: M for Mature (17+) / PEGI 18|
Chernobylite is a sci-fi, survival horror RPG. On April 26th, 1986 at 1:23 AM, a nuclear meltdown occurred. As a result, 350,000 lives were turned upside down or shattered entirely. You are a naïve young physicist named Igor, who once worked at the now devastated Chernobyl power plant. Some three decades later, you have returned to the Chernobyl exclusion zone. Your ultimate goal is to find out what happened to your fiancée, Tatyana, back then. Discover clues to her fate, the mysteries of the strange, green Chernobylite crystals, and what the military contractor, NAR, is up to.
Chernobylite is a mix of base/team management, questing, and scavenging. As you progress, you can recruit new allies to join you. As your team grows, you’ll need to keep your base in good condition. Otherwise, your companions will not perform as well when you send them on missions. Furthermore, the warehouse Igor uses as his base of operations has several stats. These include things like air quality, power capacity, and radiation safety. Certain crafting stations and other items you can build in the base can affect these. For example, they may use up some of your current power capacity or lower the air quality. You’ll need to build more beds, generators, or air cleaners to compensate. Other buildables include storage lockers, furniture, etc. Naturally, you and your team must also stay fed, requiring you to find and grow food.
Each day, you get to select a mission to embark on. Your companions can go on missions as well. They each have different odds of success. These are affected by things like their health and what equipment (gun and armor) you’ve given them. While at the base, you can also train with your companions. This unlocks new skills like improved scavenging (if you have skill points to spend). Often you’ll have your companions running non-story missions. As a result, they collect a few extra supplies for the base. However, they can also be sent into a story mission. In this case, they can’t complete it for you. However, if they succeed, it will make your life easier. When you subsequently go into that mission yourself, it will have fewer soldiers and “shadows” spawning. The shadows are strange, hostile humanoid creatures, somehow connected to the mysterious Chernobylite crystals.
You’ll spend most of your time in Chernobylite outside the base. Venturing around the exclusion zone is beneficial but dangerous. Your two main tools are the scanner and portal gun. The scanner sends out a wave in all directions, detecting all lootable items nearby. These include things like crafting materials, weapons, ammo, etc. There are some great upgrades for the scanner, too. For example, one allows it to also detect nearby enemies. This makes it much easier for Igor to ascertain their locations.
Meanwhile, the portal gun is used to create a wormhole for exiting the mission. Powered by a Chernobylite crystal, it allows Igor to travel through the fabric of spacetime. He generally uses it to return to base. However, sometimes you’ll have to make moral decisions during missions. These often affect certain members of your team. If a companion’s relationship with you gets too bad, they can even leave the team. Furthermore, some teammates are much more bombastic than others. So keeping on good terms with everyone is, naturally, somewhat tricky. However, there is also a unique mechanic that allows you to change the timeline. Naturally, altering your past choices is useful, but not something you’ll do often.
Exploring the Chernobyl exclusion zone is no walk in the park. You’ll have to deal with various hazards, from radiation to NAR soldiers and the shadows. Crouching to move stealthily is a great way to slip by them unseen. If a soldier is by himself, you can sneak up behind him for a stealth kill. However, this doesn’t work on more heavily armored enemies. Beyond these threats, you may also encounter areas shrouded in noxious gases. Igor’s gas mask will be very helpful in these cases, assuming he has some filters on hand. Of course, you also have a trusty flashlight for the pesky dark corners of the world.
To deal with foes, you’ll need some weapons. Initially, you have three standard types of weapons that can all be upgraded. They include the revolver, shotgun, and rifle. All three have a number of mods that can be applied to them. This is done via some of the upgrade stations you can build in your base. There are a few things you can build out in the field, too. One machine delays the arrival of Chernobylite storms. The appearance of these tempests heralds the imminent arrival of the Black Stalker. You see, like you, he can also travel through the fabric of spacetime.
The Black Stalker’s identity is one of the mysteries Igor must solve. He is your nemesis and a particularly dangerous foe who hunts you. The Black Stalker appears after a set amount of time in every mission. However, you can shoot him until he goes away or hide until then. If he takes you down, you’ll be captured. As a result, you’ll end up in a short escape mission. Furthermore, he can, and will, come multiple times in the same mission (if you stick around long enough). As you may imagine, he can be annoying at times. However, there is a way to delay his arrival, though. One of the machines you can build out in the field holds off the Chernobylite storms, and thus him. Furthermore, it’s usually not hard to finish a mission before he comes, either. The exception is if you’re doing a bunch of scavenging.
In addition to loot and clue documents, there are a few other things to find in the exclusion zone. Each map will usually have several points of interest. These are marked on the compass at the top of the screen. They can be trader NPCs, simple side events, or odd visions. You can also find some secret areas if you have the right tools. Some stashes are behind locked doors that can be opened with a lockpick. Additionally, there is a second kind of secret area requiring a more advanced Chernobylite tool to open.
The gameplay in Chernobylite is not super complex, but quite enjoyable nonetheless. The majority of it is spent in the exclusion zone doing missions and scavenging. Base management provides a nice break between missions. Keeping a decent relationship with each team member is most important just to make sure they don’t leave. You can’t train with them if they leave, obviously. Each teammate has their own skills they can teach you. However, keeping them around is also important for later. You’ll need help in the final heist mission. Igor can alter the timeline to get lost teammates back, if needed. The heist is the only mission where companions take part with you. Normally, everyone is doing separate missions or taking the day off at the base.
Chernobylite has beautiful post-apocalyptic maps that are simultaneously packed with detail. From dense foliage to decaying buildings, the levels are very atmospheric. Getting stuck on things is a minor annoyance at times, though. This is especially true in dense foliage when you can’t see so well. Regardless, the attention to detail is quite high here. The developers put tons of work into this world. In fact, many photos and 3D scans of the real Chernobyl exclusion zone were taken. These were then used to recreate it in the game.
You’ll also notice random weather effects going on. One day on a particular map, it might be dry and sunny. On another day, it may be rainy with shallow floods in some areas. Other times you’ll push through a milky atmosphere as fog shrouds everything. Furthermore, the exclusion zone changes over time. You’ll encounter more enemies and radiation areas as days pass. Naturally, that makes life a bit more dangerous.
As for the soundtrack, Chernobylite doesn’t have a lot of music overall. The main menu plays a fittingly moody track each time it opens. However, given the heavy emphasis on atmospheric design, the levels don’t have background music. Instead, they are full of detailed sounds. These include crickets, weather, or the sound of nearby guards. One of the NPC traders always has a boombox with him. You know he’s nearby when you hear the fast-paced pounding of his bass. Other nice touches include a guard complaining about his job, or humming in boredom. You’ll also hear a rising, eerie sound effect whenever a guard is beginning to spot you. It’s paired with a HUD indicator to help you ascertain which direction he’s in.
Chernobylite is an enjoyable sci-fi romp through the exclusion zone surrounding the infamous, failed power plant. I’ve racked up 39 hours in the game, which was enough to get all the achievements. However, there are also multiple endings, though you don’t need to replay the entire game to get them all. The game recently arrived on PC (Steam and GOG). Xbox One and PlayStation 4 versions will arrive in September. Subsequently, the Xbox Series X|S and PlayStation 5 will get the game sometime thereafter. Chernobylite is currently available on Steam and GOG for $29.99. Do you have what it takes to survive the Chernobyl exclusion zone, and complete your mission with all team members alive?
Review copy provided by the publisher.
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