Developer: The Farm 51
Release Date: July 29, 2021
Reviewed On: PC
Publisher: The Farm 51
Genre: Action Adventure
It’s been 35 years since the major Chernobyl nuclear accident. The incident affected hundreds of thousands of people in various ways, leading it to be considered the worst nuclear disaster in history. Being the historical event that it is, media has emerged using this premise as the backdrop to tell a story. Chernobylite is not the first game to have players explore the aftermath of the incident, but it takes a fascinating science-fictional approach.
Developed by The Farm 51, Chernobylite has you experience the story of Igor, a physicist who used to work at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. You are returning to the Exclusion Zone searching for your beloved partner, Tatyana, who mysteriously disappeared since the incident. As you explore the zone, you come upon chilling secrets and information that shape your story and what’s to come.
Chernobylite is a survival-horror narrative with some RPG elements thrown in. The story is compelling from its early moments featuring a psychological and surreal aspect to your journey. You’ll encounter flashbacks and distorted visions of Tatyana throughout the game. Her voice is in your head for most story events, and you’ll be wondering what it’ll take to finally get to her.
To solve the mystery behind Tatyana’s disappearance, you have to return to where it all started, the power plant. The problem lies in that you can’t get into the power plant that easily–you need to build a team. As you play through the game, you meet others and have opportunities to recruit them. The gameplay is built around this premise as you must spend each day looking for ways to survive and gather enough information and people to get to the power plant.
The survival aspect is pretty typical. You must be sure to have enough food and supplies to feed and defend yourselves at the end of each day. If not focusing on story missions, you can explore to acquire materials. As you acquire resources, you build items in your base to either help your teammates, upgrade weapons, or build tools. Depending on the difficulty level, some things are harder to build than others. As someone who’s not well-versed in the survival genre, I found the standard difficulty level approachable with the right amount of challenge.
Chernobylite is not just the title of the game but also a powerful material that acts as the crux of the narrative. It is a mix between a natural resource and a supernatural weapon, bending and distorting the reality of the world around it. As Igor, you use the chernobylite to create portals and travel between your base and the other areas. But as you go through the game, you’ll see that the material can also be used for nefarious purposes and can even have unexpected consequences.
The pacing of the story is well-done. Chernobylite takes a non-linear approach, so the story’s unraveling will be broken into pieces dependent on your actions. I appreciate how each segment provides pertinent information, but in a manner in which the order doesn’t matter, akin to a jigsaw puzzle. The structure is carefully crafted, and it all ties together in the end to provide the answers I was looking for.
Unfortunately, the content of the narrative is not as powerful as the structure. Some of the plot points were initially promising, but it plateaus midway through. Not to say it ever dips into the negative, the story is still generally entertaining. However, over time, the plot becomes a bit too convoluted and rough around the edges. It seems some of the later parts of the story came to fruition throughout the development process, rather than being fully fleshed out from the beginning. Still, I found Igor’s journey to be a notable one, so the game has a good impact.
The most impressive aspects of Chernobylite are the level designs and the cast of characters. For level design, the developers actually traveled numerous times to the exclusion zone and the nearby city of Pripyat to 3D scan the surrounding environments. The maps are not only realistic but are also immersive and enjoyable to explore.
In fact, much of the graphics look impressive. There is a lot of detail that’s hard to miss, from the foliage of the forests to the lost remnants of a desolate apartment building. I almost felt invasive going into the old homes of the departed and rummaging through their items. However, experiencing each area brings much delight, as you want to see what else the areas have to offer.
While I had fun roaming through the different areas, there is one flaw that stands out: the lack of scope. Each of the maps appears sizable when zoomed out, but you’ll realize quickly just how small they are. Also, if you’re hoping to achieve many objectives in a selected map, you may get a bit tired of seeing the same areas over and over again, despite how gorgeous they may look.
What doesn’t get tiring are the characters in the game. They all have their own distinct and memorable personalities, adding to the narrative’s strength. Not only do you get to learn about their backgrounds, but you also get to see their development over time as you continue to work with them if you so choose. To add to their impact, the voice acting for them is superb, especially in Russian. They all express genuine emotion, and they seem so animated, I didn’t ever lose interest in their dialogue.
Speaking of characters, the type of interactions you have with them depends a lot on you. As the story is non-linear and choice-based, your actions greatly influence the relationships and bonds you create. For example, you may become close friends with a crazed lunatic, or you may lose your chance of becoming friends with a resourceful thief. You also get to learn various skills by training with them. Though it may not be for everyone, I actually appreciated how unclear the choices are. You never know what agreeing or disagreeing could do, so it keeps you engaged and attentive.
That being said, your choices don’t have to be locked in. That’s right; the game has a way for you to go back and change some of the plot choices you’ve made. This mechanic is woven nicely into the gameplay since it shows you how death isn’t a bad option. That’s because every time you die, you go through a hallway of memories and decisions, having the option to use the chernobylite to affect your past, present, and future. Many of your choices lead to a sizable chain reaction, so it’s in your favor to try out the different options and see what outcome you like the most.
Not only do these narrative decisions keep you on your toes, but so does the atmosphere. The game has horror elements, and you’ll always have an edge of uneasiness as you explore each area. You have visions that alter reality, and you can hear noises from things that aren’t even there. There are also effective jumpscares that you seldom encounter. I know I’ve had my fair share of moments where I audibly yelled out of surprise.
The atmosphere also permeates into the enemies of the game. As previously mentioned, Chernobylite as a material brings unexpected consequences to the world. You’ll encounter monsters that warp through space and time. Some are quick, while others are difficult to spot, so it’s good to be watchful for what monsters can hurt you.
Alongside monsters, you also fight the enemy force known as the NAR. Acting as operatives conspiring with the antagonist, they seem to run the exclusion area and cause mayhem with their military force and aggressive policing. If not anticipating monsters, you’ll be facing the NAR plenty throughout your missions. Combine the enemies with eerie audio, dark lighting, and psychological hallucinations, and this is a recipe for a very tense and chilling atmosphere.
How you approach enemies is up to you. Chernobylite has stealth elements, so you’re welcome to use them to your advantage. If you’d rather avoid confrontation altogether, you can hide and slink by as you make your way to the objective. Otherwise, it’s a fun combo of sneaking up on enemies or blasting them in the face with weapons. As a caveat, the melee is clunky and awful to control, so I’d stick with guns or anything else that has range.
I wish the entirety of the game was as exciting, though. The one glaring problem for Chernobylite as a whole is the lack of variety. This issue permeates throughout the major gameplay aspects. For starters, while the maps are wonderful to look at, there are very few to go through. Unfortunately, this means you’ll have seen most of the game in a short amount of time, which significantly hamper world-building.
The daily missions are also quite limited. You either scavenge for food and materials or do a story mission. When doing your missions, you’re following the same path of avoiding/confronting enemies, finding materials, and completing the objective. This formula isn’t necessarily boring; it has its moments of excitement.
Doing the same things over and over becomes monotonous. You’ll have to go through some lulls before reaching the more interesting points of the game. It also doesn’t help that I’ve experienced a few bugs that kept me stuck and left with repeating certain missions.
Chernobylite is a unique approach to the world and aftermath of the Chernobyl disaster. The narrative is so compelling that it keeps your eyes glued to the screen, and the level of detail is absolutely mesmerizing. Though it does get bogged down with mundanity and repetition, the moments of interest outweigh the moments of boredom. If you want an immersive experience with an intricate plot, Chernobylite makes a good case for itself.
This post may contain Amazon affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate Noisy Pixel earns from qualifying purchases.