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Chernobylite Review (PS4)

Chernobylite: Bugs Fester in the Ruins of Pripyat

STALKER made great waves back in 2007 with a brutally gritty FPS set in the abandoned, radioactive Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, with the protagonist fighting off monsters and bandits to find mysterious artefacts and secrets. Now Chernobylite is here to fill in the gap for STALKER fans, giving its own take on The Zone while we all await STALKER 2’s release next year. Featuring some former STALKER staff such as Alexey Sityanov, the story writer for the original classic, Chernobylite looked to be very much a worthy spiritual successor. Of course, STALKER was known for being pretty janky and buggy upon release and this is one tradition the PS4 version of Chernobylite has definitely followed.

Chernobylite’s protagonist is a scientist whose fiance, Tatyana, disappeared during the infamous 1986 disaster, and he has re-entered the zone many years later to try and find clues about her whereabouts. His sanity is further called into question because he frequently hallucinates about her appearing before him in her red dress, giving cryptic warnings and suggestions. During an excursion to the foreboding Chernobyl power plant itself, he’s attacked by the Black Stalker – a gas mask-wearing freak with otherworldly powers and ill intentions. Having barely made it out with his life intact, now he must find out the truth of Tatyana’s disappearance and whether her voice in his head is something real or a sign of his own madness.

Chernobylite feels a lot more story-focused and accessible than STALKER did because various points of interest around each area around Pripyat are handily marked on your HUD. These points either have some special loot or some kind of NPC encounter.

There’s a mix of spooky hallucinations that reveal a little more about Igor’s past and more humorous encounters with some oddball traders. The more sinister parts of Chernobylite’s story are always balanced out by some levity from the characters so it never feels too oppressive.

After each mission is complete, there’s no long slog back to base either. Right from the start, Igor can use his portal gun to immediately return back to his quarters when a mission is complete, or even if things are just getting too hot to handle. This might deter some fans wanting a more hardcore experience, but I just found it a time-saving shortcut so you can enjoy the fun parts without too much slogging around.

Early on it becomes clear that crafting items is essential to Igor’s survival such as making healing salves and cures for radiation sickness from herbs and mushrooms gathered from nearby plants. Not only does Igor have to worry about radioactivity, but he’s also got to worry about his psyche (which is in a pretty sorry state to begin with). Every time Igor kills a human adversary, his psyche degrades to the point it affects his physical health. To stop this, he can craft some “calming salts” or use a more traditional “cure” for mental duress in the form of bottles of vodka. This extra sanity meter was a nice way of tallying the gravity of killing other people on Igor’s mind and representing the general psychological wear and tear of this harsh world.

The base is also where Igor gathers a group of companions with the goal of ultimately returning to the power plant and uncovering its mysteries once and for all. He starts off with an abandoned warehouse that needs to be cleared of junk. Once clean-up is complete, you can use your gathered goodies to plonk down various structures.

The base-building element reminded me of a much more streamlined and fun version of the base development from Fallout 4. It’s entertaining to set down all your various crafting equipment and then add little accents to it by putting a desk lamp on a weapon modding table or making little rooms for your companions with LED lights to color code each one. I always looked forward to coming back after each scavenging run to build the next tier of crafting equipment, letting me get better body armour or fancier mods for my weapons, or even just making the lair a little cozier for my companions by adding in a nice new sofa (which can apparently be made out of mushrooms).

Each day, Igor can assign companions to head off and do the day’s missions on his behalf with a percentage chance provided in advance of their potential success or failure. You can improve their odds by equipping them with better guns and armour. Of course, they’re something of a double-edged sword in that they need food daily, and require various creature comforts lest they get restless. They also have little sidequests to do and will usually have some amusing dialogue. Your starting companion, the hardened combat veteran Olivier, will wax lyrical about his strict father and his past in the Candain military, and will also chastise Igor for his ivory tower aloofness and lack of military experience.

I’ve read that the original Russian dub of the game gives the proceedings a more appropriately eerie feel, but the English dubbed voice acting is frequently hilarious, particularly as Igor is voiced by an extremely posh sounding, classically trained English actor. It’s brilliant hearing him curse the UK for trying to steal one of his mad inventions, yelling “Damned Brits!” It’s also brilliant when he’s interacting with one of the local traders who has a salt-of-the-earth cockney accent.

Companions also provide the means for Igor to level up his skills. Chatting with them will let you spend your skill points on a training session. The crazed survivalist, Mikhail, will demand you forage a certain number of herbs and mushrooms within a strict time limit. If you manage this feat he will give his approval (which is just as loud and full of swear words as his disapproval) and your output when gathering plants and junk will be increased. I found this to be a really unique way of progressing Igor’s skills, and it helps to flesh out the very distinct personalities of each companion.

Though crafting and base-building are given a greater focus, combat itself is much more straightforward fare than STALKER. Whereas STALKER had guns that would jam or become less accurate with use and armour that would quickly lose durability, Chernobylite’s weapons and gear are invulnerable to harm. If your armour wears down, simply insert another metal or ceramic plate and you’re good to go. This makes the gunplay feel even more bog-standard. Monstrous creatures tend to wander down corridors and claw at you and it’s best to shoot them with a shotgun till they die. The NAR troopers are best dealt with by peeking around cover and shooting them at range before their helpfully obvious laser sights get set on you. Combat is functional but feels a lot more like a standard FPS than STALKER’s brutal survivalist war of attrition.

Chernobylite has a stealth element to it, though it’s fairly rudimentary. Simply tap the crouch button, sneak up behind an enemy soldier as he’s spouting off about his woes to no one in particular, and tap melee attack for a quick takedown.

Of course, no amount of sneakiness can hide the long list of bugs and technical issues festering on Chernobylite. When you aim down a scope, the texture of the crosshair is a blackish blur for a couple of seconds till it loads in, making it hard to quickly get a fix on a target during a firefight. Framerates frequently plummet. Crashes back to the PS4 menu screen are common. A couple of times I got stuck on the scenery or found Igor auto-aiming down his sights at invisible enemies.

Though sometimes the bugs taketh, they also giveth too. One time when I was using the mechanical recycler to break down an excess shotgun for its valuable components, but something odd happened. The components appeared in my inventory but the shotgun was still there. Confused, I tried recycling it a few more times but found I was continuing to receive the components without the shotgun recycling. I did this several more times, chuckling at how I had seemingly found an exploit to get infinite components until I started to feel a bit guilty at how I was robbing myself of the satisfaction of scavenging those items myself, and I put the invincible boomstick into storage.

One particularly climactic encounter with the Black Stalker was particularly bizarre. As shimmering portals appeared and taxed the game’s graphical effects to the limit, the framerate stuttered down to flip-book levels and the audio started distorting with an odd mechanical grind. At first, I thought the grinding audio effect was part of the boss encounter, but when I was walking around and scavenging later I soon realised this was yet another bug, only cleared up by portalling back to the main base.

I could have forgiven all of the other issues if not for the one that finally ended my playthrough. After going to bed one day, the game crashed, forcing me back to the PS4 menu. After I loaded back into Chernobylite I tried to continue from where I left off, only to be sent right back to the beginning of the campaign. I then tried loading the earlier autosaves, assuming only the latest save would’ve been corrupted by the crash, but all of them just bounced me right back to the start. All the manual saves I’d been making were gone as well, rendering me unable to continue from where I was, losing a good nine hours of progress.

Players may want to wait a while for some much-needed patches to be applied before picking up this version of Chernobylite if they don’t want their experience ruined.

Chernobylite is an enjoyable little loot n’ shooter sadly torpedoed by technical issues for the PS4 version. It’s such a shame that the intriguing storyline and the compulsive scavenging fun is completely ruined by bugs. I was looking forward to uncovering the dark mysteries lurking within Pripyat, but until the game-breaking errors are fixed, they will have to remain hidden.


Final Verdict: 2/5

Available on: PS4 (Reviewed), PC, PS5, Xbox Series X, Xbox One ; Publisher: The Farm 51; Developer: The Farm 51; Players: 1; Released: September 28th, 2021 (PS4) ;

Full Disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Chernobylite given to Hey Poor Player by the publisher

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Jonathan is HeyPoorPlayer's token British person, so expect him to thoroughly exploit this by quoting Monty Python and saying things like "Pip, pip, toodly-whotsit!" for the delight of American readers. He likes artsy-fartsy games, RPGs and RPG-Hybrids (which means pretty much everything at this point). He used to write for Sumonix.com. He's also just realised how much fun it is to refer to himself in the third person like he's The Rock or something.

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