Preview Of “S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2: Shadow of Fukushima”

Written 4-5-11

In honor of Ryan Sean Barrett, possibly the only other human being on the planet who would have understood all of the bizarre references contained herein.

Making great video games isn’t easy. Often enough a developer can get something wonderfully right in one effort, and get it tremendously wrong in the next (for an example of such a situation, refer to John Romero’s Doom and Daikatana). Ukrainian developer GSC Gameworld, seeing as how they own 86% of all electronic equipment in the entirety of the Ukraine (admittedly a fairly simple task), is hoping to put all of that silicone know-how into not repeating the mistakes of John Romero with their next major release, “S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2,” sequel to the groundbreaking and successful “S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Shadow Of Chernobyl.” The only thing they for a time lacked was the inspiration to craft a truly original experience, and “S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2” lingered on the drawing board for many months. However, hot off the heels of the Japanese tsunami, earthquake, and associated nuclear holocaust, GSC Gameworld found fresh inspiration for their next post-apocalyptic video game.

Plans for the original sequel, which was meant to be cross-platform, were scrapped in favor of a completely new and totally overhauled PC-only adventure FPS that, being a PC exclusive, would not be a rehash of Metro 2033. Thus, “S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2: Shadow of Fukushima” was (re)born.

Featuring innovative concepts like disregarding same-old-same-old multiplayer in favor of a solo campaign that lasts more than six hours and doesn’t suck as well as a real physics engine based on real physics, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2: Shadow of Fukushima is slated to be the hottest release of the year, outmatched only by the plutonium radiation being ejected from the real Fukushima plant.

“S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2: Shadow of Fukushima” takes place in a “Zone of Alienation” around the Fukushima NPP (nuclear power plant), which is populated by mutated flora and fauna as well as treasure hunters known as “stalkers” and remnants of the Japanese Government’s cleanup crews and military police. It varies in size depending whether you are working for the Japanese or the Americans, due not only to a discrepancy in their system of measurement, but also due to a discrepancy in their idea of “safe” levels of radiation. The “American Zone” is larger in part because the Americans have not had very much experience in dealing with nuclear disasters, which the Japanese have in spades, making them less afraid of “a little radiation sickness.”

The game opens as the player’s character awakens behind a dumpster inside the Zone of Alienation (or simply “The Zone”) around Fukushima. The empty sake bottles and wicked hangover explain the stalker’s total amnesia; however it does not explain how the player came to be in The Zone in the first place. Has he always been here, or was brought in while unconscious? The player cannot remember. The only clues are found in a kanji tattoo on the player’s forearm and a note in his PDA that simply reads “Kill Vegeta.” Without any other leads, the player starts off towards a settlement in the distance. Upon entering the settlement, the Marked One comes across a public swimming pool that is cordoned off. A black man in a suit sporting an afro stands in his path. When the player approaches the pool gate, the man guarding it simply replies “Pool’s closed due to AIDS.” When the player asks for a further explanation, the tuxedoed guard simply starts repeating the word “Desu” over and over until it becomes clear that he will divulge no further information on the fate of the public pool.

The next person the player meets is a nervous looking squatter. When the player approaches the squatter to ask him about the sign, he runs quickly away, screaming something about “too much power,” to the bafflement of the player. Eventually the player runs into a heavyset man named Cid, who eventually reveals that he is a fixer and was once an airship pilot and was on the fast track to becoming an astronaut before an event which he will not disclose occurred. Cid has an intimate knowledge of the Fukushima Zone, and apparently was active in the Chernobyl Zone before the Fukushima event. Cid seems to recognize the player, who he dubs “Marked One Mk. II” and reveals to him that the kanji symbols on the Marked One’s arm was originally thought to represent “bravery and luck, “but since both the Marked One and his tattoo artists were cultureless idiots, it is a heap of gibberish that doesn’t even represent anything remotely Japanese. Upon mention of your note to “kill Vegeta,” however, Cid takes a strong interest in your actions. He offers to give you more advice, but the player must agree to help him out of a small bind first.

The job that the player agrees to serves as the game’s tutorial mission, teaching the player about combat, exploration, item use, and the inner workings of the Zone itself. One of the primary threats to stalkers in the Zone is the presence of anomalies. Anomalies are small, contained areas peppered throughout the countryside where the immense power excreted from the Fukushima plant has changed the laws of physics. Anomalies are hard to detect with the naked eye, and the common practice is to throw pieces of sushi (of which the player has an unlimited supply) into an area where they may suspect an anomaly exists to trigger it and henceforth reveal its location. There are many different kinds of anomalies in the game that all have various effects when tripped by a living being, such as setting you on fire, blowing you around with gale force winds, making you go temporarily blind, and forcing you to speak in tongues.

Anomalies produce artifacts, valuable baubles that serve as the main interest for stalkers in the Zone. Artifacts incur various side effects depending on what kind of anomaly spawned them. For example, a chunk of ore contained within a gravity anomaly can allow you to jump higher, and artifacts found within the aforementioned “blinder” anomaly can permanently unslant the character’s eyes, making you more accurate with firearms and a better driver at the cost of permanently penalizing your math skills. One unique artifact even allows you to sacrifice it to add three mana of any color to your mana pool.

Borrowed from the first “S.T.A.L.K.E.R.” game are the daily cycles of flora and fauna as well as humans, who go through periods of rest, activity, eating, and sleeping. Random weather patterns are also incorporated in the game as well, such as rain and wind. Even individual flowers will open and close with the sun, a feat which the programmers claimed took “massive amounts of manpower to develop and apply” the system that controls these things that the player won’t even bother noticing because they will be too busy shooting other stalkers and running fetch quests, begging the question why the developers even bothered taking up hard disk space with the system in the first place.

Unlike the first “S.T.A.L.K.E.R.” game, where patches of radiation were sparse in the Zone due to the time that had elapsed since the nuclear meltdown, “Shadow of Fukushima’s” plant is still in the process of melting down and henceforth, the entire area is teeming with radioactive zones. Apparently seawater isn’t as great of a radioactive deterrent as Japanese officials had originally suspected. In the first “S.T.A.L.K.E.R” game, the player combats radiation by wearing various kinds of equipment, such as hazmat suits and gas masks, and by consuming either vodka or anti-radiation drugs. This led to a tactical decision for most players who had to decide whether to shell out for the more expensive meds or settle for the cheaper and more widespread vodka, which if consumed, would make controlling the character more difficult for a period of time. Due to the fact that radiation in the Fukushima Zone is much more common and that the exchange rate between yen and USD is like 1,000:1, the player will likely have to settle for “Fukushima’s” equivalent to vodka to combat the constant radiation: sake. Of course, the constant consumption of sake will greatly inhibit the player’s ability to control their character, giving a cheap yet welcome explanation as to why the second game is virtually unplayable, a plot detail that the first “S.T.A.L.K.E.R.” lacked.

The Marked One is tasked with tracking down a small group of bandits that made off with some of Sid’s more “sensitive” equipment that the player must recover. In this mission as well as in others, players will often be aided by the mysterious “Johnny Five Aces,” a stalker of unbelievable skill who always has a beer and cigarette in hand and has never lost a poker game in his life (to anyone he left alive). Subtle clues suggest that Johnny might be from a very different time and place, adding to the mystery not only of the character, but of the events surrounding the Fukushima plant and meltdown, and by association the various anomalies that inhabit the surrounding countryside.

After this tutorial mission, Marked One returns to Sid and gets some of the answers he had worked so hard for. Apparently the stalker Vegeta was one of legendary skill who believed that at the center of the Fukushima Zone, inside one of the reactor bays existed a “monorith” he dubbed the “Wish Granter,” which as its namesake implies, grants anyone who touches it one wish. The “monorith,” however, is guarded by a fanatical Monorith Cult of stalkers who believe that its power must be preserved and revered. Vegeta’s goal was to penetrate the innermost part of the Zone and find the Wish Granter, but not long after setting off on his mission, he disappeared around the same time a massive transmission erupted from the center of the Fukushima NPP. Cid explains that the transmission had a power level of “over 9,000,” a concentration of raw energy that was as of yet unheard of. Upon hearing this, the Marked One impulsively removes his sunglasses and crushes them in his hand white letting out a sudden yell. Why the phrase “over 9,000” incurred such a response from the Marked One is just one of the many mysteries that the developers promised would be unraveled as the gameplay demo came to a close. As a parting remark, the lead developer revealed that the game would be rife with secrets and easter eggs for the player to find, including a hidden mission sequence that requires the Marked One to vomit in the lap of the Japanese Prime Minister while he visits the Zone.

It is safe to say that GSC Gameworlds’s latest effort will not go the way of Daikatana and will succeed in “making you it’s bitch.” If John Romero was dead, he would be rolling over in his grave out of shame on March 28th, 2013, an iconic and ironic release date that coincides with the 34th anniversary of the Three Mile Island nuclear accident. That gives all of you readers plenty of time to assassinate John Romero (make it a HEADSHOT) to ensure the complete accuracy of this preliminary report.

(I find it extremely unlikely that most of you understood the majority of the references in this article, so I have taken the liberty to add links to the various things I referenced in this page. I didn’t do it as a way of being nice to you; I did it so you inbreds don’t bog me down with “what does this mean” questions that I resent having to answer.)