09 April 2011

STALKER Shadow of Chernobyl vs Metro 2033

Considering that the Lead Adventure post apocalyptic miniatures are a great success I thought it would be interesting to compare the two PC games which have great resemblance in theme to the Lead Adventure models. Metro 2033 and STALKER. Both games could provide for tons of inspiration on what to do with your Lead Adventure miniatures in terms of scenarios, terrain and factions.

Both games are packed with atmosphere and should be considered as some of the better shooters released in recent years. They both have their strengths and weaknesses, but if you only have time to play one then here’s a comparison and review of them both so you can make up your mind. I usually ignore shooters and am not a big fan of games aimed at the console where it’s all about graphics and you finish the game within 10 hours, STALKER and Metro 2033 are indeed shooters but bring enough fresh and different stuff to make them worth your time.

STALKER: Shadow of Chernobyl
As the title suggests the game revolves around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant . Story goes that after the Chernobyl accident the “zone” surrounding the CNPP was cut off from the rest of the world and guarded by the military. The zone did not only contain areas highly polluted by radioactive fallout but was spawning weird phenomena called “anomalies” which appeared in various shapes and forms, often invisible to the bare eye and highly lethal if stepped into.  The areas that contained these anomalies also spawned weird objects called  “artifacts” that while being radioactive are valued for their various enhancing properties, this made them valuable and this is where the STALKER’s come in.

STALKER’s  are scavangers roaming the zone, scavenging abandoned buildings for valuable but mostly on the lookout for the valuable artifacts that can be sold for good money. The player is one of these STALKER’s and as the game begins you have been exposed to a lethal dose of radiation but somehow survive and get medic al treatment at one of the STALKER camps. Suffering from amnesia (of course), you are told that you have to find a STALKER called “Strelok” since that guy is the only one who knows a safe route to the center of the zone and the CNPP.

You are sent on various missions, issued by characters living in the zone in improvised shelters and communities, everything in the game is run down, overgrown and has a fantastic atmosphere to it. The world is divided into sectors which are made up of large chunks of open ground for you to wander about and explore on your way to and from your missions. The zone is a very dangerous place though, not only can you suffer radiation sickness and have to avoid the military – you also have to beware of the anomalies and the real danger, mutants!

The zone if filled with mutated creatures – early levels contain a few critters like packs of mutated dogs and boars. However as you get deeper into the zone away from the safety of the STALKER camps you start to run into some serious stuff. I won’t give away too much about those other creatures and mutants you will find since STALKER is a game that shines and scares the living crap out of you the first time you play it. Weapons degrade, ammunition is not that hard to come by but you have a RPG style inventory system and your weapons, armor, supplies and ammunition pile up pretty fast encumbering your movement and slowing you down (and you don’t want that believe me). 

The game is extremely well done in how it conveys the emptiness of large buildings, underground bases etc. The soundtrack is eerie, and when you walk around in the cramped darkness of the underground levels you are really going to experience the unease of how the silence is  broken by some distant sound of a creature snarling or objects being thrown around.

The world of STALKER is a living one, the various factions, from the neutral STALKERS to the fighting Duty and Freedom factions, to the military and roaming bandits – there is always something going on around the camps. Mutants hunting mutants, camps have bars where the partrons discuss various rumours and their experiences of wandering about. STALKERS traveling in groups outside of the camps will make camps at nightfall in safe areas and make up a fire, playing guitar and joking around. Everyone speaks Russian except for the people who give you missions which enhances the experience of actually being in a foreign place.

The game has a few flaws, first of all you really need to download all the patches before you start playing, shouldn’t be a problem today – it was upon the game release. Some people complain about the game being broken up into these chunks through which you have to travel back and forth quite often. Weapons also degrade a bit too fast, I personally hate games with this gimmick as it never feels like it adds any realism. You fired 2 mags with your AK-74su and now it’s worn out and prone to jamming?

The flaws of this game are overshadowed by the pure excellence of the rest of the game, enemies without armor are easily killed with regular ammo or a well placed shot to the head. Enemies in Kevlar and helmets may need better ammunition like Armor Piercing rounds to have the same punch, the mutants feel unique and sometimes quite scary. There are very few games that actually manage to convey fear and unease in the same way as STALKER does.

The ending, I won’t spoil it but it is pretty satisfying if you manage to get it right. Suffice to say there are several “false” endings, and two “correct” endings where you have to make a choice. Whichever you get is really up to you, but you can’t get the correct endings unless you complete the main quests properly.

The game has become something of a franchise and two STALKER games have been released since Shadow of Chernobyl. The first one Clear Sky is very bad and I wouldn’t recommend it. The 3rd “Call of Pripyat” however is very good, on par with STALKER Shadow of Chernobyl, lots of improvements like a upgrade tree for each piece of equipment and weapon you might collect, weapons don’t degrades fast and the game is divided into 3 huge chunks of instead of 7-8 smaller ones giving the impression of a larger more open world. None of the sequels are quite as atmospheric as the original game though, and none of them come close in creating the same kind of scary levels that the first game had.

STALKER Shadow of Chernobyl should be in a bargain bin at your local game store and is sold dirt cheap online, don’t miss out on this unique experience. The should provide you with 20-30 hours of gameplay depending on whether or not you do sidequests and explore the areas you unlock as the story progresses.

Highly recommended!

Metro 2033
The game is based on a novel I have not read (but I’ve heard that it is quite good and the story may make more sense reading the novel) is a more straight forward regular shooter. The thing with shooters is that you basically walk from point A to B through a tunnel, the tunnel is often masked by having buildings and debris cut you off and to create the illusion that the world is more open world than it really is. Shooters also tend to be nobrainers and extremely linear. Metro 2033 does not suffer as much from these two drawbacks of game design since the game takes place in the Moscow metro and most of the game is spent in the tunnels and stations of said Metro. 

At least the location makes the level design logical. The story of Metro 2033 is very sketchy to be honest, something happened – through the pieces of information I learned from NPC’s talking it was a nuclear war that devastated the surface making it inhospitable to humans. The surface is now covered in a nuclear winter, highly polluted air and freaky mutant creatures. The citizens of Moscow, or what’s left of them, took refuge in the Metro tunnels and made camps and small communities along the metro stations.  The society living down there is broken up between neutral rangers and civilians, fascists and communists – each having control of their own stations and waging war on the others. The tunnels are also home to a lot of mutated creatures that prey on anyone traveling between the stations in the dark often broken tunnels of the metro.

The player takes up the role of a guy named Artyom, who is soon tasked with getting help from the large community “Polis” so that his own station can survive the mutant attacks that have recently become a serious threat.  The gameplay differs from STALKER in that you are often in the company of NPC characters telling you what to do and giving you pieces of the story. Still I was left with less knowledge on the situation in the Metro and the story of the game than I was in STALKER Shadow of Chernobyl where you learn a lot about the CNPP and the mutants living in the zone.

Metro 2033 is still an interesting game, but it is also a game with a few annoying characteristics. The graphics for instance, while good don’t allow you to turn off motion blur if you play it on the high or very high graphic settings. The motion blur makes it impossible to comprehend what the hell is going on, I played the game on medium graphics where the game still looked very good and the motion blur was turned off. The other thing is that the gunplay feels clumsy and “heavy”  add the recoil of most weapons and you will waste 50% of your ammunition trying to zero in on enemies, you will almost always end up getting slapped around and if not for your NPC buddies you would have a much harder time surviving everything.  The story is as already said very thin and I have to say that the ending just left me with a shrug.

The cool things about this game however that makes it worth playing are some of the design choices that feel unique. Whenever you enter a contaminated area or travel the surface you will need to put on your gasmask, a supply of filters is needed as you will change them every couple of minutes – running out of filters or getting your gasmask cracked from close combat will make you choke to death pretty soon.

The headlamp and night vision goggles are all powered by a custom battery that you charge with a handheld device every few minutes as the battery runs low or else the electric devices will die. Both the gasmask and night vision goggles restrain your vision.

You can trade in some of the stations, using your ammunition as currency to buy more ammunition, gas mask filters, stimpacks and other weapons. It is however extremely hard to tell what weapons are good and bad. There are only a couple of version of pistol, shotgun and assault rifles in the game, and you find pretty much all the good stuff out in the tunnels making the traders obsolete. The relative sparse amount of ammunition in the tunnels makes trading with said ammunition undesirable. I only used trade once as part of a quest.

The stations in Metro 2033 are just like in the STALKER camps filled with people telling stories about the events in the metro or what had happened to the surface. In that the game succeeds quite well building up atmosphere. However the game has almost no amount of exploration involved, the tunnels and stations are quite restricted and unlike in STALKER where raiding a building could be rewarding you really don’t want to wander about in Metro 2033 as much because there isn’t as much to see and your ammunition is too valuable to waste on random mutants lurking in the dark places.  The game also lacks any real tension or “scary” parts, you will feel safe pretty much all the time while in the company of other NPC’s and there are only a few sections of the game where you have to rely on yourself – these sections are imo more interesting and challenging.

Metro 2033 is a chipped gem, that is a bit too restrictive, safe and short to really make it a great game. It does however give you a pretty decent and interesting experience to draw inspiration from. Though if I had to choose between STALKER Shadow of Chernobyl and Metro 2033, then STALKER would win in the long run for quite a few reasons. Better and more of a story, more interesting surroundings, camps that actually get used frequently by the player, more open ended world, better atmosphere for most parts of the game and a few sections with true survival horror feel to it.

However, both games give you lots of great ideas for how to use the Lead Adventure Miniatures range!


  1. Stalker get out of here...;)
    Hands down one of my favorite games and well worth the price nowadys.

  2. STALKER really is awesome, great attention to detail and atmosphere throughout. I would recommend it based on the bunkers and Pripyat levels alone. Especially the bunker levels, have not been so tense playing a PC game since the "orphanage" level in Thief 3 Deadly Shadows LOL!

  3. I agree, stalker is the dogs dangles. But you should really see about getting a copy of Metro 2033, It makes allot more sense then the game.
    I think the game just provides more of a visual for the book and for folks like us to pick up for are war games.^_^

  4. Nice pair of reviews, I tried the orignal Stalker and didn't really like the back and forth ness of the area's. But think I might have a go at the third stalker game you mentioned. Cheers.

  5. @ Smillie, yeah the Call of Pripyat might be less fatiguing to play as you are often sent on missions within the same large area and even when you have to travel between the areas it happens through fast travel by NPC interaction - really reduces the loading times and time spent on running for your life from monsters :D

  6. I read a lot of comparisons and this was the best. You were honest and didn't give Metro 2033 more credit than it deserved. I was definitely going to buy it because I am bored but you have provoked me to wait until it is $5-10 dollars on steam. From everything I read it is barely better than the MW2 Campaign, although I am not comparing them at all.

  7. Thanks, I try to be as objective as I can in my reviews. And yes I would not buy Metro 2033 for the full price either. Bargain bin or through Steam with a good discount is the way to go.

    Thanks for reading :-)

  8. Pretty fair comparo, although there were definitely a couple scary moments in metro for me.

    And just because you play your games on medium graphics settings doesn't mean everyone does. Metro is so superior graphically that it literally looks like PS2 vs PS3 type of difference between the two games. Maybe even PS1 vs PS3! Not really, but the difference is astronomical. For me, since I dropped 2 grand on a crossfire 5870 i7 rig, graphics are crucial. Always has been even before that though, as excellent graphics really adds to the immersion of any game.

    Since you didn't really talk about graphics I thought I'd throw that in there. Otherwise nice job, and I agree stalker is still better, especially with SC 2009, lurk or obl lost.

  9. I go into every game without any pre-conceived notion of what I think they should be. Other reviewers whining about Stalker this... Fallout that... what a crock. Each game should stand on it's own and this one does. Sure it isn't perfect. I have only played a couple I thought were, so it's easy to want to set the bar to high. However, this is an extremely engrossing game.


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