My assessment of Chernobylite during early access is that it had flaws but had great potential. Has developer The Farm 51 fully realized this potential? Short answer: Yes. Yes, indeed.
Chernobylite has been in early access for over a year and recently got its 1.0 release. I previewed the game during its early access phase in March of last year and noted that, while it had potential, there were obvious shortcomings. Now that the game has had more time to mature, I jumped in again to see what changed and what didn't.
The gameplay still revolves around scrounging for every bit of resource to prepare for an all-out assault on the reactor. You go on missions to get supplies, recruit companions, and play through the story. Players need to manage food rations, mental health, and comfort levels for everyone, including yourself.
Taking on story and side missions provides the opportunity to collect supplies. Recruited allies can also gather for the players, but there is always the risk of losing them. Companions on assignment can get killed, captured, or run away.
The protagonist, Igor, also has to get along with the team. Igor's choices can have positive or negative effects on his friends. If you make your partners angry, they might leave the group or betray Igor later in the game.
Each companion has their own set of skills, and they can train you by spending skill points. Skill points are earned by exploring the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone and can enhance Igor's capabilities. For example, I upgraded my revolver ability to do extra damage and upped my stealth skills. This camo and gun combo allowed me to fight when I need to. Just make sure you drink plenty of vodka for this strategy, for Igor's psyche.
These skills also reflect your companion's ability to gather materials and supplies in the field. Equipment can boost companion's effectiveness on assignment and prevent them from getting injured.
Chernobylite retains the Fallout-style mechanics paired with survival elements from Resident Evil. Shooting mechanics feels satisfying. The survival element creates fun adversity to an otherwise solid stealth shooter. Chernobylite allows players to customize almost every gun in the game, but only a handful of gun types are available.
Gunplay is solid, but you can't always be trigger-happy. Ammunition was somewhat limited during my playthrough, and using my revolver was uncommon. The AI for the enemies is fine, but they could be better. The NAR contractors are unforgiving in an open conflict but easy to game. The difficulty of the enemies and material spawn makes this trip to Chernobyl a challenging outing. Enemy variety is a weakness in Chernobylite, but at least each has different strengths and weaknesses. The stalkers have new variations and each implements their own attack strategy.
Players can make everything from firearms to food. Inventory space management is crucial to maximizing carrying capacity, often forcing players to pick and choose what materials to bring. Do you want this shotgun, or do you want to carry more scrap for that new workbench? Resources are limited, and hauling as much stuff to your home is essential for your team's survival.
The narrative didn't change much, but the delivery is better than the early access version. Collecting clues and whereabouts scattered throughout the Exclusion Zone can give you context on Igor's missing wife. Finding clues are not completely necessary for progress, but it can affect your ending.
As expected, everything is voice-acted, and the main storyline is well-integrated within the setting of the game. Each character has unique motivations and moral alignment.
It is hard to detach the historical factor of the Exclusion Zone from the game. I love the science-fiction element and the characters, but I wished the game contained more content about the real Chernobyl Exclusion Zone's history.
While the overall story did not change much, one thing that did change was Chernobylite's graphics.
This game is optimized right out of the gate, running 1440p at 60 FPS with maximum settings (Nvidia RTX 2070). I did see a bit of a dip to the 40s and high 30s when exploring busier, cinematic areas, but Chernobylite was never unplayable. Those with similar graphics cards will be happy to know that Chernobylite also fully supports Nvidia's DLSS and AMD's FidelityFX to further fine-tune the balance between performance and graphical fidelity.
Chernobylite's main draw was the 3D scan of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, but it was bland during early access.
Development studio The Farm 51 did a great job making this game look great after the full release. There is an immediate difference in particle effects and ambient occlusion. Everything from the particle effects to the god rays, Chernobylite improved immensely. Chernobylite created an eerie environment for the players to explore already, so there was no need to go overboard with the visuals.
Broken houses, rusty playgrounds, and empty buildings are eerie, but the creepy factor fades the longer you play. The rendering of the city is nearly an identical copy of the Exclusion Zone, but The Farm 51 did take some creative liberties to make the city compact and apply obstacles for players to figure out.
I do have one issue — A minor issue for some, but a problem for me: I can't see shit. The lush greens around the Exclusion Zone are thick and just borderline too much, often blocking dirt roads. The office buildings and interiors are explored in tricky ways so that it is easy to get lost, but I guess that's the idea.
Chernobylite did an exceptional job with the aesthetics. Just dial back the grass, put in more enemy variety and it'll be a perfect game.
The sound design on Chernobylite is good, but the in-game music is so-so. The score is a flavoring for the setting, and it does the job. Combat music gives certain scenarios a tenser feeling, but it did go on longer than usual sometimes.
Shooting guns is satisfying because of the combination of sound design and graphics. Enemy reactions to getting hit is on point: they wince or make a big splat for headshots — not to be too graphic.
Combined with the visual elements of the game, every combat scenario is fun and exhilarating. Enemy chatter is believable, and the shadow monsters make sufficiently scary noises that make you think twice from checking a room.
Dialog between NPCs is engaging, especially with voice-acting. The banter between companions can be hit-or-miss. The humor did not work for me, but I still liked talking to my comrades for lore purposes. Chernobylite is voiced in Russian as well as English. I'm unsure how to gauge the Russian voice acting since I cannot speak it, but the English dialog was good.
It is safe to say that Chernobylite finally reached its proper form thanks to the hard work of The Farm 51's team. They rolled out a steady stream of updates, and the end product is a good survival game.
The game looks great, way better than the early access release, and the gameplay stayed faithful to the core. Besides getting lost, the setting is engaging with a twisty narrative that caught me by surprise.
Chernobylite is worth the asking price of $30, but my biggest worry is its lack of replay value. Once you've played the game once, there is no reason to get back into it. The developers have not implemented a "new game plus" feature. However, if you are looking for a first-person survival shooter, Chernobylite can scratch that itch.