Chernobylite Is Ambitious But Not Fully Baked

Chernobylite Is Ambitious But Not Fully Baked

Chernobylite Is Ambitious But Not Fully Baked

Posted by Lawrence Rennie

18 Oct, 2021


Chernobyl has been a narrative source for games for quite some time now, but few have done as The Farm 51 and All In! Games have by going whole hog into a radioactive, multi-dimensional conspiracy complete with Russian spies, kitted out private securities and all-consuming radiation monsters. New to Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC, Chernobylite is a sci-fi RPG that is as impressively ambitious as it is rough around the edges.

Not everything comes off for Chernobylite, but to their credit The Farm 51 have layered in a number of surprises and novel ideas that take this game well beyond copycat comparisons to the Metrofranchise or S.T.A.L.K.E.R., and it is certainly worth a playthrough if only for the multidimensional weirdness into which it plunges gasmask first. 

Ghosts of Radiation’s Past

30 years after the initial disaster Igor, a physicist once employed at Chernobyl, is returning to the site of the worst nuclear accident the world has ever seen. In that time the Chernobyl exclusion zone has been changed drastically by the fallout of the nuclear disaster, one symptom of which is the growth of a new element called Chernobylite which seems to be growing organically in all sorts of bizarre and freaky ways. 

Igor is returning with a group intent on harbouring this unique element for their own research, however his true agenda is to trace the ghost of his supposedly dead wife Tatyana who still haunts his dreams and visions. Somewhere in this nuclear wasteland lies the answers that should end this plague upon his psyche, but as Igor embroils himself further and further into this world of KGB and Soviet era conspiratorial ghosts he’ll uncover far more insidious plots that could have drastic implications for the entire world. Will he grab his thrust upon destiny with both hands and help end the scourge of the Chernobylite and the mysterious Black Stalker, or will he forego it all only to be reunited with his dear Tatyana? 

As you play through Chernobylite you are given all sorts of decisions that are intended to question your and Igor’s morality. Some decisions may be morally wrong but are for the good of the mission on the whole, or some decisions may aid one companion while screwing over the next. In the world of Chernobyl everything hangs on a knife edge and the survival decisions you and the people around you take could tip the balance either way with calamitous implications.

However (and buckle in here), determined to never be a game that is easy to pin down, Chernobylite offers up a twist part way through that recontextualises all your moral hemming and hawing. With the Chernobylite element nothing appears to be for certain in this world, or indeed the many other worlds that this radioactive foreign object seems to open up. Like a Soviet Doctor Strange Chernobylite opens up the potential of multidimension theory meaning that if all becomes lost in one world Igor can merely hop through to another dimension and change his timeline. The decisions you make can be replayed or even pushed further down the line to see if changing your past can fix your future. This section popped in quite a few hours into the game once I already thought I had a handle on all of its mechanics, and I must say it certainly threw me for a loop. 

The game forced me into an immediate death sequence because apparently my decisions had led to another nuclear explosion that ended all. I then awoke to a bizarro alien realm where I could see the decisions I had made and the potential futures that they could lead to. It looked to be a lot, just from the multiple strains that opened up and closed any time I did go back into those scenes to change my narrative. It was genuinely quite impressive. 

The problem is that I never at any point had cause to return here, which I’m not sure is a) just because I never died again, b) because I perhaps accidentally made all the “right” decisions from then on, or c) it was meant to be entirely a one-off thing. For such a cool idea I was disappointed to not see it again, which kind of gets to the main issue I had with Chernobylite as a whole. There are quite a few of these novel ideas at play that don’t always seem fully implemented or necessary. 

Having never at any point returned to this multidimension Doctor Strange world the end of the game also lost quite a bit of impact. Without spoilers, the final sequence shows all the failures you’ve had, and all the damage it has done to your companions through all the multiple timelines that you have burned and left behind. Except I didn’t do any of these things, at all. I was being chastised by a scourge of ghosts that I had never seen before for things I quite simply had not done. I appreciated the aim of this ending but it did not have much meaning for me, personally, as someone who had played through 16 or so hours without seeing any of these events. Again, it is entirely possible that I just somehow haphazardly Mr Magoo’d my way into the perfect timeline, so perhaps this complaint is unfair, but even still should the game not have a way to dictate its ending to how my world did exist? 

Surviving in the World of Chernobylite

It’s no secret that a nuclear fallout exclusion zone is inherently a cool setting for an apocalyptic shooter. There are whole forests, desert wastelands, bunker networks, military compounds and dilapidated city blocks with which to explore through. The gameplay loop of Chernobylite is such that each new day you pick where each of you and your companions is going to set out to for the day in the exclusion zone. There are primary missions and resource gathering missions to pick from, and these are spread out across 5 gameplay areas. Once you’ve decided where everyone is going the game drops you into your area and you are free to roam around to explore side areas, points of interest, collect resources and complete objectives. 

Even just exploring is good fun, and some of the tower blocks or dark bunkers can be quite tense to roam through especially when there are alien “Shadows” spawned by the increase of Chernobylite activity later in the game, or NRA military units. The problem is that this gameplay loop continues for a while, so you will end up returning to these 5 areas a lot to complete new objectives. There is a little bit of variation with how the increase in radiation and NRA activity affects how you will have to traverse through zones, but it is extremely evident that there only a couple of key areas that are used again and again. It starts to make the whole thing drag after a while, as though you are completing chores after a while. The use of the Black Stalker, a powerful figure who can appear if you remain too long in an area, does keep up a bit of tension however and force you to make decisions about how long you’ll spend resource gathering or checking out side areas which is good for spurring missions on with more urgency. 

The combat itself is fine. Shooting doesn’t feel necessarily satisfying but it is not remarkably terrible either. It is quite easy to get overwhelmed with too many enemies since the gunplay doesn’t lend itself to easily blowing down whole platoons at once. It’s a little slower and heavier than that of say a Call of Duty, so stealth is going to be your friend most of the time. Unlike other stealth games too it is actually quite nice to see that grappling someone to death from behind does cause a bit of kerfuffle which can be noticed by the guy standing 10ft away, rather than the impossibly slick assassinations through enemies with seemingly no peripheral vision or powers of perception that other games are so often guilty of. 

Your arsenal of weapons can also grow to quite interesting extremes. As you gather resources you can build out more equipment and weaponry to aid your quest, including the likes of rail guns and laser pistols once you have worked out the secrets of Chernobylite. There is a base building and customization element to the game that is not too dissimilar to Fallout 4 (in fact the game is very clearly indebted to quite a bit of Fallout 4). Resources allow you to build out your home base and create crafting tables and machinery that will help you out. Your base also needs certain amenities for your companions as you build out your party too, so you’ll have to spend a bit of time balancing your base to be both comfortable and survival ready. I tend not to like these kind of base building minigames (I mostly ignored it in Fallout, for example) and when first confronted with it in Chernobylite I did fear the worst, but it grew on me and I did actually enjoy the post-mission reprieve of just kitting out my party and base. 

A Half-Baked Recipe Stuffed With Ingredienta

Chernobylite on the whole is an ambitious game, it just unfortunately does not always come off. There is a lot of different parts coming together here but not all of them feel fully realised or able to mesh together properly. The little novel ideas that it does do I would really like to have seen a little more of because they seemed genuinely quite interesting, the implantation just isn’t perhaps quite there. 

The story too suffers from much the same problem. There are big swings made, especially in the latter stages but again not all of them quite come off. The game seems to wish to impart some kind of theory or idea of multidimensional relativity and lived experience, which aren’t wholly terrible or uninteresting, but also feel a little too forced at times and border slightly on being a touch of high schooler short story deep-think. This is even more true for the dialogue and the boringly archetypal characters. 

On a technical level there isn’t much to write home about. Graphics are fine though some textures are quite flat on the Xbox version I played, and there was a frame rate issue and freezing problem anytime the game autosaved—nothing game breaking, however. It’s probably another indication that, like elsewhere, Chernobylite is a game that could do with just a bit more polish. In another dimension Chernobylite is perhaps a game that is racking up high scores and blowing up the shelves—I just wish that timeline were this one.

Final Score: 6.5/10


About Author

Lawrence Rennie

Lawrence is a Scottish-born writer with a love of games and films that he fortunately turned into a career grumbling about online. When not firing away the hours buried in a game or film he also co-writes 'Mechastopheles', an original comic series published by the UK’s leading comic magazine 2000AD as a naturally born-grumpy Scot; however, he asks that you don’t ask him too much about it though! Lawrence’s other musings include podcasts, fitness, his cat, and one day developing his own screenplay.

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments