Has there ever been a point when you’ve looked through your gaming library and wondered, “Huh, whatever happened to this title?” Well, I’ll be taking a look at videogame standalones/franchises and the lead up to their eventual absence. With that being said, today I’ll be asking the question: “Whatever Happened to… S.T.A.L.K.E.R?”
Well it’s been a while, hasn't it? Yes, after catching up on some new titles from this year and working out stuff for university, I haven’t had a lot of time for a new ‘Whatever Happened To...?’ Most of it came from the dilemma of not knowing what to do next in terms of a project. That is, until a recent session of the survival based 7 Days to Die finally helped me through that funk, reminding me of an earlier title that I had fond memories with...
For those who aren’t familiar (or perhaps choose not to remember), S.T.A.L.K.E.R was a tough-as-nails, post-apocalyptic action series that was heavily praised for its gameplay, but not so much for its story. The franchise itself was based on the novel Roadside Picnic by authors Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, and was developed by Ukrainian studio GSC Game World. The series managed to garner three entries that would vary on the scale of good to fairly good.
The first of these entries was S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Shadow of Chernobyl, which was released in March of 2007. The funny thing is, looking back on the series ten years later, you wouldn't think much of it at all. As far as survival titles went back then, it was one of the choice picks for PC gamers. The 2007 series launcher was met with critical praise from fans and reviewers alike in most areas. Receiving solid scores across the board for its style, feel, and atmosphere, but lacking any real approval in narrative structure.
Unfortunately, the second instalment, S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Clear Sky, didn’t fare quite as well as its predecessor. The prequel was still considered to be a respectable entry in the eyes of fans, but to critics it was seen as ‘solid enough’, yet still an overall downgrade compared to what came before. More positively, the atmosphere (like the first) was still one of the biggest selling points of the title and managed to do better in that area than most. However, with other major releases in 2008 such as Left 4 Dead and Dead Space, S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Clear Sky would ultimately be overshadowed.
When the eventual third release came in 2009 (2010 in North America), it was another big step for the series. S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Call of Pripyat was a solid return to form from the second game, boasting improved A.I., lasting playability, and a sleeker style. Being a sequel to the first title, Call of Pripyat also managed to fix that ever-criticised story, constructing a interesting narrative from previously established sources, but also branching off into its own world quite easily. Many would end up calling it the best in the series, capturing all the pros with little to no negatives attached.
All in all, it’s weird that a series such as this would only have three games in its entirety. ‘Post-apocalyptic survival’ is something that sells really well and S.T.A.L.K.E.R, as I mentioned before, had that look and feel down without question. I suppose the release of titles such as Fallout and Metro: 2033 have put a stranglehold on the market in that regard, but I could definitely still see S.T.A.L.K.E.R making a strong comeback.
So whatever happened to S.T.A.L.K.E.R? Well honestly, nothing really. The announcement of new installments and spiritual successors have certainly been made over the past seven years. Unfortunately, the most notable announcement S.T.A.L.K.E.R 2 was cancelled in 2012 and hasn’t really garnered much discussion since that time. The 2015 free-to-play Survarium was a step in the right direction, having been made by former developers of GSC Games World and supposedly based on ideas for S.T.A.L.K.E.R 2. So long story short for what happened, it seems a lot of big ideas that would be shelved for other projects.
That being said, though, despite the cancellations and studio branching, I feel as though a new entry is right around the corner for the franchise. I believe the re-opened GSC Game World has made some solid investments and will be bringing the PC gaming scene a new S.T.A.L.K.E.R in the very near future.