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In Pripyat, Ukraine, April 1986, an underestimated safety power cycling test of reactor core no.4 would cause one of the greatest nuclear disasters in modern history. Initially, a steam explosion, a cascade of events would lead to radiation being spread across Europe.  Over two hundred employees and emergency responders were hospitalized due to burns and acute radiation syndrome, and hundreds of pediatric thyroid cancer cases were attributed to the fallout from the accident.

Some survivors live to tell the tale, however. In Chernobylite, a FPS-style game by The Farm 51, you play a physicist who survived the Chernobyl disaster. Your partner Tatyana, however, did not. Thirty years later, you are drawn back to Pripyat to search for answers regarding her disappearance and the greater mystery surrounding the area.

My Encounter With Chernobylite’s Creative Director, Wojciech Pazdur

I had the privilege of speaking to Wojciech Pazdur of The Farm 51, the creative director of Chernobylite. One of the things that makes this game unique is the 3D environments, Pazdur divulged. Using laser scanning technology, he and his team travelled to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, now only weakly irradiated, to recreate Pripyat in the most realistic way possible.

Using this same technology, The Farm 51 has a completed sister project to Chernobylite called Chernobyl VR that seeks to provide a comprehensive tour of the area as well as present history of the area and the disaster that affected thousands of lives. Proceeds of this VR game are being donated to victims who still require care from the decades-old disaster.

At its core, Chernobylite is a survival game. “Chernobylite” refers to a crystalline zirconium silicate that was formed within the disastrous reactor core accident. The crystal is highly radioactive due to the nature of the uranium and fission products within the crystal lattice. This crystal is largely unstudied, and for the purposes of this game, it seems to function as part of the source for the supernatural events that unfold.

Monsters and mutants roam the game’s exclusion zone, as do humans with their own agendas, such as military groups and “stalkers,” which informally refers to a broad category of misfits wandering the zone for their own interests. In addition, the ambient audio includes vague whispers that will grow louder and more insistent depending on which areas you visit.

All of these various sources provide a sense of “danger at next turn,” and the tension is compounded by the fact that your character is a scientist, not a soldier. Drop your guard, or attract too much attention, and the game becomes infinitely more difficult. In addition to enemies, your character will also need to eat and drink, avoid and recover from radiation, and make hesitant alliances in order to survive the harsh environment and avoid becoming irradiated soil yourself.

Chernobylite: Demo Review

In playing the demo, I found myself carefully progressing through the underbrush and using the handheld scanner to ping resources and crafting stations, but also to warn of the more heavily irradiated areas. I stumbled across an NPC stalker stumbling towards a military patrol asking for help, only to be executed by their rifle fire. I pressed my skill and was able to ambush the few men by circling behind them and dispatching them with a few well-placed pistol shots. Though this team was easily enough eluded and put down, the noise drew another patrol closer, and I had to run and hide to avoid becoming bullet fodder. Later, I learned that I could have saved that NPC stalker from the military fire and began a questline specific to that character.

Despite the looming threats, there are places for reprieve. Early in the game, your character establishes the Refuge, a customizable base of operations within the Exclusion Zone that allows for crafting, item storage, mission planning, and deployment. As you encounter “friendly” NPCs, they can gather at your base and even embark on missions of their own at your behest.

Referred to broadly as a “non-linear story,” Pazdur and his team wanted Chernobylite built from an engaging narrative that would be shaped by the decisions of the player. As a result, the area isn’t open-world per se. The game includes a series of massive largely 3D-scanned maps that the player can visit to complete various story and side missions, each drawing the player closer to one of the several endings. Within each of the maps are open-world elements like patrolling enemies, creatures, resources to gather, and secrets abound to those dauntless and/or well-equipped enough to seek them out.

The demo itself doesn’t have time to spend much time on the plot, but between seeing ghostly feminine characters who perform disappearing acts in abandoned buildings and hearing whispering voices, the game gives minute glimpses into what is to come. Progressing through the missions, there would be dialogue and choice options that allow the player to focus where they would like. The first example is a data dump that your mission is to sabotage. The player can choose if they would like to delete the cache or to save it for themselves to search for information on Tatyana. However, in saving the data to broaden your search, your relationship with the NPC who gave you this mission is strained.

Built on Unreal Engine 4 and having exceeded $200,000 in pledges on Kickstarter, Chernobylite will the be formally released on Steam sometime Fall 2019, and followed by console versions at an undisclosed date.

The Farm 51 has worked on other games such as Get Even, Deadfall, Painkiller: Hell and Damnation, NecroVisioN, and World War 3.

Follow Wojciech Pazdur on Twitter.

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