Green Is The New Black
HIGH One of the best sci-fi games I’ve played in the last few years.
LOW Overly simplified combat and survival mechanics.
WTF You have a PhD in nuclear sciences, but can’t throw a rock?
Chernobylite is a sci-fi survival game by The Farm 51, set in the ruins of Pripyat. At first glance it seems heavily influenced by other successful post-apocalyptic titles such as Fallout and Metro, but it ultimately succeeds in finding its own unique personality.
The protagonist, Igor, is a nuclear physicist looking for his fiancé, Tatiana, who’s been lost since the Chernobyl incident in 1986. He returns to Pripyat to search for her and must (literally) build a base of operations. Complicating the situation is that the site is under the control of a military group called NAR who’s conducting research on a mysterious mineral called Chernobylite that appeared after the incident. It’s a source of great energy and also has the ability to bend time and space under special circumstances.
This first-person adventure starts with no prologue and throws the player right into the action — and honestly, it’s a headache.
Chernobylite’s gunplay is super simple. Igor can only use a total of five customizable weapons, and there are five types of enemies in the game. The enemy AI is fine enough, but this lack of overall diversity is not acceptable.
In an an effort to enrich this aspect, Igor’s status as a physicist — not a trained commando or super soldier — means that it’s really difficult for Igor to fight and kill. That difficulty is materialized via the “Psyche” bar which depletes when Igor kills humans or takes damage. Though it’s an intelligent and coherent way to make players look for more strategic solutions than just pulling a trigger, the shallow mechanics prevent this idea from bearing fruit.
For example, Chernobylite lacks some of the most basic stealth mechanics such as distracting enemies or the ability to choose between knocking them unconscious or stealth kills. As such, its non-violent ‘avoidance’ approach becomes especially tedious, and as far as I could tell, playing with a fully depleted Psyche bar has no discernible consequences. I deliberately played three missions in a row with no Psyche left at all, and the only downside was a green splash overlay on the sides of the screen. It seems going loco isn’t that bad after all!
Fortunately, Igor is not alone in his fight against NAR. He will eventually find five allies to help him, and of that group, my standouts were the calm and patient Olivier, and the hot-headed Mikhail. Allies can be sent off to perform different missions like scavenging for food or resources. They also teach Igor different abilities and act as a skill tree. This unique and realistic approach to gaining skills is a welcome addition.
On the other hand, Igor needs to take care of these allies, both physically and mentally. If they are not properly fed or if Igor does not listen to their suggestions during story missions, they’ll start losing faith in him and may even leave the team for good. Keeping these allies happy is difficult because their views of the world and the advice given are often in contradiction with one another — following one member’s advice will make the other unhappy, and vice versa. Despite this difficulty, the constant challenge of balance is a memorable part of the experience, and it’s shored up by strong voice acting and distinct characteristics for each team member.
Chernobylite’s survival mechanics are nicely done. Thanks to a convenient handheld radar, searching for resources — such as the herbs that are used to make health packs — is not difficult, but building a good base takes a lot of time and effort since it needs to provide the team with power, protection from radiation and comfort. In fact, almost half the game is dedicated to building a decent base. Although grinding for resources is a bit overwhelming in the early hours, but later on the player gets can grow some of the most used items such as herbs and mushrooms. This makes upkeep and expansion much easier, and this is important as the stats of the base can affect Igor’s team members in positive or negative ways.
Once the player comes to grips with all of these systems, they’ll find that the true value of Chernobylite is that it’s full of unexpected events. I won’t spoil anything here but there are many, including a mechanic based on the chernobylite mineral’s time-bending abilities that lets the player re-do certain things if they go sideways. For example, if one of the team members wants to leave due to Igor’s attitude or if a poor choice is made in a story mission… there are options.
There are also other surprises, such as the way the world responds to Igor’s actions. For example, killing too many soldiers will result in increased NAR outposts in the land, or staying too long in one area will alert the Black Stalker (I won’t say any more) to Igor’s location.
The choices made by Igor during his journey truly matter, and despite some rough edges and certain aspects of the experience feeling a bit underdeveloped, I loved my time with Chernobylite and would recommend spending time with Igor and his crew to anyone.
Disclosures: This game is developed and published by The Farm 51. It is currently available on PS4, PS5, XBO, XBX/S, Switch and PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and was reviewed on PC. Approximately 16 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated M for Blood, Gore and Horror. The enemies in the game are humanoid monsters and human soldiers. In some instances, body parts are dismembered when they are shot. There are a few jump-scares in the game.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: The game has subtitles for conversations, but there are some audio cues (such as the sound of portals opened by the Black Stalker) that are not translated into subtitles and have no visual cues.
Remappable Controls: Yes, the game’s controls are remappable.