There are any number of colorful and inventive ways to cover or pay homage to the Chernobyl accident that plagued the Russian countryside in the mid-1980s. The dark struggle to regain some sort of environmental and political composure after the incident was a worldwide topic for many years, and ensured an enduring infamy.

Welcome to 2004, where THQ has devised a vehicle to emulate the very frightening suppositions of the outcome of the Chernobyl fallout from the nuclear mist that covered the land after the power plant meltdown. S.T.A.L.K.E.R. dives into the gritty realm of real-world possibilities with a first person shooter that not only explores the ugliness of what could be, but defies irony in its visual beauty and capture of time and space gone horribly wrong by man’s hand.

Very little play access was attained during the THQ party in which S.T.A.L.K.E.R. was featured – indeed, there was supposed to be a network arena for a four-player experience. But simply watching the prowess exercised in the demo’s lighting and physics models were impressive enough. Lights with their mountings shot from the ceiling would sway and spin in chaotic circles casting realtime shadows of any obstructions in the vicinity. Bullets fired through a wooden supporting structure would strike the ground behind it, many dozens of feet below, in a realistic emulation of substance stopping power (or the lack thereof, in this case). The bodies of the bipedal (human?) forms in the game exhibited a satisfying emulation of the ragdoll physics we’ve all grown to love and expect.

There will also be some alignment politics that come into play, which means that you will have to use some form of discretion when sniping from a dilapidated shack or running-and-gunning into an unexplored room. The world of post-Chernobyl is populated with fellow S.T.A.L.K.E.R.s, and they will be willing to trade ammo/replenishments/info for a price, provided you haven’t blasted the hell out of any of their friends en route.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is certainly all about the eye candy, exploiting the latest and hardiest abilities of DirectX in order to create an environment that both draws you in, and creeps the hell out of you. Night and day missions do not vary in the isolated mutants of nature we’re all used to seeing – fleeting creatures of ill design and octopus-faced leech men lurch in the shadows, waiting to put your mettle, and trigger finger, to the test.

Seems as if there’s a time and a place for every major catastrophe or traumatic event to become fair game for the boundless fields of imagination and confabulation. Now is that time for the Chernobyl fallout in the very well-realized FPS, S.T.A.L.K.E.R.

- Erin Ellis