Chernobylite has a really cool and intriguing story with a fantastic atmosphere and addicting gameplay with one interesting mechanic that I haven't really seen before. Yeah, I absolutely loved Chernobylite during my 10 hours, 13 minutes, and 38 seconds of play... I hated it when the 39th second ticked, but more on that later.
I love games that build cool alternate stories around real-life events and, as you should have guessed by now, Chernobylite's story revolves around the Chernobyl disaster. In 1986, reactor 4 in the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, near the city of Pripyat, exploded causing, what's considered, the worst nuclear disaster in human history. The game starts 30 years after the disaster where you play as Igor, a scientist, who along with his wife Tatiana, was employed in the power plant during the disaster. His wife has been missing for the last 30 years and after she invades his dreams, he believes that she is still somewhere stuck inside the power plant and wants to rescue her.
So he mounts a rescue mission along with two mercenaries and infiltrates the nuclear plant. Unfortunately, he doesn't find his wife, but the otherworldly material known as chernobylite which has some pretty extraordinary abilities. Just a few seconds later, a mysterious figure known as The Black Stalker appears from a portal, kills one of the mercenaries while wounding the other, and goes for Igor next. However, Igor sticks a piece of chernobylite into an odd-looking gun and creates a portal from which he escapes along with the wounded mercenary.
Yes, it's a sci-fi alternate story that involves weird crystals, portals, wormholes, time travel, mutants all tied up in a conspiracy story that I absolutely enjoyed from start till the save corrupted, but more on that later. The portal transports Igor and Oliver into this beautiful although creepy dreamscape seemingly infinite reality which kinda serves as a bridge between two points in space and time. From there they go into another portal and they find themselves in a warehouse.
The warehouse serves as a base of operations where you will get to construct many different machines, with materials you and your team scavenge during missions, that allow you to build better weapons, tools, and equipment as you prepare for the second attempt on the power plant. Each day you can play and complete one mission and assign other available side-missions, mostly ones to get more food, ammo, and materials, to your teammates. Oliver is the first one that joins you again and as you complete more missions in the six fairly big open maps around the nuclear plant and Pripyat, you get to interact and recruit other stalkers, survivors, people into your team.
I was pleasantly surprised at how well-written, well-acted, and how fully realized these characters were. After each mission, you return to the warehouse and you get to interact and talk with these characters. Oliver is a badass with a hard exterior shell but has a big heart and cares for his teammates. Mikhail is a crazy coked-out of his mind stalker, with tons of crazy and funny stories to tell from years of stalking through the nuclear wasteland and the other three, are also very interesting. The more you talk to them, the more you learn about their past, interest, and motivations and you can also have them train you which basically improves your character stats.
The story is really good. I am a sucker for conspiracy theories and I really loved how they have intertwined the nuclear disaster with top secret soviet and clandestine experiments. The more you play, the more clues you find which in turn can be used by the Chernobylite powered VR googles Igor has created that let him see the echoes of the past, basically see what has happened before, during, and after the disaster. While in this VR mode, Igor is once again transported to the dreamscape where he can move around and hear conversations between the many players behind the secret experiments. Throughout all of this, Igor also hears the voice of his wife Tatiana, but you don't know if he's really hearing her or if it's his mind playing tricks on him.
During missions, Igor is presented with different choices that affect the relationship with your teammates which in term also affects how the overall story unfolds. So a choice that might seem not that important like killing a seemingly random survivor might completely lock you from recruiting one of the NPCs which might also create some big implications during the final Heist mission. Choices really do matter, but what's even more interesting in Chernobylite is that you can change your choices if you don't like the outcome. This is the interesting mechanic I was talking about in the intro.
You see Chernobylite, the material which you can scavenge from big blocks during missions or craft using one of the machines, can be used as a currency in the bridge dreamscape reality. When you die during gameplay or choose to commit suicide by dipping into a radiation bath, the game does not load a previous checkpoint but moves on. You enter the dreamscape where you can revisit and alter any of the important choices you have made during gameplay and once you return back, the new reality has that new choice. It's a really cool mechanic that allows you to experience multiple scenarios without the need to replay the game from the start and I haven't really seen that done before.
The game looks really good, especially in the outside areas, woods, swamps, roads etc. as the team used photogrammetry where the in-game assets are generated based on photos they took on location. These when combined with some beautiful lighting create some stunning photoreal and extremely atmospheric visuals. Inside of the buildings, on the other hand, the lighting is not as good and some inside locations end up looking really plain, weird, and not that good.
The gameplay loop is also really good. It's a type of loop which I really love. Basically in each mission, you start in a random place in one of the six large areas around the plant where along with completing the main mission, you can also explore following the question marks that appear on the compass. You might find stacks of ammo, materials you can use to build and expand the warehouse, interact with other NPCs, find irradiated and possessed dolls, or experience and hear echoes of the past cause, you know, fifty thousand people used to live here, now it's a ghost town... get it? There are a couple of weapons like a revolver, shotgun or AK-47 that you can find around while exploring and different enemies both human and mutants to kill.
Each kill affects Igor's psyche, but it's nothing a bottle of vodka can't solve. Gunplay is fairly ok and somewhat satisfying, but not really challenging especially after you get a couple of upgrades for your weapons. Stealth is also an option as Igor can silently execute enemies with his knife or just headshot them with a silenced option. The Black Stalker will appear a couple of times out of nowhere as he has access to the same portal tech, but again it's nothing a couple of shotgun shells to his face can't solve. Once you complete the main mission, you can use the portal gun to return to the warehouse where you can build new machines, craft new or upgrade existing weapons, talk to the team and sleep to move to the following day.
Now for the bad stuff. The game runs on 30fps on consoles and since there's no next-gen version out yet, you will play this version in your new shiny plastic PS5 or Series X boxes. But the frame rate isn't all that stable as it constantly drops below that number. That also combined with a horrible heavy motion blur, that hurts your mind, when you move the camera undermines and takes you out of the whole experience. It's a rough game, but since I got addicted to the gameplay loop, I kept on playing even though I shouldn't have. But the worst offender is the corruption of the saves. I was on the final mission, I died cause I wanted to change a choice and during the loading, the game crashed. Upon restart, the last save along with the other 4 autosaves were corrupted and I lost all progress. That fucking sucked and I am still angry, 3 days later after it happened as I am writing this review.
I am not the only one that has experienced this as there are countless others all over the devs' Twitter page. There's nothing worse that can happen while you are playing and most importantly, really enjoying the experience. The devs, of course, know about this and they are working on a fix, but I don't know if this fix will restore my progress and I don't want to go through the whole thing again with that horrible framerate. Maybe I'll wait until the PS5 version is out. Maybe I will be playing better games at that point and have completely forgotten about this game. Man, I wish I had access to some Chernobylite so that I could go back to a point where the game was still working...
After what happened to me, it's hard to recommend this game to anyone playing on console cause the same thing might happen to you. If they manage to fix this major problem with the save corruption, then Chernobylite should definitely be on your must-play list. Until then, there are tons of other great games to enjoy. Thanks for reading.
The game was reviewed on a PS5 (via BC) using a PS4 code provided by the publisher. Chernobylite is out now on PC, PS4 and Xbox One.