S.T.A.L.K.E.R is one of those games that is hard to describe. I can't imagine a western game studio releasing a game like this. We have to rely on eastern European game developers for it. S.T.A.L.K.E.R is primarily a survival game with a lot of horror elements Some of the design decisions are very old school, and it is better off for it. This game is a PC exclusive, therefore it can take full advantage of all the benefits that come with the platform, the most important benefit being mod support.
The game was terrible at launch. Thankfully, I never bought it at release. I've read forum posts by people who played about 30% of the game and when the developers released a patch, it rendered the previous saves useless.
As time went on, developers fixed some of the issues, and mods took care of the rest. The Complete Mod is highly recommended. I did not install the mod at the time, I encountered quite a few AI related bugs, but nothing game breaking. I recommend updating to the latest patch, and then applying the Complete Mod.
If you are spoiled by games like Call of Duty with regenerating health, then S.T.A.L.K.E.R is going to be hard, even on normal difficulty. I remember struggling my way through the game at the start because I did not have good weapons. This part was the least fun for me. Once the good weapons were available the game is a lot more fun to play.
Regardless of the type of weapon, accuracy is highly rewarded. It is possible to take out an enemy with a single headshot using a pistol. This will not work on all enemy types, therefore identifying enemies is important when approaching an area.
The game world is massive, and there are a few sections that require loading which can be slow, but it is not very frequent. The underground levels are very well done with excellent lighting and sound. Unlike most horror games, the game does not rely on jump scares too much. Its primarily an open world survival game.
If I am not mistaken, day/night cycles were not a norm at this point. This is the first game I played which had a day/night cycle. More often than not, I would not venture out at night, and when I did, it's a very different experience.
The game is about 20 hours long. S.T.A.L.K.E.R kept me engaged throughout and for what it costs, it's incredible value as well. I purchased this as a part of THQ bundle back in 2009. I recommend buying this on GOG.com, when it goes on sale.
Verdict – Must play