I got S.T.A.L.K.E.R. (henceforth “Stalker”, FFS) to work by disabling the dynamic lighting. Now everything looks way less impressive, but at least it doesn’t crash every 3-5 minutes. There are two immediately obvious structural differences between Stalker and Boiling Point or Oblivion:
First of all, it’s not one consistent world; it’s actually made up of zones, and you are prompted to confirm when you move between them. I think this is a big shame because although each zone is pretty big, the divisions break the supreme feeling of consistency and immersion that you feel when you can move freely throughout the game without meeting a single loading screen as you can in Boiling Point (Oblivion has to change maps when you enter towns/buildings/ruins/caverns/portals to Hell, which also breaks it a bit).
Secondly, there are no vehicles in Stalker. Boiling Point has an assortment of trucks, cars, choppers, and planes and Oblivion has horseys and quick travel, which is also important in this context. In Stalker, you can sprint, run, walk, or crawl, that’s it. And if you sprint or run, you get tired. At first glance, this may seem like a really bad idea, because it can make for a lot of very tedious travelling. However, in my experience, Stalker’s zones aren’t big enough to make it annoying. Unless you’re loaded with loot, you can generally sprint long enough to make it across any of the zones I’ve been to so far in a minute or two. Additionally, the game doesn’t seem to require a lot of moving between distant zones, unlike Oblivion which will happily send you to 3 different corners of the world in the course of a single quest.
I’ve come to realize that I actually really like Stalker’s system because it motivates me to plan my movement logistically. Thanks to the quick travel in Oblivion, I can easily travel to the other end of the country to buy a loaf of bread and then travel back again without any sort of punishment. I can do it as fast as the game can load the new area. Stalker forces me to think about where I’m going. How much stuff can I afford to haul along and sell while I’m near a trader? Have I accumulated enough missions in a given area that going there is worth the trouble?
Interestingly, this is one skill I’ve found I can use in my daily life. Especially at work, where we have several remote locations that we support in addition to those institutions that live in the same building as my department, and it’s useful to collect assignments at a given location for a while before making an expedition to the institution, so I can solve several problems at once; just like I might accumulate 4-5 quests in “Desolace” in World of Warcraft before bothering to travel there.
Two factors other than distance contribute to the importance of logistics. One is that enemies respawn and will attack you as you move around, further complicating travel. This is no different than Boiling Point or Oblivion, though. The second factor is that missions in Stalker are time-limited! I didn’t realize this until this weekend, and I’m actually very impressed with it. It’s about time somebody made another game where the player can’t just mess around indefinitely in the middle of saving the world or solving a hostage situation. Most missions have a specific time limit, such as “You got 1 day to kill this guy”, but in addition to that, missions may be failed without warning due to the game’s eco system. Perhaps the guy you were to kill is taken out by a radioactive anomaly or a pack of mutated boars. Obviously this complicates your logistic planning, because if you take too long to accumulate missions in an area, some of them may be failed before you get there. To avoid making this extremely annoying, however, side missions are generated randomly as the game progresses, so if you fail a mission, you can always come back later and get a new one.
Overall, I’m pretty pleased with Stalker, it’s very different from Oblivion or Boiling Point, but all three games are conceivably built around the same basic concept, which makes comparison a very interesting exercise. I may analyse and describe Stalker further in later posts, but I really have to start writing my Fiction Theory paper soon, otherwise stress will render me a mumbling wreck, curled up in a foetal position, blabbering incoherently in a corner.