At a time when the FPS had stagnated to the point of ridiculousness, it was Ukrainian developer GSC Gameworld’s 2007 sleeper hit S.T.A.L.K.E.R. (Scavengers Trespassers Adventurers Loners Killers Explorers Robbers) that brought cleverness and originality back to the genre. Filled with post-cold war uncertainty, fear of the unknown, and creating a sense of helplessness in the player, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. became a huge hit and seemed to fill the void long left behind by games like System Shock 2 and Deus Ex.
Unfortunately, like all good European developers, corporate politics killed their ambitions. After GSC Gameworld studio head Sergiy Grygorovych nabbed the rights to the series and held them hostage, the rest of the team disbanded. Though most of the developers left to form 4A Games (The Metro 2033 folks) and the rest started Vostok Games (which is currently working on a Post-Apoc game called Survarium) , there was another development house born from that uncomfortable split that still had yet to produce a game…
That changes now as the Kickstarter for Areal, a S.T.A.L.K.E.R. inspired successor, has reared its head. Developed by West Games, a company made up of the senior GSC Gameworld staff, Areal looks to be more of a S.T.A.L.K.E.R. reboot than the online Day-Z-esque game Survarium turned out to be, which has already sent some of the community members I still speak to into an outright frenzy.
Much of Areal has been ripped right from S.T.A.L.K.E.R.’s design document and the entire game reads like an exact copy of the old cult hit. Not only do you have the same style of anomalous artifacts we saw in S.T.A.L.K.E.R. (This time called metamorphites), but the game will also use a variation of the X-Life AI routine that made the ambient creatures and their behavior so realistic. Throw in the promise of free-form questing and heavily moddable weapons and it becomes apparent that S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2 didn’t really die two years ago.
A couple things really stick out though with this new game, chief among them the ability to use the vehicles that populate the world map. This was something many fans wanted from the original series but never received, unless you count the mods which hacked it in.
The other big surprise is that they claim their engine is so flexible that it can easily support the Wii-U, and as such, will enable them to simultaneously release the game for all console platforms as well as PC, Mac and Linux. This is rather interesting since the original GSC Gameworld X-Ray engine technology was programmed by Oles Shyskovtsov and Oleksandr Maksymchuk, who now work for 4A Games and are considered two of the brightest stars in the 3D engine-creation business. It’s hard to believe their engine is as flexible and powerful as 4A’s own Metro series engine.
Before S.T.A.L.K.E.R. fans hit the roof with joy, there has been a wee bit of controversy with this new announcement. Apparently, the developers of Survarium (Vostok Games) were less than enthused about their former colleagues releasing a direct copy of their S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series and has alerted the copyright holders of the game’s kickstarter presence. Though no lawsuits have emerged, it seems there is a fair amount of hostility between the two developers. West Games, headed by Eugene Kim and Yuriy Negrobov, do not seem phased by this and addressed the topic on their Kickstarter by posting the following:
We have contacted Vostok Games about their supposed claim that we are fraudulent. They say that they have no relation to that claim and have since deleted the forum topic wherein a moderator accused us of being fake. The Kickstarter comments section has been completely hijacked by a couple of people, and even if we comment there, our posts will be ignored and buried. Misery LTD in particular is developing another post apocalyptic video game and is stirring controversy to attract people to his Kickstarter project. I hope that you, our supporters, can see through this deliberate negativity and help us make an awesome game with Areal. Update 2 is coming later today, and will clarify things even further.
No doubt, this game will hit the post-apoc community like a brick to the head and we’ll follow its development as the kickstarter progresses.