Chernobylite Review (PS4) – When Big Ideas Stumble Along the Way
Chernobylite PS4 live review – Ever since I was little, I have been fascinated by what happened in Chernobyl; this weird kid in American college, researching why something so tragic could happen. Imagine my surprise to find that Chernobylite takes an approach to this famous place using horror. While most of the ideas implemented lack depth, the compilation of FPS-meets-base-building-meets-time-travel works well enough to create something worthwhile.
Chernobylite PS4 Review – When Big Ideas Stumble Along the Way
Igor Khymynuk previously worked at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant before the explosion, alongside his fiancee, Tatyana. Shortly before the explosion, Tatiana disappeared and Igor never knew how she had disappeared or where she had ended up. 30 years later, he receives a mysterious old photo of Tatiana, which prompts him to return to the exclusion zone in search of answers.
In a cavalcade of intriguing ideas, the story itself takes the cake in this game. Chernobylite practically prompts you to try out different narrative outcomes, and many of them later in the game are doozies. Splattered throughout the game are chunks of chernobylite, a hyper-reactive crystalline substance that formed as a result of nuclear fallout, which gives you access to what I call a timeline portal.
After opening the Time Portal, you walk down a long hallway, lined with Chernobylite blocks that each represent a key decision point. You then choose to relive that moment and change your choice, changing the way your game played. If you went from the end of the game to the first two missions where you destroyed a building instead of upgrading your equipment, the scenario adapts to that outcome. While not a new idea, the execution and choices you face make it special.
I cannot say that the whole story changes completely with each permuted decision, except for the final choice, because the desired goal remains mostly concrete. At the same time, it makes the trip much more unique and malleable. Bringing together foresight and hindsight into a cohesive game is just plain cool, rewarding yourself for making mistakes and trying new choices as you progress.
CQC, or reconciled collection
Every now and then you run into random people in the exclusion zone. While some may join your team, more often than not they only act as a quest engine or salesperson. At the same time, recruiting everyone can only benefit you. The skill points you get from sending enemies and exploring contribute to your development, but you need to interact with your recruits to have them teach you your skills.
This makes for a pretty cool leveling system. Instead of looking at menus and fiddling with numbers, you interact with your allies and they teach you how to be more stealthy or have better accuracy or be more efficient in stealth kills. These little touches help make your character more integrated into the world you occupy.
Mechanically, Chernobylite works as it should with simplistic FPS controls and movements. In general, the movement is rather steep when navigating, but the game offers excellent peek mechanics with R1 and L1. You can peek around the corners as you move. Most of the games I’ve come across require you to stop before taking a look, so this acts as a welcome mechanic, although it’s not that necessary.
Enter the exclusion zone
It is clear that Chernobylite was developed by passionate people because the attention to environmental detail comes through vividly. The team went to the actual Chernobyl Exclusion Zone and meticulously mapped it to fully represent it in the game. While the general foliage doesn’t budge at all, the trees have a nice movement that I don’t. not seen in a lot of games.
Your Geiger counter works not only as a radiation detector but as a general scanner. You can even filter the scan to find specific types of resources, like food or fuel. I never used the specific searches though, as all of the items tend to be quite far from each other. So I maximized my rally by grabbing everything instead.
Your whole base
This brings me to another point: space without content. Dilapidated buildings provide great places to search for survival goods and improve the occasional narrative pace, but they usually lack a lot of interaction or challenge, other than the need for a lockpick here and there. A lone enemy or two patrolling random locations, but they don’t fight much.
While this leaves the game world rather empty, the way the game offers itself helps you counter that void. Instead of sneaking around, you can just run around and focus on collecting and developing your base. You use these few supplies to craft crafting items, equipment, props, and tables.
Think basic construction in Fallout 4 but oversimplified. Instead of needing many different materials of all types, all you need is flammable parts, mushrooms, electronic parts, chemicals, and herbs to craft everything in the game. to manufacture ranges from air filters to lamps to ammunition, but the options are far from diverse.
There’s not a whole lot of depth here in this side of the game, and it only takes basic effort to create it all. At the same time, it continues to play a part in the game’s strategy of giving you things to do without getting in the way of the story they want to tell. The lack of depth benefits the story, but the same does not hold true for the gameplay.
While Chernobylite lets you explore the Exclusion Zone, the map itself isn’t expansive. In fact, in order to access the map, you have to send yourself or your allies on specific missions. Specifically, each day brings a new story-based mission, and the only reliable way to accomplish them is for you to do them personally.
These missions then send you out into the field, where most of the time the terrain is the same open area you explored in previous missions. Ultimately, sending your allies on random missions benefits your entire crew as they bring back larger batches of resources and food needed to support your party. It helps reduce your need to constantly search for all the resources on your missions, even though I found myself constantly scouring every nook and cranny for goodies to improve my base.
This repetitive side of the game makes me happy that Chernobylite doesn’t have the kind of depth I would have preferred under other circumstances. It gets bland pretty quickly, but cleaning up each mission only takes a few minutes, narrative beats included. This style of execution is by no means ideal, but the path of least resistance works as a sort of compensation for the limited time you need to do the extra things.
Lost progress and mistakes
Aside from the mixed bag mentioned above, only a few sides of the game don’t perform well. The first comes in the form of glitches and performance issues. As you move between fixed linear sequences and areas of the open world, the frame rate drops from 60 to 30 smoothly. It juxtaposes itself in a lively way and takes a fair amount of time to get used to.
The worst problem, however, is corrupted backup data. While I have spent the majority of my time on PS5, the PS4 version still suffers from corrupted save files. Every time I select “Reload last checkpoint” the game crashes and a corrupt save data message pops up the moment I load the game. I first learned this after playing five hours, and in a game that only lasts 20 or more, that’s a significant part of the overall progression lost.
The last negative comes with the dubbing. The acting itself is decent, if a bit low-end, but everyone has British accents, even Canadian mate Olivier. In a Russian game with a Russian main character and a majority of the Russian cast, it just seems misleading to ignore this level of authenticity. This is especially true with the way the creators put so much love and attention into history and the manipulation of time.
The caveat here is that you can play the game entirely in Russian. After losing my save data, I played it this way. The vocal work has a different energy, and it feels much more appropriate to the events and the characters. For those who hate subtitles, I wish Chernobylite had the time and resources to provide Russian voice actors for the English dub.
Good ideas with a lot of baggage
Every once in a while a cool project comes along that tells you a story the creators really wanted to share. Chernobylite is one of those games. Despite his problems, the worst of which can be fixed, Chernobylite takes a bunch of different ideas and does just enough of them to complete his tale instead of redirecting your attention.
Check the code courtesy of the publisher.
Chernobylite will be released for PS4 on September 28, 2021.