The Chernobylite console release – developed by The Farm 51 and published by All In! Games – has been delayed a few times already. The good news is that, visually and performance-wise, it’s a solid port. The bad news is that there are currently several stability issues that will frustrate a player who relies on autosaves.
Chernobylite had an extended early-access period on PC, but for console owners who have only seen the trailers, it’s an unexpectedly compelling mash-up of genres and there’s a lot to talk about. There are survival, crafting, base-building, and combat mechanics but don’t let that line-up fool you. Chernobylite is still primarily a game with a strong focus on the narrative, player-choice, and dealing with the consequences.
Chernobylite’s convoluted, scientifically dubious narrative begins when the physicist Igor returns to the Chernobyl exclusion zone, searching for his fiancé that disappeared during the disaster 30-years before. He’s up against a multinational cooperation, the “NAR”, that officially “prevent intrusions and the spread of contamination” but unofficially conduct experiments using the titular “Chernobylite” (far more mysterious than the real-world compound).
Igor is not playing it straight with his mercenary companions and fails to mention that he hears the voice of Tatyana in his head. This voice often acts as his moral compass, questions his judgement, dishes out prophetic warnings, or rambles in a horrifying raspy way. Several questions immediately come to mind: why is Igor returning now? Why does Tatyana appear to him? Where did he get a portal gun? The answer to all these questions is entertaining if a little dumb at times, but it provides a good hook to keep you invested in the story.
After an early failure, Igor’s ultimate goal – which you can attempt at any time – is to prepare a new heist at the power plant. Along the way he’ll (optionally) recruit several companions – all connected to past events in the exclusion zone, providing entertaining banter and tragic backstories – and collect evidence for several investigations that reveal past events.
Although not immediately apparent, Chernobylite’s narrative is semi-linear and there’s some randomness to the order you recruit companions (there are dependencies though). Most main missions end with a choice, shifting your companion’s loyalty – choices always split the team – and sometimes opening or closing off quest threads. The further you progress, the tougher it becomes to balance loyalty and you’ll find yourself making some morally questionable decisions to further Igor’s goals.
However, unlike so many games that force you to replay the entire game, Igor’s portal gun allows him to jump through time as well. As such, these choices and the consequences are not set in stone. Death or, hilariously, “self-annihilation” sends Igor into a fractal dimension. With sufficient Chernobylite, you can examine key decisions along your timeline and alter those events, changing your companions’ loyalties, revealing more about your investigations, and even unlocking a few mutually exclusive missions.
An optimal final heist means completing investigations, acquire specific gear, and keeping your companion’s loyalty high. Depending on your decisions both before and during the final heist, your team can survive, or several will die. Given some important clues are only given during this finale, it becomes an entire metagame of its own.
Of course, if you need players hitting frequent narrative beats and potentially replaying the final heist repeatedly, you need brisk pacing. Thankfully, Chernobylite‘s basic gameplay loop is simple but engaging. You tackle missions daily, engaging in scavenging, stealth, and combat in a semi-open world, as you pursue short story quests with variable outcomes at the end. This is followed by an evening at your base, conversing with companions, crafting base improvements and new gear using the resources you find, before turning in for the night (or engage in a VR-like investigation if you’ve collected enough facts).
Each element is mechanically streamlined, simple but engaging, without becoming burdensome. Independent difficulty settings for resource availability, combat difficulty, and base management allows you to fine-tune the game and focus on the elements you enjoy most. When exploring the large-ish zones, you’ve got a handy PDA scanner, compass, and detailed map to speed up your progress. These point you to your objective and any optional encounters, while the scanner highlights resources and even investigation evidence.
Avoiding radiation hot spots, patrolling NAR soldiers, and “shadows” is key to any successful outing, though Igor’s handy portal gun allows him to extract from (almost) anywhere, at any time, if things go south. You gain experience from everything you do, be that exploration, combat, crafting, and missions, which unlock skills points that can be used to learn new perks from your companions back at base.
Missions will take you back to one of the six semi-open zones repeatedly before the power plant heist, but they’re not as static as in many survival- and crafting-based games. The weather, radiation zones, toxic gas clouds, and NAR patrols all change over time. Certain story decisions change locations permanently, time-sensitive optional encounters can be found and there are once-off stashes of gear or components to loot once you’ve got the right tool. You can build campfires, crafting workstations, and even devices that reduce hazards on future visits that remain intact.
To keep you moving, spending too much time in a zone slowly triggers a Chernobylite storm that spawns shadows, or the mysterious “Black Stalker” might emerge to try gun you down and capture you. The mission flow becomes more focused towards the end, but the early game is full of interesting encounters to find between mission objectives.
When you do get into trouble, the gunplay is competent enough that you can rely on your aim and reflexes, but still clunky enough to encourage stealth. Thankfully, Chernobylite’s control scheme is simple and menu-driven, so gamepad implementation is good throughout. You initially encounter unarmoured NAR soldiers and humanoid “shadows”, though the roster grows to include armoured soldiers, shambling zombie-like shadows, invisible shadows, and annoying mutated insects. NAR soldiers are easy to dispatch by stealth if you’re patient, but the shadows can slip in and out of reality, making it difficult to predict their movement.
As the NAR use biometric locks, you only have a few classic weapons to collect and modify – a revolver, shotgun, and AK-47 – along with two sci-fi variants you can eventually craft. Armour types are powerful but require a consumable item to provide protection (think metal/ceramic plates and batteries). To assist your companions in their daily field missions – collecting crafting supplies, ammunition, medicine, food – they can be allocated a weapon and armour to bolster their stats. You could tackle these resource-gathering missions yourself, but some main quests are time-sensitive and you’re far better off focusing on the narrative missions and base building anyway.
Building up your warehouse base – juggling comfort, power, air quality, radiation, and sleeping spaces – is an involved process but only relies on a handful of resources. Mechanical scrap, chemicals, flammables, herbs, and mushrooms are used to craft workstations, power generators, and radiation scrubbers. It makes no sense, but it is engaging and incentivises resource gathering during missions. Admittedly, few gameplay elements outside of the timeline tweaking feel particularly novel or deep, but their streamlined nature and the quick missions make Chernobylite a more-ish experience for its brisk 20-hour story.
Despite some teething issues on PC at launch, Chernobylite runs unexpectedly well on consoles. It uses photogrammetry for the textures and has a strong focus on lighting and atmospheric effects. This ensures it often looks great – aiming for a mix of medium to high PC settings – albeit lacking the massive production values of its “AAA” peers. You’ll explore large, lifelike spaces and soak up the strangely serene atmosphere. There’s often a calm ambience and excellent, soothing soundtrack that make exploration a joy – before someone or something jumps you unexpectedly.
With so many story elements and optional conversations, there’s a lot of dialogue in Chernobylite, all of it voiced. Russian dialogue with subtitles feels perhaps the most authentic, but the English voice actors are entertaining and feel like they’re hamming up their role. This feels appropriate given the overreliance on real-world references, conspiracy theories around nuclear and industrial catastrophes, simplified scientific descriptions, and an increasingly wild narrative.
Played backwards-compatible on an Xbox Series S, performance was locked to the 30fps target though the last-gen consoles can waver from that dependent on the location. There’s no evidence of the constant stuttering that plagued the PC launch but there can still be small stutters when an autosave triggers (only a few select spots). Unfortunately, load times can still feel a little long, and my first hours included several crashes to the OS, and one mission in which the fail-state seemed to overwrite all my other manual saves and force me to restart from the base. These issues should hopefully be patched in short order.
All things considered, Chernobylite is a multi-faceted game that feels greater than the sum of its parts. It’s not going to be for everyone, and definitely not those who feel production values are all it takes to make a “good” game, but it’s a compelling non-linear narrative experience that encourages you to mess around with your own timeline and perfect your end-game heist. If you enjoyed Farm 51’s Get Even for its twisting, weird, and unpredictable narrative, Chernobylite will scratch that itch – just with refined stealth and combat, and some simple but engaging survival and crafting mechanics thrown into the mix. Few games provide a divergent narrative these days, and fewer still that manage to turn those deviations into a compelling metagame itself.
Developer: The Farm 51
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X and Series S, Xbox One, PlayStation 5, Microsoft Windows, Nintendo Switch
Publishers: The Farm 51, All in! Games SA, Perpetual Europe
This review is based on the PC version of the game which can be purchased here for £23.79
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