Many of you have heard of Chernobylite by now – the latest game from a Polish game developer The Farm 51. Chernobylite is (as of June 2020) an early access game placed entirely in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. It isn’t the studio’s first attempt at introducing Chernobyl to a wider audience. Their “Chernobyl VR Project” released three years ago recreates many of the iconic locations in a remarkably faithful manner using a technique called photogrammetry. It is essentially a virtual copy of the real locations built by taking hundreds of photographs of each building and object from every possible angle and using them for constructing a dimensionally accurate virtual space filled with highly detailed buildings, books, chairs, tables, toys, and flaking paint on the walls. From bubbling wallpapers to rusty soviet toy trucks in the abandoned nurseries, it allows many people to experience the Chernobyl Zone without leaving their homes.
*DISCLAIMER: I have backed Chernobylite project on Kickstarter with my own money and this is my personal opinion about the game. I am not related to the developer in any way.
The VR project is technically impressive but after visiting every location there isn’t much left to do there. This is precisely where Chernobylite takes over. Employing the same technology to make a full-on video game, it has a story, missions, weapons, items, crafting, voice acting, and all other modern goodies. It’s hard not to compare it to the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series, although Chernobylite seems to differ in concept from those games, at least at this stage of the development process. The maps are smaller and the game appears to be more story-driven (don’t worry, there won’t be any spoilers) than freely roaming a radioactive landscape to check every nook and cranny for some bread and vodka. From what I’ve seen so far, Chernobylite offers a variety of missions, from scavenging for resources to rescuing fellow stalkers, base building, day and night cycles, companions that can be deployed on their own missions independently, and crafting. All of that is tied together by a story of a missing girlfriend told through the protagonist’s memories and flashbacks. The game mechanics seem solid enough, most objectives can be completed either by lurking in the shadows or blasting your way through squads of enemy soldiers, and there certainly is enough there to keep players busy for some time. After a long day of killing human soldiers and mutants, manoeuvring between radioactive puddles and looting crates, items brought back to the base can be used to repair or build new equipment and weapons, feed and heal fellow comrades or make your headquarters a bit more cosy – nothing improves morale better than a nice cup of tea in a velour chair.
I’ve got to admit that I’ve got a soft spot for the location the authors selected for the player’s headquarters. You will be crafting, planning missions and sleeping in what clearly is a part of the unfinished construction of the 5th and 6th reactor blocks of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. It is one of my absolute favourite places in the entire exclusion zone – a steel and concrete behemoth, a twisty maze of cold and dark corridors, massive echoing chambers, and deadly drops around each corner. Sadly it comprises of just few rooms in the game, so I’m crossing my fingers that the developer will expand this location.
As I mentioned earlier, the game is still under development and available as an early access title – this means that the game isn’t finished yet and many things might be added, changed or removed entirely. There will be some bugs, missing content or blocked paths. I have been playing it briefly every now and then since I received my Kickstarter copy, mainly to see the progress between the major updates. Personally I don’t spend much time with main storyline in early access games because I want to enjoy them in a complete state as much as possible, and knowing half of the plot by the time it’s released takes a lot of the experience away. Lately I’ve been roaming the zone in Chernobylite using the Free Play mode which allows to disable enemies, choose weather conditions, teleport to a specific location and poke around it until your virtual legs start to hurt.
I decided to make a short comparison between some of the most iconic locations in real Chernobyl and the game as a fun weekend project, hope you like it as much as I enjoyed making it! I will be adding more contents as the game develops and new places appear, so make sure to follow my Facebook page for updates!
The attention to detail in the game is really impressive but I’ll let the images below speak for it. I constantly find myself searching for a toy, graffiti or a piece of furniture I remember seeing in Pripyat and other parts of the Chernobyl Zone just to check how well it was recreated. Those details are somewhat to be expected since the majority of models were meticulously scanned and photographed and this process is one of the main selling points of the game. But I still get that fuzzy feeling of coming back home when I stumble upon a swing on a playground or a broken tile on the wall that caught my attention in Chernobyl and has made it into the virtual world.
Obviously not everything is complete and fully optimised yet, although I get solid 50-60fps in Full HD and around 30 with occasional hiccups in 1440p (Ryzen 2700x, GTX 1060 6GB) on Ultra settings, which isn’t bad. The maps could be a bit larger, some buildings could have fewer locked doors and several landmarks are out of place. The last point looks like a sensible design choice to squeeze as many locations into the game as possible. For example both the Lenin monument from Chernobyl town and the Great Patriotic War memorial from Kopachi village now stand proudly right outside of Cafe Pripyat. I’ll give it a pass on this one considering the technological constraints and the artistic vision. If you want to see a 100% accurate map of Pripyat, simply go to the Chernobyl Zone and do it with your own eyes (with me of course! 🙂 )
All screenshots are unedited apart from slight cropping and/or tilting the image when needed to overlay them on my photos. The same result could be achieved in-game, but I simply don’t have the time or patience to move few pixels at a time to do it. I also adjusted the in-game FOV to match focal length of the lens used to take each photograph where possible.