Is Chernobylite Worth It? A PC Review

Chernobylite is a science-fiction survival horror RPG from developers The Farm 51. Set in the hyper-realistic, 3D-scanned wasteland of Chernobyl’s Exclusion Zone, explore a non-linear storyline in your search to uncover the truth of your tortured past -- Steam

Explore Chernobyl; ground zero of the worst nuclear disaster in history in sci-fi adventure Chernobylite for PC. After some time in Early Access, the 28th of July 2021 will see the full version released into the wild. Infamous internet question: is Chernobylite worth it? Hell, yes.

The 11th of March 2011 was an unforgettable date when the Tōhoku earthquake triggered the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant to fail, changing our way of life. Only 45 minutes from our home, we later found out that the water supply had small traces of radiation. In comparison to the 26th of April 1986, when the Chernobyl power plant exploded, we didn’t take any chances and left for the UK. Hindsight can be a wonderful thing.

In The Farm 51’s Chernobylite, the team have faithfully captured the plant and surrounding area of Pripyat using 3D scanning. This is the horror element of the game; seeing the remnants of a once populated location discarded like a radioactive Silent Hill is disturbing. No doubt you’re familiar with the Ferris wheel from Call of Duty? It makes a cameo.

Chernobylite Review

What brings us to Chernobyl, 30+ years after the event? You play Igor Khymynyuk, a physicist based on-site during the catastrophe, but manages to escape unscathed. The same can’t be said about his fiancée Tatyana who disappears without a trace. After receiving a photo many years later, there’s hope that she’s still alive, so he returns to the exclusion zone only to find it heavily occupied by a military presence. Cue some conspiracies, revelations and the groundwork for a heist mission to learn what happened to Tatyana.

Chernobylite gameplay - The Ferris wheel
A Ferris wheel for dark tourists. Source: Steam

Chernobylite gameplay is a first-person story that boasts multiple genres and does it well. Free exploration (radiation permitting), stealth-based assassinations, gung-ho balls-to-the-wall gunplay, or in some cases, a complete pacifist approach. It’s entirely up to you. The same applies to assembling a crew for the heist, and let’s be straight: beggars can’t be choosers considering the circumstances. You’ll have to manage a diverse team, and your actions won’t always resonate with everyone.

Igor sets up a base and each day attempts a mission to bring him closer to Tatyana or assist with a task for one of the team members. As your team grows, you can assign their missions – a bit like Partisans 1941. Their efficiency is based on their physical and mental health and the equipment they’re given. While you can allocate them the primary mission, they’ll only scout as Igor must fulfil the main story arcs.

The HQ is where you apply your plan. You’ll need to ensure the team are allocated rations at the end of each day, have sleeping quarters, and the accommodation is comfortable, has clean air and is free of radiation. As you complete tasks, such as missions, gather resources for crafting, kills and exploration, you’ll level up and learn skills from your team. Unlocking new skills are crucial to your survival.

Radiation Can Be Hazardous To One’s Health

As for Igor, the base will be where he can create load-outs such as conventional and advanced weapons, armour and consumables. Weapons and armour improve with ammo capacity, damage, range and what have you, but the consumables are arguably more important in Chernobylite as they’ll keep you alive – be it from damage inflicted by soldiers or the hazardous environment.

Chernobylite Steam - Entering the plant
Entering the plant. Source: Steam

In the field, particularly combat, Chernobylite handles like most FPS games; only you have the option to be discreet with any engagements or avoid fighting altogether. There isn’t an abundance of enemies, but the low visibility, hostile terrain, and the need to scavenge mean there will always be something to do. Then add the sci-fi elements, and you’ll be thankful for carrying two weapons and a bundle of syringes. 

The visuals, notably the textures and structures, are fantastic. It creates a sense of devastation as everyone you encounter wears a gas mask, scrounging for whatever is left. Interiors such as abandoned dwellings or underground tunnels are claustrophobic. Even with Igor’s trusty scanner to seek out loot, and later threats, you’ll find yourself listening for threats. Chernobylite isn’t scary, but it’s not without some jump scares that genuinely had the old ticker running for the hills.

But it’s not just radiation exposure that Igor must contend with, but his mental state too. Regardless if he can headshot three NAR soldiers in a row without being seen is insignificant. He’s a scientist, and this will naturally play havoc on his mental state. Each enemy encounter will affect Igor’s psyche. Heck, even if you use herbs or first-aid kits, it’ll reduce the stat. The solution? A cheap bottle of vodka (or some cleverly crafted equipment from the hideout). 

Cosmic Theories

On the topic of Igor’s mental state, the story segments through the game and the character’s reactions challenge your sense of trust. Are your comrades who they say they are? What is NAR’s real purpose? Chernobylite has its fair share of MacGuffins and double agent tricks without being a barrage of rug pulling. The Farm 51 neither treat you like an idiot nor do they throw so much at you that you’re reaching for your notes on Einstein’s theory of relativity or re-downloading your Stephen Hawkings books from Audible.

Chernobylite PC review - MTV Cribs
MTV Cribs. Source: Steam

The reveals don’t miss a beat regardless of the order of completing missions or the decisions made. As the key parts of the narrative take place during the VR set pieces in Igor’s room, it’s impossible to miss them as they’re of a voyeuristic nature (steady there, perv), meaning you’re fully attentive to every word. That brings us to the audio.

I set up Chernobylite with Russian audio and English subtitles. Without knowing a word, I couldn’t comment on enunciation and what-not, but it sounded fantastic. The only issue was having to read the subtitles during action sequences which meant missing a few nuances. Switching to English was a bit of a jump as, unlike the Russian alpha-male Igor, his counterpart was a well-educated academic type. He didn’t take long to grow on me, though, and the actor, Ian Russell, was perfectly cast. My only beef was during some VR sequences; the acting sounded like a table read. This was only noticeable due to the passive moments of the storyline and not something to cry about as the rest was superb.

These set pieces and engagements with your team at the base and over comms made this a human story. Without any direct spoilers, Chernobylite takes it up a gear when it comes to the sci-fi element but doesn’t go balls-out, straying from the source material and fundamental struggle with mortality. Chernobylite is a story about a man determined to find out what happened to his lost love via any means possible. He’ll complete story objectives for others, but the motivation is to assemble a team to discover the truth about Tatyana. How Igor gets there is down to you and your actions.