Updated: Jan 30
In 1972 a book, Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, hit the shelves with its fatalistic view of a world visited by extra terrestrials who's idle pit-stops on our planet leave destruction in their wake, much like messy picnickers leaving their garbage at a campsite.
In the wake of this book, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Shadow of Chernobyl was released, with heavy inspiration, in 2007 on PC. Produced by GSC Game World, a Ukrainian studio, the game takes place in the Chornobyl Exclusion Zone, a 30 km area around the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant called "The Zone". In The Zone there are radioactive mutants, biological experiments, and dozens of criminal explorers on the search for rare reality-warping objects only known as "Artifacts". Alongside these Artifacts are the reality-warping events and phenomenon known as "Anomalies".
As the player, you play as one of these criminals, known as a Stalker. The key appeal to the games is that you aren't anyone special. You're no hero, no chosen one, not even a good person. You're another body with a rifle, trying to survive the incredibly hostile environment. The world outside The Zone continues on as normal, but inside The Zone life is painful.
Alongside you there are various factions, all of which have a fairly reasonable viewpoint, which is refreshing in gaming where players are usually stuck choosing between 2 flavors of extremist; or worse, between status quo and cartoonish evil.
After Shadow of Chernobyl came the followup game, which worked more like an expansion of Shadow of Chernobyl. In 2008 S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Clear Sky released, which works as a prequel to Shadow of Chernobyl where players control a different Stalker named Scar. 2009 saw the release of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Call of Pripyat, taking place shortly after Shadow of Chernobyl.
In 2010 S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2 was announced, with a release date of 2012. However, multiple issues became apparent, and the project was canceled in 2012, shattering the hopes of Stalkers around the world of a continuation of the series.
Fans of the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. franchise have had to rely on a large modding community to satisfy their need for The Zone. With large packs such as S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Anomaly which puts all 3 games together while simultaneously allowing the player to deeply customize their own run by choosing a starting faction, kit, and even just taking over a random Stalker using the mod's Azazel mode.
The need for more Artifacts has led to mods being made for mods, such as with S.T.A.L.K.E.R. GAMMA, a modpack for S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Anomaly which includes graphical and mechanical overhauls for the game.
In 2018 S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2 was announced again on the Cossacks 3 Facebook Page, invigorating fans who saw. The game was slated to release in 2021 using Unreal Engine 4. When pushed, it was revealed that the game was still in the design phase and their early 2018 announcement was a strategy to find a publisher by E3 2018.
In March 2020, we got the first screenshot of the game released by the devs on Twitter, revealing a brand-new Anomaly, a special treat to everyone who was going into isolation during the Covid-19 pandemic.
It wouldn't be until December, however, that we'd get something more substantial. An in-engine trailer of the game showing off the game's graphical fidelity. The excitement for the new game reached all-time highs - after 11 years, we were finally getting more S.T.A.L.K.E.R.
June 2021, we got a release date for April 2022 and a gameplay trailer, showing off some of the new gameplay available as well as the move from Unreal Engine 4 to Unreal Engine 5, bringing with it more graphical stability and fidelity. The hype continued, even with a delay announcement in January 2022, pushing the game out to December.
One month later, in February, Russia began their assault on Ukraine, sparking fears that S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2 would be canceled while Ukrainians either took up arms to defend their nation or fled for safety.
War wouldn't be enough to stop GSC Game World, however, as the team moved to the Czech Republic and announced a 2023 release date, though we no longer have a month. It is expected that the game will release sometime in December 2023, but nothing is confirmed.