REVIEW: ‘Chernobylite’ is Haunting and Challenging (PS5)

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Chernobylite

Chernobylite on the PS5 brings players to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone in all its disarray and neglect. A sci-fi survival horror RPG developed by The Farm 51 and published by All in! Games, the game features some fresh gameplay, engaging environments, and a gaggle of characters that are equally endearing as they are caricatures.

Chernobylite is set 30 years after the Chernobyl disaster. Following the calamity that changed the world, a material called Chernobylite began to appear in the Zone, leading a military contractor, NAR, to investigate its potential applications. While this material is revolutionary because it allows Igor to conjure traversable wormholes, it also brings with it hostile extradimensional creatures. But NAR isn’t the only party interested in the Zone. You’ll play a Ukrainian physicist Igor Khymynuk looking for his missing fiancé, who disappeared 30 years ago, right before the disaster. However, to find her, Igor must recruit allies in the Zone, stock up on ammo and food, fight both human and monstrous foes, and explore the derelict buildings to uncover the conspiracy behind his fiancé’s disappearance.

The game immediately throws you into the game with an introduction that sets up what to expect between the mechanics and the creepy ambiance. You’ll go on various missions where you’re tasked with completing main objectives such as finding new information about your fiancé, recruiting new allies, and killing monstrosities that threaten everyone in the Zone.

But outside of the main objectives, each area also has optional tasks ranging from finding vagabonds to trade with, unlocking doors or safes, and saving people from Chernobylite’s effects. While the main missions are engaging, it would be nice if the optional objectives were more elaborate. The story feels a tad lacking in complexity without intricate side missions.

Despite the meager story, the environments you’ll explore are wonderfully decrepit and spooky. Creaky floors, rustling bushes, and the distant sounds of children’s laughter—the ambiance is perfect, and the timing of the sounds and music are excellent. Sometimes, all it takes for your heart to race is a sudden gasp from Igor.

While the game is already haunting with its creepy atmosphere, the knowledge that you’re visiting a real city and a disaster’s location makes it more evocative. The Farm 51 has taken an event that wracked not only Ukraine but the entire world and mixed in a sci-fi twist. We see the lingering effects of radiation and how the Samosely, the people who returned and are illegally inhabiting the Zone, exist while warring with NAR. Even the buildings of Pripyat and the reactor are recreated accurately using drones, cameras, and photogrammetry. All this gives the game a haunting realness that is hard to shake.

While exploring Pripyat, you’ll need to be aware of your health, psyche, and radiation. Thankfully, you have a handy-dandy scanner that will ping items in the environment you can collect and let you know if you’re running into a radiation field. While these aspects are rather simplistic and familiar, the best part is the psyche mechanic. Killing people lowers your psyche, and the more it decreases, the creepier the game gets. A low psyche results in hearing sounds and seeing things, and your vision darkens around the edges. Of course, you can have full health and still have a low psyche, making the game even more challenging.

The areas are wonderfully crafted, and even though you’ll visit them repeatedly, they never get old. And part of this is due to the requirement to craft different items to get into new areas. Crafting is a huge part of the game; you’ll need it to get into new rooms but also to keep your allies happy and make yourself a better combatant. In between missions, you’ll go back to your base, where you’ll be able to craft things like generators and workstations that will let you create armor, guns, and ammo. But while the crafting isn’t particularly complicated, the game doesn’t hold your hand.

There’s no proper tutorial on crafting. It can get confusing; some items need to be built before others, and you’ll also need to keep your allies happy by creating beds, air purifiers, and entertainment. It’s essential to balance your allies’ happiness with useful equipment. You’ll likely stumble through your first few days, but eventually, everything makes sense. The crafting will be familiar if you’ve played plenty of survival games. If not, expect to struggle a bit.

Chernobylite

The characters are possibly the best part of the game. There’s a wide range of personalities to meet, from greedy vagabonds and a parkour enthusiast to a Slav squatter and a self-proclaimed Rat King. Obviously, many of these characters act as caricatures, but overall they add some quirky fun to balance out the horror aspects.

As you recruit more and more people, they’ll be able to help you gather materials for your base with optional daily missions you can assign them to. Each day is different, not only regarding the assignments available but also the weather and enemies. Some days, a fog rolls through, making it easier for Igor to sneak around. Some days, you’ll see helicopters in the sky, heralding more NAR patrols, meaning you’ll need to expect a fight. This mechanic is a nice touch, making each day different and adding a bit of luck to a game that can be punishing at times.

Death is indeed a punishment, with each death removing random items from your inventory. However, there is a silver lining. Each death means a chance to change the past. Chernobylite on the PS5 often asks players to make huge decisions that don’t have knowable consequences. However, you’ll be able to revisit these choices upon death and change them—just another of Chernobylite’s many quirks. It’s an interesting mechanic that I can see having many applications, including getting the ending you want without doing too much backtracking or restarting.

But you’re not the only character who can die; your allies can as well. These characters not only provide you with much-needed items, but they also offer valuable training. So once they’re gone, so too are their skills. The only thing I could do without is the activity the game pulls you into every time you learn a skill; the first few times are interesting, but it quickly gets redudant and bland.

While I enjoy the mechanics and overall Chernobylite on the PS5 ‘s gameplay, some things feel off. For example, it’s hard to judge the hit-boxes on enemies, with some shots not hitting while others hit despite feeling far off. The monsters are definitely frightening and can be really difficult to kill at times. But most of the time, you can cheese them; if you run away far enough, they’ll stop, and you can just sit there and shoot them. Additionally, a few visual glitches and crashes ruined the immersion.

Despite these gripes, Chernobylite on the PS5 brings players an excellent sci-fi horror experience with great ambiance, quirky characters, and survival mechanics that are challenging and satisfying. Additionally, The Farm 51 has released a digital charity pack DLC where all proceeds will be donated to Ukrainian humanitarian aid projects. So, if sci-fi horror survival games are your cup of tea, check out Chernobylite and pick up that DLC.

Chernobylite is available on April 21st on PS5, PS4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox Series X and Series S, Xbox One, and PC.


Chernobylite
  • 7.5/10
    Rating - 7.5/10
7.5/10

TL;DR

Despite some gripes, Chernobylite brings players an excellent sci-fi horror experience with great ambiance, quirky characters, and survival mechanics that are challenging and satisfying.