Chernobylite is an interesting amalgamation of a first person shooter, survival game and base management sim, where you get to build your dream apocalypse homestead for you and your friends. It’s a very intriguing concept with a sadly middling execution.
You are Igor, a physicist who was working at the Chernobyl power plant at the time of the 1986 disaster. That same night, Igor’s wife Tatyana, who was also at the plant, vanished. Thirty years later, Igor has gone back to Chernobyl to find out what happened to his wife. With the Chernobylite substance that was formed after the nuclear disaster giving you the ability to travel through time and space, time-bending shenanigans ensue, with Igor finding himself in a bad spot, starved of resources and low on friends. Time to make new friends, build up a funky base, and ultimately find out what happened to his significant other at the power plant.
The game is broken down into days. Each day, you are able to go out on one scavenging mission in search for clues and items needed to craft new shiny things, though you can also send out your comrades to complete missions, with a percentage chance of success based on their skills. Each day you will need to feed your men, give them places to sleep and keep their spirits high. This is done by building up your base and providing beds, lighting, and other homely items.
The base building is solid. You get an editor mode which lets you place items wherever you want, building things like crafting stations and cooking areas to cook… food, obviously. You can even build a mushroom garden if it floats your boat.
However, you never get to see anyone actually interacting with things, making it all feel a little soulless. Yes, I could set the layout of my base, but it didn’t feel lived in. I was just making numbers get bigger, essentially.
Interacting with your newfound friends is where it’s at and there are five people to recruit in total. Each character has their own story to tell, memories to explore and skills to learn from, making Igor even more deadly. You start with Olivia and if you really want, can go straight into the final mission, though you’ll most likely die. It’s better to go out into the field, discover other new people and gear up so you can take on the power plant without being destroyed.
The characters themselves are also interesting, engaging, and sometimes you may even need to settle disagreements between, treating them fairly to avoid them turning their backs on you later and stiffing you for the last mission. Management of your crew is essential to your eventual success.
The voice acting on the other hand is terrible. Everyone feels very overacted, especially the main character, who feels like he’s hunting for treasure in a jungle somewhere. You’re best off sticking with the native voices and subtitles.
The daily scavenging missions are set in one of six regions around the disaster area, letting you search for clues, meet up with new characters or progress the main story. The areas aren’t massive, but they are pretty to look at. You really do feel the haunting ambiance as you go through each building block, recreated via 3D scanning of the actual real life Exclusion Zone.
That said, the zones do feel a little bare and all you’re really doing is hunting around for resources with the help of your scanner that you’re pinging every thirty or so seconds. Searching buildings quickly became a chore, especially as some that were difficult to navigate, and when you’ve had to jump through a bunch of hoops to reach one end, the last thing you want to do is jump those same hoops to get back. It’s quite irritating.
Enemies that patrol the zones do so on set paths, never really feeling like they had any life or agency. I was comfortably able to sneak up to most enemies and silently kill them for an easy time. If you do resort to head-on combat, the first person shooting feels a little clunky. You have an evasive side-dash, but few enhanced movement options beyond that. Maybe I’m spoiled by the standards set by many modern shooters, but overall, this didn’t feel good to me. Leaping over obstacles is sketchy at the best of times and there’s no sliding or firing from cover so it all feels a little stiff.
I found myself reveriting back to stealth whenever the option presented itself because the thought of engaging in a drawn out gunfight was not pleasant. Saying that, even stealth can be a little basic. It’s all good taking enemies down, but you can’t hide bodies and even then, enemies don’t really react as you’d expect. The game in general has two split play styles that fail to excel in either category. It’s a bit of a shame really.
At least you can’t deny the atmosphere of the surrounding areas. As I said previously, the game is stunning to look at and zones are generally dripping in atmosphere, but you have to choose between performance and quality modes. On Xbox Series X, quality mode runs at 4K 30FPS, but switching to performance gives you 60FPS while only running in 1080p. The difference was staggeringly noticeable and I felt like I was stuck between a rock and a hard place, eventually settling on the quality option despite normally going for performance. There’s also elements of input lag which is a real shame.