chernobylite preview

Kickstarter has become a haven for broken promises, reckless ambition, and deliberately misleading marketing stunts — particularly when it comes to video games. But there’s something about The Farm 51’s Kickstarter for Chernobylite that feels different. The studio’s previous release, Chernobyl VR Project, showed a unique connection to the disaster, one that the developer obviously felt the need to explore even further. With 3,350 backers racking up a whopping $206,671 — over double the initial funding goal — the Polish studio has been under a lot of pressure to deliver something worthwhile. And it’s done just that.

Don’t try to be a hero

In Chernobylite, you play as Igor, a Ukrainian soldier with a unique connection to the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. After successfully raiding what remains of the now Russian-controlled Chernobyl power plant, Igor discovers the remnants of one of his former projects: “the manipulator.” The manipulator is a device that gives Igor the power to create wormholes, allowing him to traverse time and space via the element “chernobylite.”

A narrow escape from Russian forces lands Igor and his companion Olivier in an abandoned warehouse on the outskirts of the Exclusion Zone. This will function as your base of operations. And you’d better get comfortable, because you’ll be here for a while.

chernobylite chernobyl power plant preview

The manipulator has the ability to bend time and space but requires tons of energy. Luckily, chernobylite is an unlimited source.

Igor’s primary motivation is to find his girlfriend, Tatyana, who was lost during the Chernobyl meltdown 30 years earlier. While finding her initially seems like a long shot, increasing supernatural activity says otherwise. The longer I played, the more difficult it was to discern if these events were actually happening, or if the radiation poisoning was finally getting to Igor’s brain.

While Chernobylite‘s narrative may seem nonsensical, it just works. Moments of science fiction contrast beautifully with historically realistic recreations of the Chernobyl meltdown. And the struggle between Igor and his inner demons proves more than compelling enough to push the narrative forward.

chernobylite control room preview

Stunning representations of real-life landmarks lend a sense of legitimacy to Chernobylite’s world.

Dialogue is well-written and often witty, although English speakers will be forced to read subtitles due to an all-Russian cast. This was never a problem for me — in fact, I felt the Russian voice acting lent a sense of authenticity to the world.

There isn’t much else for me to say about Chernobylite‘s story, as countless branching dialogue options and gameplay choices will craft a unique narrative for every player.

Welcome to the real world

The Farm 51’s goal of portraying “real humans in real environments” reminds me exactly of The Division 2 and its 1:1 depiction of Washington DC. You can really see the painstaking level of detail that the developer put into crafting a believable recreation of Pripyat. Structures like the Duga radar, the Polissya hotel, and of course the Chernobyl plant itself are all beautifully rendered to scale, thanks to 3D renders the developers captured on site.

The realism of Chernobylite‘s world is bolstered even further by its non-linear story. Typically, I’m skeptical when developers tout how “no two playthroughs will ever be the same,” but it shocked me to discover how diverse my options were in Chernobylite. Even the smallest decisions genuinely make a difference to the game’s world and have lasting consequences.

Chernobylite duga radar preview

Detonate the duga radar and face the consequences, or lie low and stick to the shadows. Which will you choose?

Chernobylite will force you into uncomfortable situations that question your morality. How will you distribute what little rations you’ve scavenged between your comrades? Do you investigate the crying you hear in the distance, or focus on finding Tatyana? Will you rescue a trapped enemy, or leave him to die from radiation poisoning? The best part is that there isn’t any right or wrong answer, and the split-second decisions will haunt you no matter what you choose.

Stick to the shadows

While Chernobylite may seem like an action game, its gameplay is actually rooted in survival. After escaping the power plant, Igor and Olivier find themselves with nothing but a single pistol. They must scavenge the exclusion zone for materials like food, electronics, and medicine to survive. Ill-equipped and on the brink of starvation, stealth is absolutely essential, especially considering the high-powered rifles of Russian soldiers and the supernatural monsters that await you if discovered.

sneaking chernobylite preview

Sneaking around to avoid enemies will give you the best chance at survival.

Chernobylite is separated into a series of “days,” where only one level can be completed in a single day. Your time exploring that particular level is limited to 30-minute increments, forcing prioritization between objectives and gathering resources. Ultimately, every objective is optional, so it’s up to the player to choose what they want to accomplish.

“Nights” are spent back at your base, where you’ll perform upgrades, build new structures, and tend to the comrades you’ve picked up along your journey. This aspect of base building offers a well-deserved reprieve from exploration. I spent way too much time trying to juggle my base’s power demands with my thirst for new gear.

chernobylite base building preview

Upgrading your base will also require constant attention to electricity output and comfort of life.

Progression feels meaningful and well-rounded, and it requires constant attention to both your settlement and your personal skills in an increasingly hostile environment. As you gain skill upgrades and level up your base, you’ll really feel like you’re becoming more powerful.

It’s a start

From a technical perspective, there is absolutely room for improvement. The game’s performance is sub-par for the Unreal Engine. Sound glitches hurt spacial awareness far too frequently, and English translations are hilariously rough. But all of this comes with the territory of an Early Access release. Those who buy-in at this point aren’t doing so for perfection, but rather for the promise of a small studio that wants nothing to do with the easy way out.

graphics settings chernobylite preview

While some of the Graphics settings don’t quite work properly yet, there are enough to accommodate any modern system configuration. There’s also a built-in benchmarking tool!

What The Farm 51 has crafted in Chernobylite is more than admirable. If you’re willing to push through some of the Early Access quirks, there is plenty of content here to enjoy.

I guess the only question left is: how will you survive?

Jordan Bottrell
A washed up CS:GO player who has a strange affinity for Bubsy 3D and Sonic Spinball.

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