S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2: Heart of Chernobyl has finally been given an official release window by Ukrainian developers GSC Game World. Long dormant since 2012, this open-world apocalyptic shooter faced multiple setbacks and long delays but is finally nearing completion with a release date set for 2022. Blending elements of survival, economical management, and role-playing into one package, the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series was highly regarded as one of the best out there, but has begun to show its age quite a bit.
Now with a nearly finished full sequel, it’s time for a recap of this very involved series based around a fictional version of the infamous 1986 disaster that evacuated the citizens of Chernobyl, Ukraine and the surrounding towns. Here’s the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2 story so far ahead of its release in 2022.
The stories of the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. games take place in the Zone of Alienation, a supernatural area surrounding the infamous Chernobyl nuclear power plant just outside the city of Pripyat, Ukraine.
After the fall of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, a mysterious organization known only as “The Group” delved into research of mind control and the Noosphere, an invisible sphere connecting the psychic energies of all humans on Earth. In hidden laboratories throughout the Zone, The Group would conduct research into psychic weaponry and the Noosphere in secret with nobody besides a select few knowing their true objective. By 2006, The Group would launch experiments into creating a collective consciousness to actually directly breach the Noosphere and alter it in some way. This experiment was known as the Collective Consciousness, and on March 4th, 2006, the first mental merging of what would go on to be named C-Consciousness began.
Residents still living in the Zone of Alienation recall seeing a mysterious light coming from something in the proximity of the Chernobyl power plant the night of March 4th, 2006. The lights only lasted for a couple of hours, but suddenly vanished. Later in April 2006, the lights returned but were also accompanied by a deafening, thunderous sound and a magnitude 6.9 earthquake.
Subsequent investigations found the source of the incident to be somewhere around one kilometer away from the Chernobyl plant and was originally rumored to be the nuclear fuel dump experiencing a catastrophic failure; that is until the “impossible” started happening. Mutated lifeforms starting showing up in the Zone, people were disappearing and reappearing as mindless irradiated zombies, strange energy disturbances dubbed Emissions attacked anyone who dared get close to the Chernobyl power plant, and mysterious energy anomalies wandered around the Zone. Scientists and military forces stationed there believed the Zone itself to be “alive.”
After a third incident involving the deaths of Ukrainian ground troops in 2006 to an Emission, Captain Tachenko of the Ukrainian State Security forces established the paramilitary group Duty. The troops under Tachenko’s command swore their lives to protect the outside world from the dangers of the Zone and contain the Anomalies. A joint operation between Duty and Ukrainian army forces mounted an assault towards the center of the Zone, the Chernobyl nuclear plant, with the intention to destroy whatever source of these Anomalies may be with the use of nuclear weapons. The forces were quickly wiped out by another Emission and the Zone was sealed off for safety.
In 2010, expeditions back into the Zone revealed the presence of mysterious individuals patrolling the Zone, some even living there long-term. These individuals would be labeled by the Ukrainian government as Stalkers, illegal residents of the Zone either by themselves or in organized groups. By 2011, the “Stalker Phenomenon” peaked when news had gotten out to the public that the Zone of Alienation was habitable and those willing to take the risk could enter the wastelands in and around Pripyat and Chernobyl. These men and women would make a living inside the Zone as mercenaries, traders, and even establish their own small towns and villages, much to the chagrin of the Ukrainian government.
The biggest prize of the Zone are Artifacts, objects altered by the radioactive and exotic energies of the Zone’s Emissions. These bizarre objects exhibit properties like states of visibility, or absorbing large amounts of radiation around them, or making wielders resistant to damage from electricity. As a drawback, Artifacts can make the user ill from overexposure to radiation, making them extremely risky to use but very useful in an emergency.
The most recent S.T.A.L.K.E.R. game takes place somewhere in the year 2011 and centers around many important individuals and factions within the Zone.
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Characters and Factions
Strelok, a.k.a The Marked One
Strelok fills an interesting role in the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. universe as the antagonist of Clear Sky, the protagonist and playable character of Call of Chernobyl, and a major character of Call of Pripyat.
Strelok is one of the most experienced Stalkers in the Zone, and one of the few that managed to breach the inside of the Chernobyl Power Plant. Originally leading a military group prior to the events of Shadow of Chernobyl, Strelok managed to escape multiple assasination attempts by the forces of the faction Clear Sky and their ace Stalker, Scar.
Following his efforts to reach the Wish Granter at the center of the Chernobyl power plant failing he was brainwashed by the C-Consciousness to become a member of Monolith. He’s rescued from a Death Truck, a vehicle used by the C-Consciousness to get its victims back into the Zone, and becomes stricken with amnesia.
After helping Professor Sarkhov with research in the area, Strelok finds out about who he really is and regains his memory. He gains the nickname The Marked One, or “Mecheny” in Ukrainian, by denizens of The Zone for the tattoo emblazoned on his arm during his brief time as a Monolith soldier that reads, “S.T.A.L.K.E.R.”
Strelok has since become a prominent member of a research group looking into the remaining Anomalies still riddling the Zone and how the loss of the C-Consciousness has affected the Zone as a whole.
Ghost was an expert infiltrator that helped assassinate the leader of a fanatical cult called Final Day. Ghost then went on to be a valuable ally of Strelok, refusing to abandon him at the evacuation of the Chernobyl plant’s ruins during the events of Clear Sky.
Shortly before the events of Shadow of Chernobyl, Ghost was killed by a Controller mutant when he was escorting an ecologist, Dr. Vasilev, out of the most dangerous parts of the Zone. Before he died, Ghost recorded a final message on his PDA, cursing the doctor for leaving him for dead.
Fang is a fellow Stalker and member of Strelok’s squad. Known to speak with a slight stutter, Fang is a technical genius known for breaking into the unbreakable.
He helped Strelok and his group through the Pripyat Underground to infiltrate the Chernobyl power plant, bypassing the infamous Brain Scorcher, a military installation that contains technology that is rumored to control human behavior.
Fang is chased by Scar during the events of Clear Sky, but is wounded during the pursuit. Strelok finds his grave is located in two separate places, but no story fully corroborates if he’s either dead or alive. It is only known that he was last seen in the Pripyat Underground alive, but did not come back out of there.
Scar is the main character of S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky. A skilled mercenary with military history, he arrives in the Zone with an interest in finding out more about the wastelands and the Artifacts within. He becomes a Stalker for hire and is employed by a group of Ecologists to escort them through the Zone to study various aspects of the area.
After being injured during an escort mission to the center of the Zone with a group, he is exposed to the second-largest Emission in the Zone and left barely alive. Scar gains notoriety in the Zone for being the survivor of not one, but two Emissions. Scar never speaks, maintaining a very stoic personality. However, his exposure to multiple emissions has gifted him with both a blessing and curse.
The radiation has given him extraordinary abilities like increased reflexes and superhuman strength, but eventually it will burn his nervous system and either kill him or turn him into a zombified Stalker, according to Professor Kalancha, a doctor working for the Clear Sky faction.
After incapacitating Strelok at the Chernobyl power plant during a fierce battle, the Third Emission wipes out most of the forces in the area and Scar disappears. Most assume he was either inducted into the ranks of Monolith against his will, or vaporized by the Emission that attacked the troops surrounding the Chernobyl power plant.
Major Alexander Alexandrovitch Degtyarev
Major Alexander Alexandrovitch Degtyarev is the main character of S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat. Alexander was originally a resident of the town of Pripyat, but was evacuated during the 1986 disaster.
After becoming a skilled soldier under the Ukrainian State Security, he journeys to the Zone as an undercover Free Stalker to uncover the reason why Operation Fairway, a joint military operation to take control of Pripyat and the Chernobyl power plant, failed and all of its forces were wiped out.
Following a successful mission to stop the forces of Monolith, a Stalker faction under the control of the C-Consciousness, Major Degtyrarev reports his findings back to USS leadership. While radioing headquarters for an evacuation with the materials, the Major helps Strelok evacuate the Zone along with documents about the history of Project 62 and the underground lab designated X-8, both relating to The Group’s and pre-2006 experiments. The Major is promoted to Colonel by the USS for his heroic actions, but he declines a position at headquarters, choosing to remain a permanent observer of the Zone as a Stalker.
C-Consciousness (A.K.A the Common Consciousness) and The Group
The C-Consciousness was a secret Soviet-funded experiment conducted by an organization only known as “The Group” to explore the concepts and use of the Noosphere, or “sphere of human thought,” and to find a way to breach the physical sphere of the collective human consciousness surrounding the world.
The Group believed controlling or altering the Noosphere would lead to massive breakthroughs in furthering research into this mysterious force of psychic energy that surrounds the Earth. Seven volunteers were connected during the experiment and the superconsciousness born from them attempted to “correct” the Noosphere. The first experiment took place on March 4, 2006, inside an underground laboratory near the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. This experiment had failed due to a sudden power outage, but was successfully repeated on April 12, 2006 that resulted in a massive alteration of the Zone.
C-Consciousness and The Group, now controlled by the superconsciousness born from the seven volunteers, then desired to find methods to control the now expanding rift in the Noosphere. They constructed a defense network known as the Rainbow Emitter or later the Brain Scorcher, a special antenna array that would amplify the psychic waves emitted by the still-connected superconsciousness. Anyone caught within the range of the Brain Scorcher would become psychically controlled and indoctrinated into the rogue military group Monolith.
The forces of Monolith were originally a clan of fanatical Stalkers unified by a religious-like obsession with a mysterious object they called the Monolith, an object hidden deep inside the Sarcophagus in the center of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant Reactor #4.
In 2011, the entire platoon of soldiers packed up and marched for the center of the Zone and disappeared near the site of the Brain Scorcher facility prior to a massive Emission and were never heard from again. Months later, reports of aggressive Stalkers attacking the border around the Zone spread. As it was discovered by Strelok’s group, these aggressive Stalkers were the former free soldiers of Monolith indoctrinated by C-Consciousness to become the protectors of the area in and around the Chernobyl plant.
More aggressive than zombified humans, soldiers of Monolith are smart and very well-equipped fighters, and they will stop at nothing to protect the Sarcophagus housing their mythical god.
S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Clear Sky Recap
Taking place prior to the events of both Shadow of Chernobyl and Call of Pripyat, Clear Sky is actually first in the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series despite being released later than Shadow of Chernobyl. We join our protagonist, Scar, an elite Stalker that came to the Zone as a free agent. As Scar is escorting a group of Ukrainian ecologists through the Zone, the group is attacked by an Emission. Most of the group is wiped out, except for Scar who is rendered unconscious and later found by a passing group of Stalkers on their way back to camp.
Scar is taken to a camp of the faction Clear Sky, an independent organization dedicated to studying the Zone’s phenomena to better understand it. The faction leader Lebedev and Professor Kalancha remark that Scar’s brain was left very intact after the Emission killed the expedition force.
Scar is tasked with finding information about any activity regarding Stalkers trying to reach the center of the Zone. The first clue is that a suspicious group was found talking to the trader Sidorovich in the Cordon, the southern boundary of the Zone. After helping Clear Sky forces regain control of the swamps, Scar makes his own way to the Cordon, where he is contacted by Sidorovich, an information and goods broker known throughout the Zone.
Narrowly escaping the Military outpost next to his entry point, Scar meets Sidorovich, who discusses what is happening in the Cordon. Certain events have caused rogue Stalkers and the Ukrainian State Service (or USS) forces to turn on one another: after the military betrayed the Stalkers and sold out some of them to the rival Bandits faction, the rogue faction led by Father Valerian captured and held military commander Major Khaletskiy as hostage in retaliation. During a skirmish, a case of loot is lost by the rogue Stalkers and is retrieved by Scar in exchange for the location of two high-value individuals associated with the USS. After carrying out a successful mission, Khaletskiy divulges the location of the missing loot and Scar returns it to Sidorovich.
Sidorovich reveals to Scar that the group that paid them a visit are looking for exotic weapon parts that were contained in the case. Scar is directed to an area of the Zone known as the Garbage, where pre-2006 relics affected by the Noosphere are known to be lying in piles of rubble. One particular member of the group is named Fang, and he’s located somewhere in the heart of the Garbage territory. Scar finds a missing PDA that leads him to the location of Fang: somewhere in the Dark Valley, a territory controlled by a Stalker faction known as Freedom who fight for the ability for free access to the Zone. After dealing with the mutants and a contingent of mercenaries guarding a second cache of valuable supplies, Freedom’s commander, Chekov, tells Scar that Fang headed back to the Garbage to look for more supplies.
After reaching a supply outpost, Scar is ambushed by bandits who originally intended to catch Fang, but ended up with Scar instead. Stripped of his equipment, Scar finds supplies and a PDA belonging to Fang nearby. The mysterious group that has been hounding Scar is known as the Strelok Faction, a group of elite Stalkers intending to penetrate the center of the Zone and find out what’s hidden inside the Sarcophagus, the concrete enclosure surrounding the melted reactor of the Chernobyl nuclear plant. Lebedev reveals to Scar that these mercenaries are likely the reason why increased Emission activity is happening and the Zone’s own psychic auras want them gone.
Scar finds out the Strelok Faction group is headed towards the Agroprom Research Institute, an old 1960s Soviet era institute tasked with studying genetics research and the early days of consciousness control off the record.
Upon arriving at the institute ruins, Scar discovers the area is under the remit of the Stalker group Duty, who are the main rivals of Freedom. Duty’s members seek to protect the world from the dangers of the Zone and destroy the mutants living there, often clashing with Freedom’s ideals of an open Zone to all. Scar finds the leader of Duty, General Krylov, who informs him that the Strelok Faction soldiers have made it to the underground areas of the Institute. Battling through a seemingly endless infestation of mutants, Scar floods the Agroprom Underground region and discovers the Strelok stalkers are intent on finding the item known as the Wish Granter: a mysterious object contained inside the center of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant said to possess immense power and grant a “wish” to anyone who encounters it.
After chasing Strelok through the Zone, Scar comes upon the abandoned town of Limansk, a nearly intact Soviet-era town left practically intact since the 1986 evacuations of the Zone. Forced into a war between bandits, the remaining Ukrainian State Security Forces still occupying the Zone, and the fanatical soldiers of Monolith, Scar calls upon the help of his fellow soldiers of Clear Sky to take back Limansk.
Claiming victory by taking out both a contingent of Monolith forces and a Ukrainian army helicopter, Scar then finds out from Lebedev, his commanding officer in Clear Sky, that Strelok is wearing a prototype psi-blocker device to prevent Emissions from attacking him directly. Scar disables the device worn by Strelok and subdues him. The Zone itself seems to react to this defeat, suddenly beginning to clear the air around the Chernobyl plant. Suddenly, a violent Emission bursts out of the sky and attacks everyone in the vicinity including the soldiers of Clear Sky, Scar, and Strelok. Seeing brief visions of the 1986 incident during the massive psychic disturbance, Scar is then mysteriously whisked away by the storm and Strelok becomes marked by the C-Consciousness and is indoctrinated into the forces of Monolith. Neither are heard from again.
S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Shadow of Chernobyl Recap
As Shadow of Chernobyl begins a convoy of trucks, rumored to be “Death Trucks,” vehicles controlled by the C-Consciousness to carry victims off to mysterious regions of The Zone, is struck by lightning and wrecks. One of the Stalkers carried by these trucks found by an anonymous man is seen bearing a tattoo on his forearm that reads “S.T.A.L.K.E.R.” The unconscious man is brought to the information broker and trader Sidorovich, and in the person’s pockets Sidorovich finds a PDA with only one request in it: “Kill Strelok.”
This man, called “The Marked One,” or “Mecheny” by Sidorovich and other Stalkers, is one of the only people to have survived the “Death Trucks” and lived, but Mecheny cannot recall his real name whatsoever. Recovering a flash drive containing valuable information about this “Strelok,” Mecheny learns that Strelok and his group of elite Stalkers were the only ones to reach the Chernobyl power plant in decades but then went missing.
Sidorovich tells Mecheny that a group of traders in the north wants to bypass the facility known as the Brain Scorcher, the mysterious antenna array that emits powerful psychic energies that can even kill anyone who can get too close to the building. Finding out information about two of Strelok’s closest allies, the Stalkers Fang and Ghost, Mecheny sets off towards an abandoned laboratory in the Zone known only as “X-18.” After making it to Lab X-18, Mecheny experiences a mysterious vision of Strelok standing in front of The Sarcophagus, the concrete structure containing the destroyed Chernobyl Reactor #4 and an object called the Wish Granter.
Mecheny then escorts a scientist living in the Zone, Professor Kruglov, to a bunker with the professor’s colleague Sarkharov. He learns about a second powerful Psi-Emitter, called a Kaymanov Emitter, in the Yantar region. With the help of the professors, Mecheny is given a protective Psi-Helmet to prevent the Kaymanov Emitter from controlling his mind and turning him into a brainless zombie. Mecheny then experiences a second vision of Strelok, this time with his friend “Doctor,” and expressing a desire to “return to the north.” He also finds the deceased body of Ghost, who was originally covering escort for a deceased ecologist looking to find another laboratory in the Zone. Information left behind by Ghost then leads Mecheny to the Agroprom Underground nearby, along with the location of “Doctor.”
Entering the Underground, Mecheny is caught in a nearly lethal booby trap protecting Doctor. Thankfully, Doctor rescues him from the trap and reveals to Mecheny that this “Strelok” he’s been tracking has been himself all along. Now, with Strelok remembering the most important information, he proceeds north to the Brain Scorcher, where he manages to overcome numerous Monolith troops to deactivate the massive psychic energy array inside the installation. Strelok then makes his way to Pripyat, where he finds his comrade Fang’s grave and the decoder that he hid in an abandoned hotel.
With the aid of a few expert Stalkers, Strelok fights his way to the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. Against all odds, Strelok fights through the hordes of Monolith soldiers, with the Military nipping at his heels, and manages to enter Reactor #4 in spite of an impending massive Emission from the Zone’s Noosphere. A hologram appears in place of the destroyed Wish Granter, a worker of the Common Consciousness experiment. The hologram answers some of Strelok’s questions, such as the purpose of the Death Trucks and C-Consciousness’ ulterior motive. Strelok also finds out the reason for his amnesia and the PDA with the order to kill himself: C-Consciousness did not recognize his identity during the battle over the Chernobyl plant months prior and brainwashed Strelok unknowingly with the order to kill himself without knowing that Strelok was his own target.
After being mysteriously teleported to another section of the lab, Strelok destroys several stasis pods holding the original test subjects for the C-Consciousness experiments. The Consciousness seems to dissolve its hold over the Zone and the environment changes thanks to the absence of influence over the Noosphere. Strelok also notices the “S.T.A.L.K.E.R” mark on his arm has disappeared. He expresses doubt over if he made the right choice to destroy the C-Consciousness, but Strelok knows that he just survived the ordeal and is thankful for it.
S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Call of Pripyat Recap
Picking up during the second half of S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl after Strelok deactivates the Brain Scorcher, Call of Pripyat follows the exploits of Major Alexander Alexandrovich Degtyarev. He is a Ukrainian State Service operative sent into the Zone undercover as a Stalker to uncover the failure of a military operation to take back the Chernobyl plant from Monolith, codenamed Operation Fairway. The plan was to send an expeditionary force to detail anomalous field locations, after which the main force would be sent in. However, all 5 helicopters meant to map the area crashed.
Disguised as a Free Stalker, Major Degtyarev is deployed into the Zone to hunt down the wreckage of Stingray, the helicopters lost during the Emission over Chernobyl power plant during the events of Shadow of Chernobyl. While investigating the wreckage of Stingray-3, Degtyarev finds out that the military had established evacuation points in the center of the Zone. Decrypting the Stingray-1 black box, Degtyarev learns that the survivors are headed for the city of Pripyat and are waiting for evacuation.
Major Degtyarev forms a team of elite Stalkers with allies from various local factions, including a survivor of Monolith’s forces that broke free of the psychic control of C-Consciousness, and he enters the Jupiter Underground to find the way into Pripyat. Along the way they fight through waves of mutants and the group is ambushed by Monolith soldiers, but the group survives the encounter.
After leaving the tunnel, they are ambushed by a military squadron, who take them to their base where the Major meets with their leader, Colonel Kovalsky. He tells the group that the survivors of Operation Fairway are locked in battle with Monolith forces scattered throughout the city and taking heavy casualties.
After eliminating pockets of Monolith soldiers, the Major learns about an underground laboratory designated as “X-8,” and discovers top secret documents about its operations as well as experiments conducted in the Zone. When he returns, Kovalsky speaks with Degtyarev and asks him to destroy a Monolith radio jammer allowing them to communicate with headquarters. Not long after, they detect a moving signal which they believed to be a Monolith squad attempting to attack the few remaining survivors. He finds out that it’s Strelok coming to the army base with much-needed backup.
Strelok tells them that he has invaluable information about the Zone that would be of help to the government. He also explains the reason why the choppers fell – even though they had mapped out the anomalies, they didn’t know that the anomalies moved around at will with each new Emission that occurs. They have to wait until the end of another Emission currently going on to send out a new anomaly map to a rescue unit. They succeed in getting word out, and two choppers arrive to extract the survivors, including the Major and Strelok, near the Prometheus cinema. They are ambushed several times on the way by mutants and zombies, but manage to finally reach the plaza, where the rescue unit is under heavy fire from Monolith troops. With the help of the survivors and the Major, the military fights back and are able to extract out of the Zone.
For his acts of bravery and delivering valuable information to the Ukrainian government, Major Degtyarev is given the opportunity to be promoted to the rank of Colonel which he declines – he later becomes the head of the Security Service in the Zone. Strelok helms the creation of a Scientific Institute for Research of the Chernobyl Anomalous Area, with Strelok taking up the position of chief scientific consultant. Kovalsky is forced to explain the reasons for Operation Fairway’s failure. After a drawn-out investigation and the brass’ failed attempt to make him the scapegoat for the failure of the operation, Kovalsky receives an honorable discharge.
What’s New In S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2?
GSC Game World offered an updated look at the technology in the game engine being used to make S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2: Heart of Chernobyl during an anniversary event on March 21, 2021. Showing off rich detail in the models and textures, including unique sets of teeth for NPCs across the entire game. It was quite a spectacle and gained a lot of hype for the small Ukrainian developer.
Mechanically, GSC Game World doesn’t seem to be messing with the formula much. The rough survival mechanics and deep customization of your character will return. Guns will still have their modular characteristics, with the ability to add and modify components of weapons like barrels, scopes, and under-barrel attachments.
Other classic components include the return of the anomaly detector, seen in the E3 2021 trailer. Much like in previous S.T.A.L.K.E.R. titles, this is how the player will hunt for anomalies to exterminate and collect. The detector beeps more frequently depending on how close or far you are from an anomaly, and to gauge distance to an anomaly, the player can throw an innocuous object like a rusty bolt to find the area affected by the anomaly so as to not be harmed by it. Anomalies can range from electricity-emitting clouds to artifacts changed by the Zone’s emissions of exotic energies.
Other mechanics haven’t been fully disclosed as of yet, but GSC Game World have said to expect more updates as we close in on the release date.
When Is S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2 Coming Out?
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2: Heart of Chernobyl is currently pencilled in for a release date of April 28, 2022 on PC and Xbox Series X | S as a timed console exclusive.
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