Gaming PC Reviews 5

True Stalker Review

True Stalker is one of the most anticipated S.T.A.L.K.E.R. total conversion mods of all time, perhaps rivaled only by Lost Alpha. It is a standalone mod built on Open X-Ray engine, a 64-bit improved fork of the original engine, and it features a gutted version of Gunslinger (the ultimate weapon mod for the series). True Stalker is a long mod with 9 chapters of varying lengths. It is far longer than the original three games.

One of the reasons this mod was so anticipated was that it was made by the team that runs AP-Pro, which is THE website for S.T.A.L.K.E.R. mods. The original modding site for the series, and this team plays and showcases every mod that gets published there, which is basically every mod for the entire series. One would expect the people who play and evaluate every mod learned so much in the process, and as a result, would make a true masterpiece, especially considering they were bold enough to name it “True Stalker.”

Even I had my hopes up, as I have been impressed by several total conversion mods for this series over the years, none more than NLC 7.

But I’m sorry to say, True Stalker not only does not live up to the anticipation, but it is one of the absolute worst S.T.A.L.K.E.R. experiences I have ever played, rivaled only by the other most anticipated mod for this franchise, Lost Alpha. It also does not live up to the name; it is not “True Stalker” as it hardly shares any vision with GSC’s games. This all came as a huge surprise to me. Let’s dig into it and find out I came to this conclusion.


S.T.A.L.K.E.R. was always about the gameplay and atmosphere first, but the developers of “True Stalker” seem to have forgotten that. Like the unmodded games, it is an FPS with large maps, but it is far from an open world game, nor does it even deserve to be called nonlinear – on the contrary, True Stalker is perhaps the most linear S.T.A.L.K.E.R. experience out there. All level transitions are locked behind quests, and it’s so limited that you can unlock a level by advancing the plot enough, go to this new level, but then you can’t leave until you’ve advanced the plot further. S.T.A.L.K.E.R. was originally envisioned by the creators as being an open world game, and Shadow of Chernobyl effectively is, so how on earth is this “True Stalker?”

One of the flagship features of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is its A-Life system, which represents the strongest open world dynamic AI game effort I know of. NPCs and monsters each have their own behaviors and schedules, and the game spawns them all during initial load and keeps track of them either in an offline state if they’re more distant from the player, or in an online state nearby. Originally, there were even plans to have NPCs be able to take and complete quests, and one work in progress mod finally features this (Oblivion Lost Remake 3.0, keep an eye out for this one). The popular Anomaly and related GAMMA mods, on Warfare mode in particular, are strong showcases of A-Life. Call of Chernobyl by stason174 with its Extended Offline A-Life is even stronger. Oblivion Lost Remake 3.0 is the strongest, even in its current beta testing phase. But True Stalker? What A-Life?

The system is so reduced that the entire world is dead and revolves entirely around the player. It isn’t just that there aren’t enough mutants and NPCs, but none of them are capable of traveling far at all. NPCs stand around scripted. They might as well be statues. Mutant respawns are as lazy and predictable as it gets, and they respawn within just minutes! The in-game encyclopedia also falsely states that mutant cats fear dogs. Ultimately, a large scale game shouldn’t make it feel like you’re alone in a giant room basically, but that’s exactly what True Stalker does.

To make its world even more static, True Stalker has no emissions. Emissions are a mechanic introduced by S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Clear Sky, the second game in the series. An emission is essentially a giant fiery cloud that engulfs the game world, emanating from a center point deep in the Zone. You are given time to find cover from it. In the lore and in other mods, emissions move anomalies around, making it so the game maps are always changing slightly, showing how valuable of a mechanic it is. Anomalies are mysterious, dangerous pockets of energy in various forms. Because True Stalker has no emissions, anomalies do not ever move, and artifacts don’t respawn except after the few scripted emissions early in the game.

So if you’re not actively engaging in a quest, the world is totally dead since no one else is doing anything. S.T.A.L.K.E.R. was always meant to be a dynamic game, and this is best highlighted by A-Life. True Stalker throws all that away in favor of repetitive, predictable scripting. This also leads to AI bugs, like enemy AI not hearing gunshots due to some scripting issues. Because of this, I was able to take out the entirety of Major Kuznetsov’s group at the Cordon bridge with none of them reacting to me shooting them.

Because of how scripted it is, mutant diversity is exceptionally poor. All mutant spawns are entirely scripted so there will never be any surprises, a similar problem shared by Metro Exodus. Therefore, all the rarer, more dangerous mutants only appear once or twice in the entire game.

When there is combat, you have typical S.T.A.L.K.E.R. combat AI which is some of the better combat AI in gaming. They take cover and flank, but they have their issues too such as seeing directly behind them and seeing through darkness and bushes perfectly since they don’t interfere with their detection.

Gameplay Progression

By default, True Stalker’s hardest difficulty mode follows the “everything dies quickly” design principle, and it generally works out quite well. You’re very vulnerable in your starting novice jacket, but you’re always dangerous too. The only tanky mutants are the Psy Dogs which only appear in one scripted encounter, the one or two Pseudogiants, the one Chimera, Burers which are only in one or two scripted moments, one scripted special boar, and the Controllers which are also all scripted encounters.

Generally speaking, the rate at which you accumulate money and unlock new equipment (armor, weapons, artifacts) is a bit too rapid. You are constantly improving your loadout throughout… only the first 5 out of 9 chapters, so that’s not very good. It’s still less flawed in this regard than Anomaly where you can obtain the best equipment right off the bat. One slight asterisk here is the smuggler character in the Garbage who can get you pretty much any of the high end equipment in the game, and while this isn’t cheap, it can lead to unlocking top tier equipment surprisingly early.

There are some other questionable design choices with regards to its progression. In chapter 3, you suddenly go from having the worst shotgun in the game to the best. What about all the ones in between? AP ammo becomes more common than FMJ ammo, and 7.62×39 is rare for some reason – it’s far from the best so that’s not the reason. Money is a bit harder to come by than vanilla at least, making it harder to save up for the best outfit in the game (any of the exoskeletons).

Quest Design

True Stalker’s quest design is generic, straightforward (requires no thinking or figuring anything out on your own), and completely linear save for very few specific main quests having a simple button press decision at the end. It hardly has any side quests which is the opposite of what S.T.A.L.K.E.R. needs.

There’s one quest early in the game (escorting the deserted soldier out of the Garbage) that actually has some branching dialogue, but this is handled in the worst way imaginable: you’re given a few dialogue branches, and all but one railroad you into certain death. Such amateur, poor design.

By chapter 2 of 9, I was already bored with True Stalker, primarily because it was full of backtracking with absolutely nothing to do while backtracking. No side quests, no A-Life, just walking. There’s no fast travel. The Digger base quest also broke for me: it was impossible to speak with Mortik or whatever his name is, preventing me from advancing the quest. Thankfully, you can just massacre all of the diggers which is what I had to do.

The next noteworthy quest design failure I noted was in the Dark Valley bandit base: there’s a bandit guard blocking entry to the prison area, and even though you can equip your weapons here, you can’t harm him. He’s just invincible and unresponsive to attacks, as shown in the screenshot above. Again, terrible game design especially for S.T.A.L.K.E.R. which is supposed to be nonlinear and loose on restrictions. Certainly not fitting for a mod called “True Stalker.”

There’s a similar limitation to the above in Agroprom during the Digger base quest, in which you have to open a safe but you can’t attempt it until you either advance the quest or annihilate everyone in the area. Even when you know the code.

In the Dark Valley, as part of a quest one NPC mentions a secret entrance into X-18. You can’t ask anyone about this, except the one NPC who has the answer. This is contrary to the far better designed NLC 7 in which you can ask so many NPCs about such rumors, giving you more options or more leads (or possibly false leads there).

Chapter 3 (Dark Valley) is really where cutscenes start to take over in favor of gameplay. Every single main quest has cutscenes intrude on gameplay and ruin moments, from the Bandit base raid to the weird Controller quest. Not only are there too many cutscenes, but on multiple occasions the game ends the cutscene while you’re in sight of an entire group of enemies, so as soon as you regain control over your character, you eat a wall of bullets. How does anyone design a game (or mod) this badly? Unless bad design was the goal, if so then mission accomplished.

Then comes Chapter 4 which is set in an underground location with the following gameplay loop: you advance through the location, and then the evil enemy teleports you back. Rinse repeat a bunch of times. More bad, amateur design – the proper way to design this would be to have this boss fight change the geometry on you, like a changing maze, perhaps even with some non-Euclidean geometry to make it more interesting (this last part likely isn’t possible in X-Ray though).

One of the most important quests in the game is the “Old Guard” quest in chapter 5. But from a gameplay perspective, all this quest is: cutscene -> teleport you somewhere (time jump) -> cutscene -> rinse repeat. That’s really it. Is this what the AP-Pro team thinks truly represents S.T.A.L.K.E.R.?

The first quest design epic failure I noted in chapter 6 was the mother of all boars (MOAB) hunting quest: a cutscene plays to interfere with your hunt, just so you can watch the boar come out and gore an NPC. Because it’s a cutscene, you don’t get to react and shoot it. Again, this is so anti-S.T.A.L.K.E.R. in design.

This is supposed to be a dog

But chapter 6 has far worse quest design atrocities than that. During the transmutation/generators quest, there’s one subtask in which you must obtain an artifact, but this artifact is supposed to be in an impenetrable area due to electro anomalies blocking it. So you have to disable the power, which disables the anomalies, and then you can get the artifact. Only, the electro anomalies do not prevent you from getting the artifact. It’s pretty easy to get it, and to compensate for this failure in level design, the developers made it so picking up the artifact instantly kills you unless you’ve first disabled the power.

Also, when you complete the transmutation, you’re ambushed by some unknown hostile NPCs, only it’s hardly an ambush because a cutscene gives it away first.

The biggest quest in Chapter 6 is “Mysterious Death”, but that quest only has the same problem as most of the others – all cutscenes, no gameplay. The biggest flaws for that one are in its writing, which we’ll get to later. But if you do this quest before the musician’s guitar side quest, then the latter breaks and cannot be completed.

An early quest in which an NPC in the Cordon issues a call for help and you’re supposed to respond can also break. You know, True Stalker has so few quests, and they’re all utterly linear, yet some of these quests still break and can’t be completed. Whereas NLC 7 has some of the most nonlinear, interactive quests in the history of gaming, and also enough of them to fill a >100 hour game, yet after version 3.0 I don’t think you can break any quest so easily.

Earlier in this review, I mentioned that at one point, the game closes off level transitions you previously unlocked, until you complete some quests. One of these quests is the aforementioned transmutation quest, and one of the main reasons they do this is to railroad you into a very obvious, easily foreseen ambush at the end of chapter 6. The weak, uninspired design never stops in True Stalker.

Chapters 7-8 have virtually no gameplay, almost all cutscenes. There is a short, crappy stealth mission in chapter 8 during which you cannot equip any of your weapons to silently kill NPCs, not even the knife. Even though the game does let you drag bodies. How do you screw this up so badly?

I also lost count how many times the mod plays a cutscene during which your character is knocked unconscious and abducted or arrested. It happens constantly throughout. Way to lazily reuse a cheap narrative device! I suppose they ran out of ideas.

From a quest design perspective, True Stalker is about as weak as it gets, though it’s less obnoxious (not deliberately frustrating) than mods like Cumulative Pack 2/Joint Pack 2 (aka OP2). In any case, it is a definitive failure here.

Shooter Gameplay

I suppose GUNSLINGER developers don’t realize even cheap airsoft grade optics, let alone real ones, don’t restrict light like this

I was initially hopeful about True Stalker’s shooting mechanics since it uses GUNSLINGER, but this mod just had to disappoint here as well. It’s not all bad here though: GUNSLINGER means weapon models and animations are uncharacteristically superb for something running on such a dated engine. It’s nice that there’s no iron sight zoom, and for the most part, balance is surprisingly decent. A gun’s caliber is primarily what determines how powerful it is, as it should be. As far as the calibers and ammo types go, the biggest mistake is the same one in the vanilla games, in which 9×39 is unrealistically potent. This doesn’t matter for game balance in Shadow of Chernobyl as 9×39 is appropriately more rare, not to mention more heavy, but in True Stalker it’s quite common. Yet 7.62×39 is rare for some reason.

And for those new to S.T.A.L.K.E.R. in general, this series aims for generally, but not meticulously, realistic shooting mechanics, going as far as simulating muzzle velocity, ballistic accuracy, many recoil parameters, separate damage and armor piercing values, and many ammo types, but no further than that.

True Stalker also doesn’t give armor piercing (AP) and hollow point (JHP) ammo realistic properties – those are just flat out superior to typical FMJ. Ultimately, for a game like S.T.A.L.K.E.R., real world balancing is best and most balanced, but True Stalker isn’t too far off the mark overall except for the abnormally potent and common 9×39 (still not as common as 5.45×39 or 5.56×45 at least).

The biggest screwup with True Stalker’s shooting gameplay is the fact that they’re using GUNSLINGER but then gutted one of its flagship features, which is dual rendered (aka picture-in-picture) scopes. This means only an actual weapon scope zooms in, not the rest of the scene, because the scope renders the world a second time zoomed in heavily (the most realistic approximation possible in raster rendering at a 30-40% performance penalty). Instead, True Stalker has 2D texture overlays like the early 2000s. This is really just a visual limitation, but dual render scopes are so much more satisfying to use. True Stalker also has no toggle for reticle illumination or backup optic/sight functionality, which are gameplay misses that other S.T.A.L.K.E.R. mods have overcome.

You do get the most important part of GUNSLINGER which is its weapon customization, which is not quite on the level of Escape from Tarkov or Ground Branch, but is more or less the next best thing after those in an FPS. True Stalker does not incorporate GUNSLINGER’s changes to the PDA or Controllers, it has its own Controllers in fact.

Additionally, the arsenal is extended from the standard S.T.A.L.K.E.R. games. It isn’t as vast as other weapon mods, but it is just enough for the size of the game. After all, guns aren’t too important in this mod in the middle and later chapters, since it’s all just cutscenes anyway…

One critical mistake here is that different guns have different mouse inertia, which is a trait that dates back to the RPG-7 and RG-6 in Shadow of Chernobyl, also affecting the PKM in the other two official games. This is just a big, clunky no-no. No one wants to have to change their mouse DPI depending on the gun they have equipped. There are far better ways to balance heavier vs lighter guns, although X-Ray engine imposes lots of limitations here.

Most of the other typical S.T.A.L.K.E.R. game weapon mechanic deficiencies are still present, like silencers unrealistically gimping damage, velocity, and accuracy, because X-Ray isn’t advanced enough to simulate them better. The AN-94 doesn’t have its advanced burst mode properly simulated. Scope zooms are inaccurate – all the magnified scopes zoom in far too much, which worsens balance since AI are all helpless in long range combat. You can also use night vision with any optic, including magnified ones, so why buy a night vision scope? Adjustable zoom for scopes also appears to be broken and doesn’t work, a downgrade from Call of Pripyat.

Overall, the shooting gameplay is improved over vanilla but nothing remarkable either way, and ultimately not very important in this mod specifically since it largely replaces gameplay with cutscenes. Plus, since all encounters are scripted, static, and predictable, many of the mutants can just be bypassed.

Survival Gameplay

There are some additional survival mechanics in True Stalker compared to the original S.T.A.L.K.E.R. games. For those new to the series (turn back now if you haven’t already), S.T.A.L.K.E.R. always had some survival gameplay mechanics, but without venturing into hardcore survival territory. Wounds bleed, and this is healed by bandages… and also largely by medkits in True Stalker, which are commonplace, making bandages redundant or even obsolete. Medkits heal you and there are three different types. Other status effects include radiation poisoning (partially cured by vodka, fully cured by medicine, and another medicine grants resistance to it), mental/psionic damage, tired, hungry, and thirsty – sleep deprivation and thirst were added by this mod. Damage types include ballistic, explosions, cuts (rupture), blunt force trauma (impact), burns, chemical burns, electrical shock. Medicine and artifacts counter most of these and the status effects.

The S.T.A.L.K.E.R. games also have equipment degradation, and like the later two games, True Stalker has a way to repair them via unique NPCs offering this as a service. No repair kits though, which is a bit of a miss, especially since weapon degradation is too extreme for a number of guns.

In addition to thirst and sleep deprivation, True Stalker adds batteries for the headlamp, weapon lights (useless thanks to always having a headlamp), and laser sights. Backpacks are now an item, and along with outfits, they affect carrying capacity which is a nice improvement. However, carrying capacity is still only a hard limit – once reached, you just cannot move. NLC 7 handles this better with more soft limits.

True Stalker has some major survival gameplay related failures too: emissions are removed as mentioned earlier, and health regeneration is too rapid even on the hardest difficulty mode. Chapter 4 also deliberately has you rely on spamming Hercules medicine to improve carrying capacity, which is not good game design, not that you’ll have a shortage of it.

As far as mutants go, True Stalker restores the cut Cat mutant like most other mods, and gives them mild telepathic properties, possibly influenced by NLC 7’s cats. Then there are more radical changes: there’s now a talking Flesh mutant variant (also a cut concept) that’s just a very spongey, talking, scripted Flesh that never again appears after the quest involving them. Controllers are more unique but entirely scripted and still far from what they should be, for a potent mind reader and mind controller. Burers, Chimerae, and Pseudogiants are as rare as unicorns. You can now create a Pyrogeist by throwing a Fireball artifact into a campfire.

As for artifacts, they function like in Clear Sky/Call of Pripyat and the stats are very much in the same vein except antirad artifacts are far weaker and more rare, and they aren’t worth as much. With balance being otherwise unchanged versus vanilla, this means the vast majority of artifacts are technically useless once the player becomes adept at using bolts, which should be any player of this mod. This is a serious balance issue that True Stalker didn’t resolve, and I must say, only NLC 7 has largely mitigated it from what I know.

Level Design

No, this is not a bug – it’s explained below

Like the original S.T.A.L.K.E.R. games, True Stalker consists of a handful of levels – eight outdoor plus some indoor if I recall correctly, though the progression through them is completely linear. Even backtracking is limited, as mentioned earlier, and this is not ideal for this type of game. So this is not an open world experience, it’s a linear one – just a big linear one.

One of True Stalker’s flagship features is reworked level design, and even some new levels. The new levels take the form of one new outdoor level, Novoshepelychi (named after a real place), and some new underground levels. It does not restore any of the cut levels, and it only has part of one level from Call of Pripyat – that being Jupiter Underground, and a minority of it. Novoshepelychi is an infinitely better map than Darkscape, but massively underutilized by the mod’s lack of side quests and A-Life. It’s also still seemingly designed for cars, which are not featured in True Stalker.

True Stalker incorporates many levels from Shadow of Chernobyl and Clear Sky, and improves them with new areas and added set detail, which are nice but underutilized as the mod severely lacks side quests and A-Life. This is why some S.T.A.L.K.E.R. players are saying True Stalker can make for a good modding platform, but I dispute this due to its closed source nature, gimped GUNSLINGER, and broken surround sound. Use Open X-Ray or OGSR engine as the modding platforms, not this mod.

Although cut levels aren’t restored, at least one cut element is – the underground tunnels in Garbage, though for some reason they have no light installations. As mentioned earlier, this mod is also just too linear, with level transitions being “blocked” for no good reason.

A classic point of no return warning

True Stalker also needs more level transitions. It only has one transition into the Dark Valley which is guarded by hostile bandits who will annihilate you as soon as you enter, requiring save scumming to overcome. That’s right, True Stalker is so badly designed that it has one scripted section that just requires save scumming. This is as bad as game design can get.

It’s also full of blatant invisible walls, most notably the chapter 4 exit in the Garbage. This is so anti-S.T.A.L.K.E.R., from the mod called True Stalker made by the team that has played virtually every mod.

Blocked passage, you say?
Doesn’t look blocked to me…
Hey look, a seam!

Some players have given praise to Yantar in this mod – it’s the same Yantar level as Clear Sky’s but foggy and with a few changes. It’s now flooded, and one pretty cool set piece is the big ditch just outside of the factory entrance has now collapsed into X-16 – someone blew the roof off of X-16 and the Miracle Machine is now poking out.

But this praise for True Stalker’s X-16 is undeserved. I understand the praise for Yantar’s atmosphere, it’s foggy, dead, and mysterious. You’re investigating something very unusual. The typical low amount of mutants for this mod is actually fitting here I think. But the content here still sucks; nothing more than mindless, linear fetch quests, minimal gameplay, and the writing is yet another childish ghost story which we’ll go over in the next section. If you want to experience a somewhat similar, but far better version of this Yantar, play NLC 7.

Writing (Spoilers)

If a game can excel in either gameplay or writing, but not both, it still gets a pass from me. Sadly, True Stalker fails hard at both. I’m not sure which it fails harder… you be the judge.

Let’s start with the English translation: it’s easily comprehensible but flawed, clearly not professional quality but that’s okay. What’s not okay is just how bad the actual writing quality is in pretty much every single attempt it makes at storytelling. I’m no hater, I came into True Stalker with tempered, but positive hopes and expectations. I did not initially expect to be writing such a negative review, but the fact of the matter is, True Stalker is criminally immature from both a writing and game design perspective.

I’ll go through my main issues with True Stalker’s writing sequentially. Early in the game, some stalker tries to rob you at the second anomaly that Sidorovich hires you to investigate. If you tell him to take a hike, he just leaves so that he can jump you later, even though you’re both alone with no witnesses… I don’t think most criminals are this dumb… but then again some probably are. So naturally, I just shot him in the back as he walked away to avoid being jumped later.

Dyatlov at the Duty outpost in the Garbage (shown above) declares he doesn’t need a stalker’s help because Duty handles their own missions, then immediately 180s and asks you for help that he absolutely should have kept within Duty, as he revealed a weakness of their outpost and there’s no reason he needs outside help to solve this. All he really needed was another shift of Duty members at best.

And what did he need help with? Ghosts. I mentioned them before. Throughout this quest, you learn that this Duty outpost is haunted by the spirit of a Duty member that was murdered for getting a promotion that others felt was unjust. This ghost uses you to lure the perpetrator to the crime scene, where it enacts revenge upon him. So this quest makes ghosts canon in a very black and white way, and this is just the beginning. But oh boy, is this poor writing quality. It’s so black and white, so simple, and so childish. It’s also completely out of left field as far as the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. universe goes. If you’re going to introduce ghosts into S.T.A.L.K.E.R., it has to be nothing more than speculative, not clear cut, and it should probably tie into the Poltergeist mutant…

This quest is also deceptive in that you’re offered a gun or “body armor” as a reward, but said body armor is actually a helmet. After this, said Duty leader tasks you, a lone stalker, with single handedly wiping out a Bandit outpost. This would only make sense if he wanted you to be killed or if it were some sadistic recruitment mission into a gang of murderers, neither of which applies here.

Shortly after this, it became apparent that most times you enter a level for the first time, you get KO’d and abducted. This happens countless times throughout True Stalker and it shows that the writers had no idea how to carry the narrative, reusing the same contrived plot device over and over again.

This conversation reads like a not-so-well-read teenager’s idea of horror

Chapter 4 is the first, but not only, chapter set entirely in an underground level, so it’s a short chapter. The level itself is interesting but again underutilized as it only has scripted encounters and almost zero gameplay. The writing here reminded me of Lost Alpha in that it was seemingly written by a teenager with no real grasp of the horror genre, similar to the ghost stories that keep appearing throughout the mod. Ghosts are present here, too, as shown in the above screenshot.

One of the biggest, most significant quests in the game is called “Old Guard” which was mentioned earlier. This quest begins in Agroprom, and it is an absolute mess. Just from a quest design standpoint, this quest is so badly designed that it mostly consists of running from point A to B or being teleported from point B to C, and at each point a cutscene plays, including one 10 minute cutscene. Hardly any gameplay, and what gameplay does appear is nothing more than an entirely scripted, generic mutant wave encounter.

From a writing perspective, the Old Guard quest is also a complete mess. The way Turov handles your character doesn’t make sense – he forces you to and two others to work for him, and then lets you off on your own, fully armed, only warning that he’s watching you. Yeah sorry but no, there are infinite possibilities to betray him here. No one would ever do this in reality. Plus, he already has his own group of goons, so what does he need you for?

Old Guard culminates in an event that is only revisited again during the ending of True Stalker, and it’s very wacky sci-fi, even by S.T.A.L.K.E.R. standards. Two scientists, one working for the Ukrainian government and one who used to but abandoned them, found a way to reverse mutations caused by The Zone, and they used this to dezombify someone. During their research and experimentation, they developed a portable, functional brain. At the finale of this quest, the dezombified person takes this brain and vanishes. Okay… but this will be revisited during the ending, to some extent.

True Stalker’s writing stands out again in Novoshepelychi, and not in a positive way. First of all, the village leader tells you that there are no artifacts to be found, even though there are always two artifacts in the tunnel within that very same village. On the way to the Novoshepelychi village, you encounter a dead body which triggers the Mysterious Death quest. Upon informing the leader of this stalker’s demise, immediately the whole village knows somehow.

But that’s just a minor continuity error. Mysterious Death is yet another black and white, childish ghost story now with extra deus ex machina. Some greedy stalker killed a group of veteran stalkers in their sleep, and now their ghosts haunt Novoshepelychi and make stalkers commit suicide. By once again exposing the perpetrator, the ghosts enact their revenge, exactly the same as the Duty quest in the Garbage. One childish ghost story isn’t enough? You had to copy it two other times in the same mod? This is only the second time, mind you. Or third if you want to count chapter 4, bringing the total amount of times this story appears in True Stalker up to 4 times. Mysterious Death is also laughably predictable.

The next time this same ghost story appears is in Yantar. As mentioned earlier, Yantar is now a flooded ghost town in True Stalkers. The scientist’s bunker lost contact with the military, so they send you to investigate, only to discover it’s wiped out. There’s a cheap reference to The Walking Dead as True Stalker is inappropriately full of popular media references, including MCU inspiration especially with the main antagonist, Termite. This is “True Stalker?” Really?

In Yantar, you quickly obtain invaluable information about what was happening there from the scientist’s bunker, but instead of flying back with your chopper as you would in reality, your team instead creates a makeshift camp to analyze the data there, in hostile territory. True Stalker has no regard for logic.

It’s also more evident in Yantar than ever that the player does everything, while every other character sits around on their asses twiddling their thumbs. Typical bad game design for a nonlinear game like this.

The conclusion to Yantar is slightly different than the other ghost stories, but no less unsatisfactory: the scientists were of course experimenting on the Miracle Machine in an act of hubris, but coincidentally some device was installed to telepathically ward off mutants, which began to malfunction, causing headaches in all the staff. One scientist flipped out because of this, blaming the headaches on the Miracle Machine experiments, warning other scientists that this would cause a disaster, so he takes it upon himself to go postal and blow up X-16, leading to the demise of everyone in Yantar just about. There’s one survivor, who a ghost warns you about. This survivor’s treachery contributed to the events hear, and you have to decide what to do with him.

Then comes chapter 8, which begins with your Colonel discussing blatantly illegal matters with Koval out in the open, as if they aren’t out in the open. To cut a long meaningless story short, at some point you end up a Duty captive in the Bar, because they’re apparently very hostile with the military now. You escape with the help of Koval, both of you being caught right next to each other fleeing from a Duty guard post, with their spotlights right on you both. The entire outpost opens fire, yet somehow only Koval is killed? They have storm trooper aim when it comes to you. This is as blatant as plot armor gets.

The ghosts appear again in the Army Warehouses, which is the setting for the final chapter of the game. As with several other chapters, you are stuck on just one level for this entire chapter, plus one small underground level at the very end. Absolute linearity, absolutely anti-S.T.A.L.K.E.R. This time, the entire military base in the Army Warehouses is openly occupied by ghosts, so stalkers just ignore the place. I really need the AP-Pro team behind this mod to explain how these immature ghost stories are a true representation of S.T.A.L.K.E.R.

The main antagonist of True Stalker is Termite, some mercenary working for a powerful organization that sells artifacts to the outside world. Said artifacts not only decay rapidly outside of the Zone, but they turn people into mutants. The goal of this organization is to reverse the mutations, hence the Old Guard quest. This alone is not a bad plot, the execution is just completely childish and atrocious.

Termite is also a terrible antagonist; basically a teleporting MCU supervillain. Totally out of place in S.T.A.L.K.E.R. which is so far removed from such childish nonsense thematically. Yet this is “True Stalker!” Termite likes to use his unexplained teleportation abilities to teleport right behind you and other important characters, to KO and abduct them.

True Stalker ends with a binary ending decision in which you find the headquarters of this group and the scientist from the Old Guard quest, and can choose to let them escape (before your military backup arrives) or you can try and stop them. If you let them escape, they simply escape. If you try and stop them, they always stop you.

True Stalker also contains powerful imagery late in the game that sums up how I felt playing the mod, every time my character got KO’d and abducted, or every time a cutscene played where gameplay should instead be present, or during every ghost story, or during every Termite encounter. Said imagery is below.

Audio, Visuals, and Performance

True Stalker is one of the best looking S.T.A.L.K.E.R. mods, thanks to the combination of Open X-Ray and art design by exDeMODER. It does not have nearly as many high res textures as Anomaly or GAMMA, but in those mods some of those textures stick out like sore thumbs; there’s more to 2D art design than just resolution.

This mod is deliberately oversaturated, which is an art style choice that dates back to alpha builds of Shadow of Chernobyl, and this is also noticeable in exDeMODER’s mod, SFZ Project. But if you wish to take screenshots using demo_record (the closest thing this engine has to a photo mode), you’re out of luck because that was gutted from True Stalker too.

But what I really don’t like is how bright nights are. S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Clear Sky nails this with realistically dark nights, which are just pitch black. Here, nights are nearly as bright as daytime (apologies if the screenshots don’t convey this on your display) because the moon is basically a sun. This is ugly, it kills the intensity for a game like this which has some survival gameplay mechanics, and it’s certainly not “True Stalker.”

There is a visual bug I’ve never seen before: sunshafts/godrays appear through terrain. Also, there are hilariously awful, lazily painted character textures like these shown below. I’ve never seen anything so unprofessional before.

Still, at the end of the day this is X-Ray engine which has aged rather poorly. It does have generally effective AA though – multisampling, but no alpha testing here unlike in Clear Sky. Shadow of Chernobyl’s unfinished global illumination isn’t available here, so no indirect lighting.

The biggest failure by far in this category is the lack of surround sound support. All three S.T.A.L.K.E.R. games utilize OpenAL and have not only good surround sound support, but they can be used with OpenAL Soft and enhanced HRTF. The careless True Stalker developers managed to break surround sound support, probably accidentally, and don’t care to fix it. Or maybe this was the Open X-Ray team? I have played other Open X-Ray mods, but don’t remember if any didn’t break surround sound. Let me know in the comments. I guess not one person on the True Stalker team (and/or Open X-Ray team if that’s where the issue lies) have a surround sound system. They should read this article.

Open X-Ray does excel at performance though, at least more than any other X-Ray engine fork. It is also comparable to OGSR engine with how fast the loading times are.

The UI was nicely modernized, except high resolution support (like 4k which has been a standard for about a decade now) is still lacking. It also has a permanent radar HUD element, which is unfortunate.

One final technical note: if you want to adjust any files, you can only unpack True Stalker’s archives with the OP2.1 unpacker.

Native Linux SupportNo
DRM Free Version AvailableYes
Graphics APIDirectX 11
RTX Remix CompatibleNo
Frame RateUnlocked
High Resolution SupportYes
Ultrawide SupportYes
High Refresh Rate SupportYes
Borderless Windowed SupportYes
Display HDRNo (force with Special K)
Frame Times / StutterMinimal
Ray TracingNo
Mesh Shader Virtual Geometry PipelineNo
Advanced Distance-Based Level Streaming System with No Loading ScreensNo
Loading TimesVery fast
Variable Rate ShadingNo
Sampler Feedback Tiled Texture StreamingNo
Sampler Feedback Texture-Space ShadingNo
Multicore CPU Support1-4 cores
GPU PhysicsNo
Adjustable FOVYes
Anisotropic Filtering16x
Anti-Aliasing and UpscalingMSAA, no alpha testing
DLSS/FSR/XeSS Used for Dynamic Resolution?N/A
Sound APIOpenAL
SoundOnly 2 channels
Dolby AtmosNo
UI ScalingNo
“Analog” Keyboard SupportNo
Compressed Game FilesYes
Approximate Game Install Size31 GB
Debug ConsoleLimited
ModdingYes (closed source)


True Stalker had intriguing trailers, it uses the best version of X-Ray engine, it uses GUNSLINGER (the best weapon/shooting overhaul mod by far for the series), and it was made by the team that played and evaluated virtually every mod. Before playing it, I assumed it would at least be decent and surpass the original games by GSC. Some even hoped it’d be the sequel we’re all still waiting for. We couldn’t be further from the truth.

Despite being called True Stalker, what we have here is not really S.T.A.L.K.E.R. inspired. It takes after overly cinematic games like those from Sony, obnoxiously replacing most gameplay with cutscenes. It at least makes some amount of sense for Sony since they have high production cinematic presentation, unlike True Stalker.

You would think this mod would invest in A-Life, one of the flagship features of S.T.A.L.K.E.R., but instead it guts it more than any other mod, resulting in a dead, lifeless world, so you have to just walk around doing nothing for most of it. This is exacerbated by the severe lack of side quests. The writing is shockingly childish, as it constantly reuses black and white ghost stories and contains too many references to popular media.

Lost Alpha, the other most anticipated S.T.A.L.K.E.R. mod of all time, was similarly disappointing. The two most hyped S.T.A.L.K.E.R. mods ended up being the two weakest S.T.A.L.K.E.R. experiences I have ever played. True Stalker does not highlight any of the strengths of S.T.A.L.K.E.R., which are atmosphere and immersion in a nonlinear game with A-Life (granted, GSC’s games are generally overrated here). True Stalker is too linear, its world is too lifeless, and the writing quality is too poor. I had to remove it from our S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series mod list.

What astounds me the most is that there aren’t really any redeeming qualities to True Stalker. The map changes and new outdoor level are nice, but all underutilized by the lack of side quests and A-Life, so not really a redeeming quality. GUNSLINGER was gutted here, so that’s not a redeeming quality – if you want the full GUNSLINGER experience or at least core experience, you have to look elsewhere. Visually it looks better than most other mods, but that’s not much of a redeeming quality as it’s still very outdated looking without a timeless art style. The overall balance on master difficulty is pretty good, but gameplay takes a backseat to cutscenes and it only has scripted/static encounters, so that doesn’t function as a redeeming quality.


  • Uses Open X-Ray engine which is the best performing X-Ray fork overall
  • One of the best looking S.T.A.L.K.E.R. games/mods
  • Significant UI improvements
  • Some nice map changes including a decent new outdoor map, but these are all underutilized due to severe lack of side quests and A-Life
  • Gameplay balance on master difficulty is pretty good
  • Gameplay progression is decent, save for the smuggler character who is too overpowered
  • Vanilla S.T.A.L.K.E.R. AI
  • Backpacks as an item, and both backpacks and outfit affecting carrying capacity are gameplay design improvements


  • Bugs
    • A few quests can break/not trigger
  • Gameplay
    • At least half of the mod has almost no gameplay, all replaced by cutscenes
    • Overly linear and simple quest design, often just having you walk to the next marked location (or teleporting you there) and then a cutscene plays instead of any real gameplay
    • The most gutted A-Life ever, resulting in a lifeless world with small, very predictable mutant spawns, also negatively impacting enemy diversity
    • Overly linear – this is an extremely linear game that will even lock previously discovered level transitions behind you to prevent backtracking until you finish your current quests, and most transitions are locked behind main quest progress
    • Incorporates some of the absolute worst game design decisions possible, such as: One instance of branching dialogue in which all but one lead to you certainly being killed, and it’s contextually unclear which is the correct one. Also a few moments designed around save scumming because the player is dumped in front of a group of armed enemies who always open fire, and it’s up to chance if you live or die. Also many hours of backtracking with no content or randomness along the way. All of this plus what was described above.
    • Forcefully removes one of GUNSLINGER’s flagship features: dual render scopes, in favor of the old 2D texture overlay scopes (not even the old 3D FOV-reducing scopes)
    • No emissions, besides one scripted one early in the game plus one or two scripted ones that occur in your sleep
    • Every little thing is scripted, which is anti-S.T.A.L.K.E.R., not “True Stalker.” A-Life was specifically invented to create dynamic gameplay.
    • Static anomalies
    • Artifacts don’t respawn once you’re past the scripted emissions
  • Writing
    • The core plot concept is fine, but then much of its execution revolves around childish black and white ghost stories… yeah, actual ghost stories. It’s so immature and amateur.
    • Relies heavily on characters acting unbelievably idiotic
    • The whole world revolves around the player character, no one else can do anything, some NPCs like the Duty leader in the Garbage rely on you too much
    • Relies on contrived, repetitive plot devices like consistently having a character knock you out and abduct you
    • Antagonist is basically an MCU supervillain
    • I don’t think the creators of True Stalker understand what S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is about on any level
  • Art Design
    • Excessively bright nights, almost as bright as daytime because the moon is almost its own sun
    • A few seemingly unfinished character/outfit textures
    • UI support for higher, but still standard, resolutions like 4k is lackluster but not entirely unusable
  • Technical
    • Broken surround sound support is absolutely unacceptable
    • Sunshafts/godrays appear through terrain

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Uhm tbh I dont find the writing that bad, I saw worse things. Just ended one of the ghost missions on Novoshepelychi, and as I said it wasnt that bad. If we accept the sci-fi nature from original stalkers why not accept this kind of super natural stories? f*** we even have an enemy called poltergeist, the zone is not only radiation and mutants, isnt the main plot from stalker a ghost story? with the chernobyl genie that can grant wishes?. You could say that in all ghost stories that any modder creates, there is a controller behind playing with… Read more »


You’ve said you had moderate expectations. I’m not sure if you haven’t mistaken this mod with a full AAA game. Because it would fit in this case. I agree with all mentioned mod’s shortcommings, but I disagree with the lack of positive features. For me there was quite a few. First – zone redesigned. Maybe I haven’t played all mods, but I played a few and TS zone just looks refreshed. Also paths from A to B much more logical, still some invisible walls, but way less bad than in OG. Better level transistions. Better balance! I loved that killed… Read more »

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