GSC Game World, those wild and crazy guys who put together the apocalypterrific FPS S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl, have decided to do their fans a solid by releasing a playable build of the game from 2004 - for free.
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. was announced in late 2001 and originally scheduled for release in 2003, but suffered from numerous lengthy delays which earned the game no small amount of Duke Nukem-style notoriety. The biggest obstacle facing the game was its ambition: It was set in an open-ended sandbox world around a fictional (we hope) Chernobyl, which had suffered not one but two separate nuclear disasters, leaving it an irradiated wasteland packed with mutated creatures and vegetation, physics-bending anomalies, heavily-armed competing factions and more.
The game was finally released in March 2007 and despite being scaled back considerably from the designers' initial vision it was a hit with FPS fans, offering a huge and unique setting, intense action, open-ended gameplay with numerous side quests and an intriguing story, all wrapped up in that weirdly wonderful Eastern European gaming sensibility. Some players lamented the changes that reduced its scope but the final release was far more than adequate to keep all but the most ardent complainers happy.
But apparently not happy enough, at least not in the eyes of GSC Game World, who seem to think that if gamers really want something, then by God, they should get it. And so, to all those gamers who want to see what S.T.A.L.K.E.R. looked like three years before it hit the shelves, GSC says, here ya go.
"In response to numerous requests, we bring to your attention a build of the game S.T.A.L.K.E.R. from 2004, or, more precisely, 'xrCore' build 1935, Oct 18 2004," GSC's senior forum moderator wrote on the official S.T.A.L.K.E.R. forums. Download links are provided, as is the warning, "We remind you that GSC Game World does not guarantee stability or fitness of the given build and will not reply to questions about it or provide technical support. We thank everyone for understanding and hope you have fun with this build!"
What is it with European game devs? First CD Projekt does a complete rebuild of The Witcher, including vast amounts of new audio, animations, character models, content, dialog options and more, and they give it away. Now GSC Game World has dug up an early - but functional, playable - build of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. which is apparently closer to their original concept and includes levels that were cut from the final release, and they give it away. And then they apologize for not supporting it! What the hell is going on over there?
Maybe I'm being an unreasonable fanboy. Maybe this kind of thing isn't economically sustainable in the long run. Maybe, once they're successful (instead of just crazy) those European developers will find it necessary to sink bazillions of dollars into half-assed games and tired franchises and rage-inducing DRM that doesn't work. But right now, a big part of me wants to jump up and down and point at the other side of the map and scream, "Hey! Do it like this!"
For now, I'll satisfy myself with pointing toward the official GSC Game World forum, where numerous download links for the 1.3 gigabyte S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Shadow of Chernobyl 'xrCore' build 1935, Oct 18 2004 along with other helpful information can be found. Have fun, and be sure to say thank you.