Stalker 2 Hands On Preview – A must play game on Xbox this September

The story of Stalker 2 is familiar at this point. Finally, after delays, cancellation and rediscovery in 2018, the cult classic PC game was set to get a real sequel in 2022, before the Russian invasion of Ukraine forced Kiev-based GSC Game World to move the most great to study in Prague. And yet, despite all the difficulties, Stalker 2 is almost here and it looks incredibly impressive.

For context, we got some hands-on time with Stalker 2 at Gamescom 2023, and things didn’t look too good. The gameplay felt rough, the demo was choppy, and it generally felt a little aimless. Given everything that was going on, it was completely understandable that things weren’t exactly changing, but the fact still remained that there seemed to be a long way to go for the game, which made its then-2023 release date a bit of a worry with fear that it would be released in a substandard state.

Going into Summer Game Fest 2024, we didn’t know what to expect from Stalker 2. Mind you, it’s been less than a year since we last got our hands on what was a disappointing demo, so really, we didn’t expect much. And yet, right away, Stalker 2 caught us by surprise. This is the real deal and looks fantastic.

Stalker 2: Heart Of Chornobyl Hands On Preview - An impressive and crushing FPS 1 Gem

The game’s graphics were the first thing that caught our eye compared to that Gamescom demo; something that seemed unusual by Xbox One standards just under a year ago was now pretty cool (maybe not the right word to describe a nuclear wasteland, but you get what we mean). The character models, foliage and lighting were all phenomenal, and clearly taking full advantage of Unreal Engine 5. Clearly, graphical fidelity isn’t the be-all and end-all of whether a game will be good or not, but it was the first sign that this was a far cry from the game we played just under a year ago.

We had the opportunity to play what was described to us as the opening game in 40 minutes. You and a companion are sneaking into the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone to investigate it. Of course, things aren’t as simple as just walking through the front door and throwing a scanner down before heading home for a nice pint and waiting for the whole thing to blow up.

Stalker 2’s Chornobyl is oppressive, it’s brutal, and it won’t do your health any good to hang around there (the series takes place in a world where a second Chernobyl disaster happened, so things aren’t in very good shape). And that brutality doesn’t hold back when it comes to the game’s combat. Those who have played Stalker: Shadow of Chornobyl back then (or through the recent Legends of the Zone trilogy) will know that the game is uncompromising. While you might think GSC Game World has lightened up a bit for what’s poised to be a game that’s going to be a lot more mainstream than its previous entries (in part because it was on day one of Xbox Game Pass) , Stalker 2 is not It will not be a cakewalk.

Combat in Stalker 2 is weighty; you really feel every single bullet you fire due in part to the copious amounts of recoil and limited ammo supply – you have to time your shots carefully. Running into a group of enemies and blasting away with a machine gun is certainly possible, but we wouldn’t recommend it. The enemy AI is relentless from what we played, be it humans or mutant dogs – once you attack them, they’ll stay on their ass until you or they die. While we played for about 40 minutes, we definitely didn’t get 40 minutes of gameplay thanks to this.

Stalker 2: Heart Of Chornobyl Hands On Preview - An impressive Gem 2 and crushing FPS

While it doesn’t get how cryptic the original trilogy can be, Stalker 2 definitely still has some moments that could be better explained. Recurring ‘Poltergeist’ enemies (invisible beings that like to throw household items at you and drain your health) definitely fall into this category; how to defeat them wasn’t explained at all here, which could definitely frustrate some players – especially considering how much people threw these enemies around in the original titles. The demos are obviously not an indication of how the full game will play out, and we’d hope that situations like this are better explained in the full release, but you can tell that the stealthy nature of Stalker hasn’t been completely eradicated in Stalker 2.

Regardless, from our practices at Summer Game Fest 2024, Stalker 2 is shaping up to be something special. Visually, it is absolutely stunning and atmospheric. Its immersive sim-style approach to mission design leaves you with so much to play with and experiment with. And the combat is brutal and satisfying; which makes the already oppressive world even more terrifying to face. Stalker 2 isn’t just an impressive game for a studio that’s done so badly over the years, it’s just an impressive period of gameplay. And it’s shaping up to be one of the biggest wins for Xbox (and Game Pass!) in 2024, when it finally releases on September 5th.

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