Chernobylite – developed by The Farm 51 and published by All In! Games – is a strange mishmash of ideas but one that I quickly grew to love. Released first on PC in mid-2021 and later that year for the last-gen consoles, it’s now received a “next-gen” (i.e. current-gen) overhaul with resolution and performance modes.
Though screenshots make it look like a generic survival- and crafting-oriented experience with horror elements – and that does form a core part of the gameplay loop – the unfolding narrative and player-choice have equal weighting. Unlike many choice-driven games, it’s not about making decisions and seeing how events play out; rather, Chernobylite asks you to make decisions, watch events play out, learn from those events, and then tweak the past to improve the present.
In Chernobylite, you take control of Igor Khymynuk, a nuclear physicist returning to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone on the hunt for his fiancé, Tatyana, who went missing during the incident 30-years prior. However, the opening sequence provides more questions than answers. Why has she been silent for so long? Why is he experiencing hallucinations of Tatyana that alternate between peaceful to menacing? Why is he as fit as his much younger companions? Who is the technologically-advanced “Black Stalker” hellbent on capturing him? What are the creatures that emerge from space-time rifts? To its credit, Chernobylite actually answers all these questions during a 20-ish-hour sci-fi adventure that slowly transitions from weird to batshit.
You progress the narrative by tackling daily story missions that (usually) shift between several regions of the exclusion zone, periodically meeting potential team members and deciding on mission outcomes. These decisions both affect your chance of recruiting them and shift the loyalty of other team members up and down. The end goal is to accumulate a full team, keep them loyal, acquire information and unique equipment, find or craft better gear, and pull off a complex heist at the Chernobyl NPP. Your options during the heist, which team members survive, and the endings are all affected by your choices up to that point and during the mission.
When it comes to the basic gameplay loop, Chernobylite is a competent albeit familiar “AA” hybrid of first-person exploration, combat, stealth, resource gathering, crafting, and light RPG elements. The gunplay rewards positioning and skill, but weapon upgrades and training perks are what improve your damage output. The simple stealth system allows you to sneak past humans or drop stragglers stealthily, but that’s mostly thanks to deliberately stupid AI.
The handful of resources you need to manage feed into a streamlined crafting system that has you expanding your refuge at night, creating new workstations, crafting or modifying gear, and even building unique structures within the zone to reduce the spread of radiation clouds, the frequency of Chernobylite storms, and delay the arrival of the Black Stalker. It’s simple and fun, but you need to suspend your disbelief when you construct an elaborate computer workstation from scrap electronic parts, chemicals, and mushrooms.
If you don’t like juggling multiple systems, there are three customisable difficulty sliders to individually tailor the combat, crafting, and survival challenge (my recommendation: set combat to easy and crank up the others). To further simplify things, your teammates – in addition to their roles in the final heist – can be kitted up and sent on daily resource-gathering missions. So long as you pick the team member with the right aptitude – and therefore the highest success chance – you can keep your rations, ammunition, and medical supplies stocked up while you focus on the narrative.
Plot missions are brisk and always end with a decision, while the PDA makes finding resources and investigation clues easy while exploring. Early excursions into each region of the zone offer optional encounters – often creepy – that flesh out the state of the world or lead to further encounters. For those that find high-stakes decision-making stressful, the shards of Chernobylite you find allow you to enter a “fractal timeline”, interact with, and alter key decisions any time you die (or “self-terminate”). Thankfully, Chernobylite always informs you of the consequences and impact on related missions, your companions’ dialogue shifts accordingly, and new missions may appear.
Now, having played through Chernobylite two-and-a-half times at this point, the narrative is not quite as non-linear as advertised. Within a single playthrough, you can experience all the missions and interactions as you tweak your decisions towards an optimal outcome, so think of it as a compelling narrative metagame. What elevates the experience is the increasingly goofy and tonally-inconsistent sci-fi story coupled with eccentric team members. That said, for those who enjoy replaying games, Chernobylite is worth a second run as you’ll recognise the significance of numerous creepy encounters you might have otherwise dismissed as random scares.
So… if you’re returning to Chernobylite or the next-gen version has caught your attention, what can you expect? Six months of patches and updates are much appreciated given the rough console launch but the more obvious upgrades are to the visuals and overall performance.
I’d argue even the last-gen versions still looked photo-realistic at times and provided an immersive atmosphere but there are notable improvements. For the premium console owners – the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X – you get a 4k/30 resolution mode that features ray-traced lighting and reflections for an even more realistic rendition of Chernobyl. Xbox Series S owners get a 1440/30 mode without ray-tracing but still benefit from the improved shadows, environment details, and texture quality. The weakest element remains the dated and awkwardly-animated character models.
For those who prefer going in guns blazing, all current-gen consoles have access to a responsive 1080/60 performance mode – albeit at the expense of some visual settings and ray-tracing – that ran perfectly on both the PS5 and Xbox Series S versions we tested. Honestly, it was hard to go back to the resolution mode after experiencing the fluidity of the performance mode, even if that meant sacrificing visual niceties. These consoles also benefit from massively improved load times, while the PS5 version uses haptic feedback and adaptive triggers to give each weapon a distinctive feel.
When it comes to the audio side of things, the voice acting is more entertaining than good, but the ambient audio and soundtrack remain excellent. Despite several scripted sequences and horror elements, Chernobylite has plenty of quiet exploration, giving you time to admire the visuals, soak up the ambient audio, and enjoy an unexpectedly serene soundtrack.
Chernobylite, even after this upgrade, is not going to be for everyone – but for those that stick with it, you’ll find a compelling hybrid of a game that is far greater than the sum of its parts. It provides a compelling, non-linear-ish narrative experience that encourages you to mess around with the timeline and perfect your end-game heist – all without replaying chunks of content. As a bonus, the shorter mission structure makes it great for those with limited gaming time, but also enjoyable for binge sessions. If there’s one caveat to consider, it’s that the free content updates – including new zones and quests – and some paid-for weapon skin packs tend to arrive a few months late on console.
If you played the last-gen version and were put off by the performance and stability issues, this free upgrade is a good reason to come back to it. For those that missed it at launch but enjoyed their prior game, Get Even, with its twisting, weird, and unpredictable narrative, Chernobylite will scratch the same itch – only with far more engaging gameplay.
A review code for Chernobylite (PS5) was provided to gameblur by the publisher
Chernobylite "Next-Gen" (PS5/Xbox Series) ReviewChernobylite "Next-Gen" (PS5/Xbox Series) Review
Story8/10 Very Good
Visuals8/10 Very Good
Audio8/10 Very Good
- A lengthy, divergent narrative with a focus on player-choice
- A timeline-altering mechanic to tweak past choices and optimise the present
- Streamlined gameplay mechanics that keep up the pacing
- Photorealistic environments coupled with immersive ambience and a great soundtrack
- In isolation, each gameplay element lacks depth
- A few mission chains take you back to the same location repeatedly