Absolutely great game and in my top 10, didn't deliver on all its promises due to how ambitious it was, but it did so many things right nonetheless. The game is a great example of how to design atmosphere with nuance and how to capture melancholy. It's really a game that captured a lot of soul from classic Soviet science fiction books and film, not surprising based on what it is inspired from either.
The main menu theme to me perfectly encapsulates the melancholic atmosphere of the game.
Originally Posted by John Caboose
I've tried so many times over the years to get into it. The furthest I've made it is like one hour in. I'll come back to it again sometime soon I think.
Cordon and the first hour are not great in my opinion as a huge fan and does a bad job of explaining to the player what the game is. From what I remember it's because certain features from the early game such as even the Cordon area were cut. The game really opens up soon though and there's a lot of great immersive complexity from it's A-life AI system (every NPC is active and doing something all around the world at any given time, not something most games do). The game's strength is how well it blends its open-ended world exploration and atmosphere and various game systems in order to create how melancholic and harsh The Zone is. The game world is constantly evolving as well, it's not particularly static, when exploring and delving into the underground labs, over time certain parts of the world change in inhabitants as there are faction fights etc, and your route of say funneling artifacts may not be that safe any more.
In the later games, such as CoP, a lot of loot in the game is persistent such as weapons - this means NPCs pick up and use rifles from others, which you might pick up later etc, where as most games just use normal loot tables. This was meant to be in SoC as well, but there is an unofficial patch that adds such features into the first game. The game is really good when you see how so much of its systems culminate so well into what makes The Zone such a harsh, melancholic place.
The game also never meant to be particularly "scary". it has horror elements, but its atmosphere at times is so well crafted that it outmatches games that try to scare you in the sense that there are times you just want to turn around and head back to the 100 Rads bar to ease the tension. There is not any game that I have played that creates great tension and the ability at times if you want to turn back from your journey to a solace place where you can find safety among zone inhabitants to ease the tension - it's something unique that is difficult to explain, the game's atmosphere is that well crafted.
Nonetheless there is nothing wrong if one isn't able to get into the game and I think if one has always had a big interest in the Chernobyl disaster in general as well as Soviet science fiction that it is easier to get into, but it's a game that has always had cult following because the Chernobyl disaster itself does. Also the game (and the later ones) have great and active modding communities.