Chernobylite on the PS5 brings players to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone in all its disarray and neglect. A sci-fi survival horror RPG developed by The Farm 51 and published by All in! Games, the game offers new gameplay, attractive environments and a multitude of characters as endearing as caricatural.
Chernobylite takes place 30 years after the Chernobyl disaster. Following the world-altering calamity, a material called Chernobylite began to appear in the Zone, leading a military contractor, NAR, to investigate its potential applications. While this material is revolutionary because it allows Igor to create traversable wormholes, it also brings with it hostile extradimensional creatures. But NAR is not the only party interested in the Zone. You play as a Ukrainian physicist Igor Khymynuk in search of his missing fiancé, who disappeared 30 years ago, just before the disaster. However, to find her, Igor must recruit allies in the area, stock up on ammunition and food, fight human and monstrous enemies, and explore abandoned buildings to uncover the plot behind his fiancé’s disappearance.
The game immediately immerses you in the game with an intro that defines what to expect between the mechanics and the spooky vibe. You will go on various missions where you are tasked with completing primary objectives such as finding new information about your fiancé, recruiting new allies, and slaying monstrosities that threaten everyone in the area.
But aside from the main objectives, each area also has optional tasks ranging from finding wanderers to trade with, unlocking doors or safes, and saving people from the effects of Chernobylite. While the main missions are engaging, it would be nice if the optional objectives were more elaborate. The story seems a bit lacking in complexity with no complex side missions.
Despite the meager story, the environments you’ll explore are wonderfully run-down and spooky. Creaking floors, rustling bushes and distant sounds of children’s laughter – the mood is perfect and the timing of the sounds and music is excellent. Sometimes all it takes for your heart to race is a sudden gasp from Igor.
While the game already haunts with its spooky atmosphere, knowing that you are visiting a real city and the site of a disaster makes it more evocative. The Farm 51 took an event that devastated not just Ukraine but the entire world and mixed it into a sci-fi twist. We see the lingering effects of radiation and how the Samosely, the people who have returned and are illegally inhabiting the Zone, exist while waging war with NAR. Even the buildings of Pripyat and the reactor are accurately recreated using drones, cameras and photogrammetry. All of this gives the game a haunting reality that is hard to shake.
While exploring Pripyat, you will need to be aware of your health, psyche, and radiation. Luckily, you have a handy scanner that will ping for environmental items you can collect and let you know if you run into a radiation field. While these aspects are rather simplistic and familiar, the best part is the psychic mechanics. Killing people lowers your psyche, and the lower it gets, the scarier the game becomes. A weak psyche results in hearing sounds and seeing things, and your vision darkens around the edges. Of course, you can be at full health and still have a low psych, which makes the game even harder.
The areas are wonderfully designed and even if you visit them repeatedly, they never get old. And part of that is due to the need to craft different items to access new areas. Crafting is a huge part of the game; you will need it to enter new rooms but also to keep your allies happy and make you a better fighter. Between missions, you’ll return to your base, where you can craft items such as generators and workstations that allow you to craft armor, guns, and ammo. But while crafting isn’t particularly complicated, the game doesn’t hold your hand.
There is no proper crafting tutorial. It can get confusing; some items need to be built before others, and you’ll also need to keep your allies happy by crafting beds, air purifiers, and amusements. It is essential to balance the happiness of your allies with useful equipment. You’ll probably stumble during your first few days, but eventually it all makes sense. Crafting will be familiar to you if you have played many survival games. Otherwise, expect to struggle a bit.
The characters are perhaps the best part of the game. There’s a wide range of personalities to meet, from avid wanderers and parkour enthusiasts to the slave squatter and self-proclaimed Rat King. Obviously, a lot of these characters act like caricatures, but overall they add a bit of quirky fun to balance out the horror aspects.
As you recruit more and more people, they can help you gather materials for your base with optional daily missions you can assign them to. Every day is different, not only in terms of the missions available, but also the weather and the enemies. On some days, a fog spreads, which makes it easier for Igor to sneak through. On some days you will see helicopters in the sky, announcing more NAR patrols, which means you should expect a fight. This mechanic is a nice touch, making every day different and adding a bit of luck to a game that can sometimes be punishing.
Death is indeed a punishment, with each death removing random items from your inventory. However, there is a silver lining. Every death means a chance to change the past. Chernobylite on PS5 often asks players to make huge decisions that have no foreseeable consequences. However, you will be able to revisit these choices on death and change them, just another of Chernobylite’s many quirks. It’s an interesting mechanic that I can see having many apps, including getting the ending you want without backtracking or rebooting too much.
But you’re not the only character who can die; your allies can too. These characters not only provide you with much-needed items, but they also provide valuable training. So once they’re gone, so are their skills. The one thing I could do without is the activity the game pulls you into every time you learn a skill; the first times are interesting, but it quickly becomes redundant and bland.
Although I appreciate the mechanics and the whole Chernobylite on PS5 gameplay, some things feel wrong. For example, it’s hard to judge enemy hitboxes, with some shots not hitting while others hit despite feeling distant. The monsters are really scary and can sometimes be very difficult to kill. But most of the time, you can cheese them; if you run far enough they will stop and you can just sit there and shoot them. In addition, some visual issues and crashes spoiled the immersion.
Despite these criticisms, Chernobylite on PS5 offers players an excellent sci-fi horror experience with great atmosphere, quirky characters, and challenging and satisfying survival mechanics. Additionally, The Farm 51 has released a digital charity pack DLC where all proceeds will be donated to Ukrainian humanitarian aid projects. So if sci-fi horror survival games are your cup of tea, check out Chernobylite and grab this DLC.
Chernobylite is available on April 21 on PS5, PS4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox Series X and Series S, Xbox One and PC.
Despite some complaints, Chernobylite provides players with an excellent sci-fi horror experience with a great atmosphere, quirky characters, and challenging and satisfying survival mechanics.
Quinn is a comic book and video game editor and writer with a love for Transformers and cyberpunk. As a non-binary person, Quinn also enjoys evaluating LGBTQ+ inclusion in the media.