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One of the first things that players notice in S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is the general atmosphere of the game. The game seems to live up to its goals of making a tense and atmospheric experience. Yet deep down, things are not as polished as they should have been.
Without the first retail patch, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. feels like it is still in beta, as there are some rather annoying issues occurring. These are things such as weapons not hitting the target they are aimed at. However, the first patch corrects this, and makes sure the weapon fires where the barrel is pointing.
Even though the weapons are fixed by the patch, they just don't feel right. Perhaps it is because of the weapons not being repairable due to use. Or perhaps the weapons have been created to reach a happy medium between how a real weapon should handle and how virtual weapons should handle. In the end something feels wrong with them.
However, the weapons themselves are not the focus of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. It's the depth of ambient atmosphere itself. Other Stalkers will sing and talk among themselves in Russian while sitting around camp fires. They have routines, and do actually sleep as well. The wilderness itself growing through the abandoned and desolate structures is certainly a site to behold.
The wild animals in the game will not always attack the player when they see them. Apparently, even the wild animals in the game have levels of need, and will take the actions required if those levels drop to a certain limit. This does not involve simply hunting the player's character, but also hunting other Stalkers who are in the wilderness and other types of creatures.
Moving onto the landscape side of things, it can be very impressive. The general feel of the city of Chernobyl, when it is reached, is very impressive. The majority of the city has been recreated from photos, though a touch of creative license has added to the streets and the surrounding areas. While S.T.A.L.K.E.R. might not be geographically correct, the changes that have been made to the area surrounding Chernobyl helps to draw the player in.