Chernobylite PC review: Eerie survival horror in a 3D-scanned Chernobyl Exclusion Zone

Despite some rough edges, Chernobylite ultimately offers a tense and thrilling trip through Chernobyl.

(Image: © The Farm 51)

Ever since HBO's 2019 Chernobyl miniseries took audiences around the world by storm with its harrowing depiction of the infamous 1986 nuclear disaster, video games about the region have become more popular than ever. Many fans have revisited the classic STALKER series ahead of STALKER 2: Heart of Chernobyl's release in April 2022, and several new games have released as well.

The latest of these is Chernobylite, a survival horror shooter where you, playing as Chernobyl NPP physicist Igor Khymynyuk, have to explore the Exclusion Zone with a ragtag team of comrades to try and find your missing girlfriend Tatyana. And while Chernobylite has a few issues, the game is ultimately the best Chernobyl-focused shooter since STALKER.

Chernobylite: What you'll like

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

By a wide margin, the best thing about Chernobylite is its incredible atmosphere. Its foggy weather, abandoned compounds, and towns and villages completely reclaimed by nature feel like the most accurate recreation of Chernobyl in a video game yet, and that's because it arguably is. When designing the game, the developers spent over a year collecting photos, videos, and 3D scans of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone to ensure that Chernobylite was a fully authentic recreation of the ghost city of Pripyat and its surrounding areas.

It may seem like overkill to some, but this dedication truly comes through in the final game and as a result, Chernobylite's atmosphere is rich with the ghastly eeriness that the real-world Exclusion Zone is known for. The game's artistic direction and audio help solidify the feel of the environment perfectly, too — for much of the experience, you'll only have overgrown flora and the sound of the wind rustling through the trees for company.

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DeveloperThe Farm 51
PublisherThe Farm 51
Minimum RequirementsWindows 7 SP1Intel Core i5-2500KGeForce GTX 660/AMD Radeon R7 2608GB RAM
Game Size40GB
Play Time10-15 hours
Launch Price$30

You're not always alone in Chernobylite, though, which is where the survival horror mechanics come into play. As you go on missions, you'll come across hostile human soldiers and horrifying monsters that were created after the nuclear disaster — both of which are scary for different reasons. You can choose to neutralize these threats with your firearms (especially since shooting in Chernobylite is responsive and intuitive), but since ammo is generally scarce, it's often better to stealth your way through environments instead. Hiding in thick vegetation as patrols or supernatural entities walk by only a few feet away is incredibly intense, and successfully managing to sneak past these enemies is thrilling. Also, as you explore The Zone and search for clues about what happened to your girlfriend Tatyana, it's also important to keep an eye out for resources that you can use to create various consumables as well as useful tools and workbenches back at your base.

Your base is where you and your allies live while looking for Tatyana, and while there, you can use the resources you've collected in the field to build and improve it. To make the base suitable for Exclusion Zone living, you'll need to balance your base's comfort levels, power generation, air and radiation countermeasures, and food stores by constructing furniture, appliances, crafting stations, and more. You can then use what you build to make weapons, weapon attachments, armor, ammo, and consumables like medkits for you and your companions to use during your daily missions.

Base building offers a relaxing way to unwind after tense expeditions.

This system allows you to improve how prepared and capable you are each time you embark on a new quest, which makes engaging with this side of the game feel rewarding. Overall, the base building side of the game isn't as fun as the missions out in The Zone are, but it does offer a relaxing way to unwind after Chernobylite's nerve-wracking expeditions and prepare for your next outing. Even though it tonally contrasts with the rest of the gameplay quite sharply, I think that the contrast is precisely why it works. Having moments of respite between each mission ensures that the game's moments of tension continually stand out, even after several hours.

Speaking of your companions, you can also chat with each of them to get to know more about their backstories (all of which are fleshed out well) and learn several helpful gameplay skills, such as better weapon damage, quieter movement, and more. Decisions you make throughout the narrative have an impact on their relationship with you, too, and that's important to keep in mind since there are certain parts of the game where you need their help to succeed. Before setting out each day, you can also assign your companions to missions of their own to help keep your base stocked with essential resources. I wish there were more instances where they were with you during your own missions — think the crew of the Aurora in Metro Exodus — but overall, I like what they bring to the experience in Chernobylite.

The story here is also pretty solid, featuring good dialogue, plenty of interesting decisions for the player to make, and several twists. It's not groundbreaking in any way, but there's enough of a narrative hook there to keep players invested. The game's superb Russian voice acting (with subtitles) elevates the experience even more, so I highly recommend playing with that setting (the English voice acting is a bit goofy).

Chernobylite: What you'll like less

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While I think Chernobylite is a great game overall, it isn't without some problems. The main thing I didn't like about the game was how inconsistent the enemy AI can feel at times. Enemy soldiers (albeit rarely) will sometimes manage to spot you through thick, tall bushes that usually keep you hidden from sight, but tend to walk right past killed or knocked out allies without raising an alarm. This doesn't happen often so it's not a huge problem, but it is pretty annoying.

Enemy AI can occasionally behave inconsistently, which is annoying.

Chernobylite also doesn't allow you to hip-fire your weapons in combat, which strikes me as strange given how common that feature is in shooters these days. You have to aim down your sights for every shot, which makes fighting back against enemies while trying to move a bit frustrating. At the end of the day it's a minor issue, but it's still weird that hip-firing isn't present.

Finally, Chernobylite has a few performance issues. The game's loading screens are super choppy, and frames can occasionally drop in-game as well. The game also occasionally doesn't apply changes you make in the settings after you save them, too, which is a pain to deal with.

Chernobylite: Should you play it?

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While Chernobylite definitely has some rough edges with its AI quirks, the lack of hip-firing, and some performance issues, the game is ultimately a great experience at the end of the day. If you're a fan of all things Chernobyl and you want something to play while you wait for STALKER 2, I can't recommend Chernobylite enough. It's easily one of the best PC games of 2021.

Chernobylite is launching for PC on July 28, 2021. It's also coming to Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S, and PS5 (as well as last-gen consoles) on Sept. 7, 2021.

Brendan Lowry

Brendan Lowry is a Windows Central writer and Oakland University graduate with a burning passion for video games, of which he's been an avid fan since childhood. You'll find him doing reviews, editorials, and general coverage on everything Xbox and PC. Follow him on Twitter.