Preview: Stalker 2 Hands On Preview -Play On Xbox Game Pass This September

The story of Stalker 2 is well known at this point. Finally, after delays, a cancellation, and a re-reveal in 2018, the cult classic PC game was set to get a true sequel in 2022, before the Russian invasion of Ukraine forced the Kyiv-based GSC Game World to relocate much of the studio to Prague. And yet, despite all of the hardships, Stalker 2 is almost here, and it’s looking incredibly impressive.

For context, we had some ‘hands on’ time with Stalker 2 at Gamescom 2023, and things weren’t looking too good. The game looked rough, the demo was buggy, and it felt a bit aimless overall. Given everything going on, it was totally understandable that things weren’t exactly shaping up, but the fact still remained that it seemed like a long road was ahead for the game, which made its then-2023 release date a bit of a worry with the fear that it would release in a subpar state.

Going into Summer Game Fest 2024, we didn’t know what to expect from Stalker 2. Bear in mind it had been less than a year since we last had our hands on what was a disappointing demo, so truthfully, we weren’t expecting too much. And yet, right away, Stalker 2 caught us off guard. This is the real deal, and it looks fantastic.

Stalker 2: Heart Of Chornobyl Hands On Preview - An Impressive And Oppressive FPS Gem 1

The game’s graphics were the first thing that stuck out to us compared to that Gamescom demo; something that looked unremarkable by Xbox One standards just under a year ago was now jaw droppingly beautiful (maybe not the right word to describe a nuclear wasteland, but you get what we mean). The character models, the foliage and the lighting were all phenomenal, and clearly taking full advantage of Unreal Engine 5. Obviously graphical fidelity is not the be-all and end-all of whether a game will be good or not, but it was the first sign that this was far from the game we played just under a year ago.

We had the chance to play what was described to us as the game’s opening 40 minutes. You and a companion are sneaking into the Chornobyl Exclusion Zone in order to investigate it. Naturally, things aren’t as simple as just walking through the front door and popping a scanner down before going home for a nice pint and waiting for the whole thing to blow over.

Stalker 2’s Chornobyl is oppressive, it’s brutal, and it’s not going to do your health any good by hanging around there (the series is set in a world where a second disaster occurred in Chornobyl, so things are very much not in a good state). And this brutality doesn’t let up when it comes to the game’s combat. Those who played the original Stalker: Shadow of Chornobyl back in the day (or through the recent Legends of the Zone Trilogy) will know that the game is uncompromising. While you can definitely feel that GSC Game World has lightened up a little for what is poised to be a game that will be far more mainstream than its previous entries (due in part to it being on Xbox Game Pass day one), Stalker 2 isn’t going to be a cakewalk either.

The combat in Stalker 2 is weighty; you really do feel every single bullet you fire due in part to the copious amounts of recoil and limited ammo supply – you need to take your shots carefully. Running into a group of enemies and blasting away with a machine gun is certainly possible, but we wouldn’t recommend it. The enemy AI is ruthless from what we played, be it humans or mutant dogs – once you aggro them, they’re on your ass until either you or they die. While we played for about 40 minutes, we definitely didn’t make it 40 minutes into the game thanks to that.

Stalker 2: Heart Of Chornobyl Hands On Preview - An Impressive And Oppressive FPS Gem 2

Although it loosens up on how cryptic the original trilogy could be, Stalker 2 admittedly still has some moments that could be explained better. The returning ‘Poltergeist’ enemies (invisible beings who love to launch household items at you and drain your health) definitely fall into this category; how to defeat them didn’t really get explained at all here which could undoubtedly frustrate some players – especially considering how much these enemies threw people off in the original titles. Demos obviously aren’t an indication of how the full game will flow, and we’d hope that situations like this are better explained in the full release, but you can tell that the cryptic nature of Stalker hasn’t been fully eradicated in Stalker 2.

Despite that, from our hands-on at Summer Game Fest 2024, Stalker 2 is shaping up to be something special. Visually, it’s absolutely stunning and dripping with atmosphere. Its immersive-sim style approach to mission design leaves you with so much to play around with and experiment with. And the combat is brutal and satisfying; which makes the already-oppressive world even scarier to deal with. Stalker 2 isn’t just an impressive game for a studio that has been dealt so many bad hands over the years, it’s just an impressive game period. And it’s shaping up to be one of the biggest wins for Xbox (and Game Pass!) in 2024 when it finally releases on September 5th.

Looking forward to Stalker 2 on Xbox Game Pass? Tell us down in the comments section below.

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