LifeisXbox’s S.W.A.N Chernobyl Unexplored review | Making a game set within a very real catastrophic event can not only be difficult but can also be a sensitive subject. The Chernobyl event claimed the lives of 31 people due to the No.4 reactor being unstable, releasing 5% of its radiation into the environment making the area uninhabitable, also resulting in all of its 500,000 residents being evacuated. Chernobyl has seen its fair share of horror-inspired films and games before, but what sets this game apart, is the story that is told around the origin of Chernobyl and the S.W.A.N institute. Here you will find a seemingly deep backstory that shows experimentation set within the reactor, serving as a somewhat ruse to disguise what was really going on here. The game takes place a few months after the reactor explosion, and you, the player, taking the first steps within the area since the day of the meltdown.
Developed by Volframe and Published by Art Game Studio, Chernobyl S.W.A.N Unexplored takes care to tell its own story set within the very real historic event, but weaves its own fiction, sometimes to a confusing degree.
Most Memorable Moment
One of the best moments in this game is when you first set foot into the facility and that atmosphere hits you with the music and the light barely seeing much in front of you. Exploring room after room until finally a door slammed shut and locked me in. What proceeded after this was my flashlight getting turned off, followed by a moment of darkness that felt like forever. When the lights finally came back on there was something standing in the corner of the room with me, that instantly made me turn around and not look at it. After finally bracing myself and telling myself it was okay, I turned around only to find it was closer. I damn near paused the game to take a short break and calm down.
ℹ️ Reviewed on Xbox Series X & S | Review code provided by PR/publisher, this review is the personal opinion from the writer.
What we Liked!
- The Atmosphere | The atmosphere in S.W.A.N Chernobyl Unexplored is one of the main highlights of the game. If you are looking for something that is going to give you the creeps from start to finish, even when exploring, then you will love S.W.A.N. There is never a quiet moment in S.W.A.N. The music is always there droning in the background that really drives home that sense of dread whilst skulking around the confines of the institute. It really feels like at any given moment something will jump out at you.
- The Experimental Items | Scattered throughout the world are experiemental items used within the world and institue of S.W.A.N. The mind reader device and though destroyer were by far the most memorable since you will use them frequently within the game. The developers did a good job at when you can actually use these though so as not have players waste ammo and batteries. Equipping the mind reader device will let you see and collect energy cells which you can use to destroy hidden objects in the world. Usually this is only to find keys but it’s a nice way of doing the key hunting element instead of just hiding keys in a secret place or having to run a mile and backtrack.
The Thought Destoryer weapon is also unique in that it also doubles as a weapon to fight off enemies of light and darkness when you are in the alternative reality.
- The Audio | As mentioned above, the audio does a great job playing within the atmosphere and really helping to build that horror tension. The in game audio for dialogue such as voice acting is also pretty good. The actors do a believeable job of portraying the accents of the population and the radio effects are mixed within the dialogue as well. Sound effects for the experiemental mind reader, geiger counter and thought capture device are also nice and clean and feel like they belong to that particular device.
- The Enemies | I went into this game not thinking it was going to be a simple walking sim with horror elements to it, but as t turns out there is quite a bit of depth added to it for the player to explore and overcome. The blind man, probably one of the creepiest enemy encounters I have had the pleasure of meeting this year. He walks around slowly releasing waves of these shadow enemies which home in on you. Using the GAAD launcher from the mind reader device, you are able to dispatch them quickly and efficiently. This is only a small part of the game though. You will from time to time be transported to an alternate reality where you must capture and destroy thoughts, this was cause enemies of light and dark to appear, and using the experimental weapon, you can change ammo types to dispatch these entities before they get you. This added a nice layer of tension to the game since I was too busy focusing on these thoughts so I could progeress in the game.
- The Jumpscares | This one is kind of hard to digest for me, because I appreciate most horror, (and I suppose like anything really) is subjective. I see YouTubers and many game designers opt in for the jumpscare horror that became synonomous with Five Night’s at Freddy’s. Then I see designers opt for slow steady build-ups that lure you into a false sense of security before coming for you. S.W.A.N tends to lean towards the former with an almost P.T like horror system going on. Walking towards an enemy will see them pop out of shot giving you that little jump before carrying on. The same as when the enmy will slowly walk towards you before dissapearing in lights that just go out. It’s quite overused in my opinion and before long you become a but numb to the experience meaning that later attempts to scare you are just water off a ducks back.
- The Story | Whilst the story can be understood, it did leave a lot of digging and reading through various notes and listening to audio tapes to get the full picture. I would have loved to have seen some basic cutscenes or other ways of telling the story so that for the average player it would have been easy to follow along with. I find that in these types of games, key hunting, note reading gets too repetitive too quickly.
What we Disliked
- The Lack of Polish | With any game there tends to be a certain lack of polish for sure, but with S.W.A.N there are some tricks used when playing the game that personally could of been handled better. For instance, the amount of times I would walk forwards and the world behind me has changed was a lot. The issue here is, on more than one occasion I would look back to see if something was following me and the world just snapped me out of existence and I could see it transform before my eyes. I am unsure of which engine the developers used, but if for example they are using Unreal Engine, you can make sure this only happens when the playing is looking in a certain direction, allowing for a cleaner look to the final product.
- The Bugs | Apart from the aforementioned polish above, the game also suffers from many quality of life bugs that could have been sorted quite easily. There is one section where I had to collect trays and there was debris on the floor and obstacles like boxes and wood. The character would always collide with these and slow the player down. This is in a section that is also timed as well, which created a very frustrating moment to moment task. With bits of debris, I would have removed the collisions to ensure the character didn’t keep slowing down every few seconds.
Character transforms were also overused and sometimes the player transform position was a little high so I fell to the floor, again, just a small gripe that made the final package feel a little rough around the edges.
- The Gamebreaker | I have to mention this as it would only be fair to potential buyers of the product. The Xbox Series S version has a game breaking bug. Towards the end of the game you have to find a dead colleague using a geiger counter that will show you the direction of the radiation. At the point of discovery, the game will always crash back to the Xbox dashboard and relaunching it will do nothing. As this game was also tested on Series X, I can confirm this too happened on this console twice. The third time of trying however did allow me to continue. A point of note here, I reached out to the developers on Twitter to see if we could fix the issue but as of this moment they are still working on it. The team were very helpful and responded quickly and I have to give them credit for being supportive and apologetic about the experience. They have assured me a fix is incoming soon.
- Quick Resume | Quick Resume appears to be broken with both Series X/S going to a black screen upon using the feature. I always had to quit the game and restart to continue from where I left off.
How long to beat the story | 2 hours
How long to achieve 1000G | 3 hours
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Gaming is in my blood. Be it handheld games, Xbox, PC, Switch or Playstation, I am all over it.
I make my own games as part of my profession and love playing co op games with friends in my spare time. Avid dog lover and camper van enthusiast.