Spending your time in the radioactive hell of Chernobyl doesn’t sound mighty appealing, especially when there are threats of human enemies, supernatural enemies, and a new element called Chernobylite being used to open wormholes across the area. But how does The Farm 51’s Chernobylite radiate in regards to accessibility?
Before we jump in, certain elements of the gameplay itself had me really struggling to progress past certain points, and then there was a heatwave to contend with so playing games fell on the wayside. In the end, I found myself prancing through radioactive wastelands lost and internally sobbing to myself. But the good bulk of the game that I have played has allowed me to go deep into the multiple settings how they feel in play.
Chernobylite is a first-person RPG with the usual survival elements such as hunger and looting for resources, and it throws in needing to manage a safe house as well as your team of survivors. It seems to have inspirations pulled from Metro Exodus and Escape from Tarkov with a story following Igor, running a team of survivors in and around the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. While growing the team and base by assigning side missions is key to survival, Igor’s real drive is to find his missing wife. And there are even more things to deal with as moral choices impact the game’s story, and even how areas change by the enemy tightening patrols, and more.
Chernobylite, upon first boot of the game, introduces you to a number of basic settings. Audio and text languages are available to change, although will require a restart. Subtitles can be enabled or disabled, and you can choose the audio output type along with HDR if supported. Following that, if you jump into the settings area of the game from the main menu you’ll find a wealth of things to fiddle with.
I won’t list them all here because it’ll take up a chunk of space, but you can check out our Chernobylite Accessibility Deep Dive into the menu here. To nutshell it, there’s a lot available, which is fantastic to see! But Chernobylite is a classic example of having accessibility features doesn’t necessarily mean they translate well into gameplay.
Let’s kick this off with the subtitles. There’s a mixture of two styles of subtitles of which I’m not entirely a fan of. One style is presented as small text with a speaker label but with no background, and these appear when there is dialogue that doesn’t tie in with any choices you make. Think of these as passive subtitles. They span a fair width of the screen and often get lost with the background scenes that are playing out.
These passive subtitles also appear when enemies in the world converse amongst themselves. This could lead you to discover clues about the task at hand, or it could be understanding how enemies are reacting in combat such as shouting tactical commands to their squad or calling out that one of their men have been wounded.
Then there are small subtitles that appear with a greenish background box, a speaker label, a character portrait, and appear usually when there is a choice to be made. These feel more like active subtitles. These interactions could find yourself speaking to a random vendor in the world, or it could be to make moral choices.
While the background helps these to be read clearer, the fact it fades off to transparency means that a large portion of the text can be hard to read. However, it’s good in the sense the conversation only moves when you press the button to progress each line. Ideally, some resize options and background opacity options would have been welcomed for both types.
There’s really not much in the way of waypoints, you’ve got the compass at the top of the screen, but otherwise, I found myself horribly lost. While icons on the compass show information such as the distance and whether the area is above or below your location, Chernobylite has a huge desire in making you trawl through the world’s sections until you’re practically on top of your target location.
What makes this more frustrating is that I found myself struggling to see anything in a lot of areas across Chernobyl. With the lingering fear of human and supernatural enemies being anywhere in the area, I found myself, rightfully, scared of going off track through the wilderness and opted to stay on as much of a linear path as I could. This was because the s–*-everal times I snuck into the wilderness prior, subtitles for nearby enemies would appear and I’d have no understanding of what direction they were in…so I’d awkwardly be trying to find the treeline and get back into the open.
But it’s not just these large-scale sections of Chernobylite, but I found one particular area the worst. Upon accidentally running into an enemy camp whilst fleeing from another in the wilderness, I was shot, captured, and held captive in prison until I awoke. From there, you have to break out by finding your gear and killing some of the guards there.
On my first attempt, I spent nearly an hour trying to find my gear, eventually giving up and loading an earlier save. On my second attempt, I still failed to find my gear and again, reloaded to an earlier state. I ran through the prison channeling my inner Rambo on my third attempt and still failed. After that, I’d instantly reload to an earlier save just to avoid going to the prison.
The waypoint on the compass is supposed to lead you to your gear, but it constantly led me to a door that had no interaction available. So while I’d run through the entire prison inside and outside and killed all the guards, I couldn’t seem to leave the mission area until I had my gear. Oh, and the weird green vignette reached the point it was just frustrating.
Chernobylite does include some form of indicators that work well for accessibility. For example, if an enemy has noticed you, a yellow directional wheel will appear so you know which direction they’re nosing at you from. That yellow indicator grows brighter until it turns red for when they’re attacking. And then there are lasers for every enemy aiming at you with a gun, this allows you to be aware of where the enemy is providing they’re aiming at you.
Each enemy you encounter has a health bar as well so you’re always aware of how close to death they are. For you, your health bar is down in the bottom-left along with your hunger/psyche bar. Ammo appears in the lower-right and I feel is pretty forgettable because of how much it blends into the greens, as does nearly every other part of the HUD. Items you pick up in the world appear for a certain amount of time in very small text in the left corner, and in the image above, there’s some timer for something to do with combat that’s hard to see.
But what about when you’re taking damage? Well, sadly Chernobylite likes to utilize a heavy blood vignette that will not go away unless you use something to bring your health back up a bit which made my experience with the accessibility a nuisance. But then there’s another vignette effect, as shown earlier, where a green and black Chernobylite-looking vignette wouldn’t go away and I’d forgotten how to get rid of it. And let me tell you, playing the game with these effects heavily present had me feeling some tunnel vision after a while.
To heal yourself, you need to either have access to medicine or craft food with herbs and other things of which you can find in the world by using a scanner. This scanner seems to highlight nearby items from different categories, such as herbs, explosives, ammo, and other things that will come in handy. You’ll see these as green or yellow outlines. But using this is restricted to waiting for a cooldown before you can activate it again, but this usually only lasts for a short period of time. You’ll also see prompts to interact alongside a symbol and text.
Something else I want to highlight, the game has a sound system. According to the pop-up prompts explaining the feature, weather can have an effect on how loud you are to enemies. If it’s raining, for example, your footsteps will be quieter. But also, you can hide in bushes. However, there are no indications for highlighting these, so I never know if I’m being loud or hidden, which is frustrating. If your game, Chernobylite in this case, requires understanding your environment, then include some accessibility features to help convey that.
Too much to manage
The biggest issue for me with Chernobylite and its accessibility seems to be how much I have to manage. The quick menu to switch items is confusing, the inventory slots are overwhelming, the building system is populated, and I cannot just ignore all of this because it’s all vital to surviving. At best, I can drop down to “Very Easy” mode for everything but then I feel like I’m being made to manage a bunch of things I don’t need to worry about.
And what keeps me wonderfully confused is that I cannot seem to open a journal or read any current objectives when I’m in the middle of a mission. The only thing I know to do is follow the big important waypoint on the compass and embrace whatever happens. And then when I get back to camp, I have to start keeping everyone happy with food ration organization and building things that they want so they don’t get pissed at me.
While I found the general gameplay, such as sneaking around and shooting, to be fairly usual to other games, it felt like there were a lot of additional buttons to utilize other areas of the game. Building for example meant having to navigate several menus, then using the scanner meant having to use other inputs to make selections.
While I do think there’s a good deal of inputs to remap, for me I still found that there was too much to contend to. Of course, Chernobylite may be okay for some players, especially with the control customization, but I’m just not a huge fan of how in-depth the game seems to go in order to succeed.
And then there comes Free Play. Available to choose from the main menu, you’re able to jump into any area in the game and explore it with different difficulty settings separate from the main game. For me, I ended up jumping into one area with no enemies and just explored with the intention to use photo mode. And even with no threats looming, I still felt uneasy because of how wonderfully Chernobylite is designed.
It also allowed me to get to grips with some of the game’s mechanics that I was struggling to understand in the story with a constant worry I was wasting resources through experimentation. If anything, this might be useful to use as a training ground.
I enjoyed the general idea behind Chernobylite, and I’m impressed to see the range of accessibility features at hand. However, it does feel like a lot of the game’s features have been added either without much consultation, or much QA to highlight how lacking they feel in play. Hopefully, some quality-of-life improvements can bring much-needed background opacity changes for subtitles and HUDs, and it’d be nice to see text resizing.
A review copy of Chernobylite was provided by the developer / publisher.