Remember Areal, that suspicious Kickstarter project made by a studio claiming to be in an "information war" with Russia after receiving a signed letter from Vladimir Putin? It disappeared after its Kickstarter campaign was suspended. Areal is still gone, but its creator is back with something even more strange.
After several months of relative silence, developer West Games returned today to ask for more money for their latest attempt at a S.T.A.L.K.E.R. revival. The new game is called STALKER Apocalypse, and West Games is asking for $US600,000 to see its development through to a prospective 2016 release on PC, new-gen consoles, and even the Oculus Rift.
What happened to Areal, exactly, remains a mystery. Shortly after its Kickstarter campaign was suspended in late July, West Games shifted its crowdfunding campaign to its own website. Kickstarter didn't give a reason for suspending the campaign shortly before it would have succeeded other than to refer Kotaku to a section of the company's FAQ that explains: "A project may be suspended if our Integrity team uncovers evidence that it is in violation of one or more of Kickstarter's rules." Immediately following the suspension, a representative from West Games emailed us to say they hadn't received any explanation from Kickstarter, and would start a new campaign on their own website.
It's not clear how much money they raised, how far they'd made it into development, or what's happening with the funds they received from people who won't be getting the game they supported financially. The old Areal website is now mostly blank and listed as "under construction," with a link to the studio's main website. All they say on the page for STALKER Apocalypse crowdfunding campaign (which is being run on World Wide Funder) is: "We were formerly developing a game called Areal, but after raising funds on our website and listening to our fans, we decided to re-focus our vision, and develop what is now STALKER Apocalypse (trademarked)."
In case there was any doubt about the legitimacy of their trademark, the FAQ section insists: "We have registered a trademark for Stalker Apocalypse, and have every right to use it as our title. Stalker by itself is a common word, and anyone can use it." PC Gamer astutely observed that while Apocalypse removes the periods from the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. name, the new logo makes pretty convenient use of some screws:
One of the main reasons Areal was such a suspicious project was because West Games showed very little in the way of actual gameplay in their original campaign, so it's difficult to ascertain what's been taken from their previous project and applied to the new one. The World Wide Funder page shows an image of a blue wolf-like creature that was previously used to promote Areal, and West Games once again describes itself as a team made up of "key ex-GSC developers," GSC being the company that made the original S.T.A.L.K.E.R. before unceremoniously dissolving in December of 2011.
Even in these murky circumstances, however, a few differences between STALKER Apocalypse and Areal. The new game is being made with the Unreal Engine 4, whereas West Games previously prided itself on building an ambitious new game engine for Areal. Some of the developers that West Games previously championed as being key figures behind the original STALKER's success that they'd poached from close competitors like Vostok Games, such as Alexey Sytyanov, are nowhere to be seen on the company's list of its personnel.
As for STALKER Apocalypse itself? The World Wide Fund page shows no gameplay from Apocalypse, instead featuring a few videos of isolated assets from the game. Like this assault rifle circling around in space:
Or some special items known as "artifacts," also circling around in space:
Or this demonstration of some particle effects, which is apparently something important in STALKER Apocalypse known as an "anomaly":
Or, finally, this video that tells the history of the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series, for some reason?
There's a wealth of post-apocalyptic scenery on display, but that's all in static bits of concept art. The text describes an open-world game that sounds very ambitious and compelling to play. But then again, so did the Areal Kickstarter.
As of this writing, the World Wide Fund campaign has raised $US2296. I tried contacting West Games through a number of different email addresses and have yet to hear back. I will update this story if and when I do.