And there's more! Many exciting things happen this time, from the introduction of a new area to fast-paced, thrilling mutant hunting! Terrible fights through abandoned tunnels, amazing anomalies, fascinating artifacts, and deadly weapons!

After I had managed to find the first helicopter, it was time to look for the sites marked as evacuation points. The first one was the Skadowsk, but no one had seen any military there. I hadn't thought so, too. Since the other two points lay closer to Pripyat, and I would ahve to get a guide to get there, I decided to wrap up what I had to do here.

Looking for the helicopter that crashed in the electrical facilities seemed like a good idea, as the other helicopter in this part of the Zone was surrounded by vapors of poisonous gas, and I wanted to at least get upgrades for my mask before I ruin my lungs for my country.
I pick up a few artifacts from an anomaly on my way

and then head straight for the second crash site.

Seems innocent enough, but if my days in the Zone ahve taught me anything, it's to be wary of everything. And I was right. As soon as I notice the electrical disturbance floating through the air, and I hear the first objects crashing behind me, I know that this must be a poltergeist.

It is, however, not as dangerous as I had thought, once you learn to dodge and take cover. Luckily, despite it's somewhat intangible nature, bullets till bring it down, and after a few bursts, all is quiet again. Time to investigate the aircraft. The bodies of my comrades told me to keep my expectations low, and indeed. It seems that the crew died in flight, since the helicopter itself, or rather the onboard computer, lists no damage prior to the crash. Strange, but maybe they fell victim to the poltergeist. I wonder if it is some kind of sentient anomaly, or a being. I guess the latter, since it can be "killed". God, this must be a scientist's nightmare and paradise at once. Aside from a detailed map of the surroundings, which might be valuable to Pilot, the local guide, I find little of interest, but it can't hurt to look around.

By the way, I have a sort of awe and fear of those relics of technology, especially when they are big and bulky, and not sleak and streamlined or polished like most modern devices. I can't really explain this, but I sometimes have the feeling that those abandoned machines house a more primal power and spirit than our miniaturized technology of today. Hard to explain, really, but it adds something unique to the Stalker games. The land seems more... raw. But I disgress.

Inside a small building, I find a stash containing a few rounds and a pistol called "Black Kite", which, a comrade told me once, is THE pistol. Better keep it, I think it is mainly used for hunting big game. Plenty of those around here, but my trusty Pmm, that I got for excellent work still suits me better.
Sadly, my knowledge of weapons is barely enough to recognize popular models when I see them, and a few basic things about shooting things. The text says that this pistol is the thing to get, but it's damage output and accuracy speak for itself, I think.
Below the house, a heavy door awaits me, and a keypad. Sadly, I don't know the key, so this mystery has to wait.

I really really loved the parts of the original Stalker that took place in underground labs and complexes. It's the same feeling of abandoned, archaic technology that somehow becomes more than just a tool.

By the way, that's behind the crash site. I managed to get around the wall, but the game doesn't let me go any further. The good Major will have to stay out, I fear. Zone: I - daring explorer: 0
Back to the Skadowsk. Artifact selling, armor and weapon repairs, so on. Pilot is indeed very interested in my map, and offers me to lead me the the Janow station for just 1000 rubel, instead of the usual 3000. That's a deal!
So I arrive in Janow. The station seems to be divided in the Freedom and the Duty fraction, with the free stalkers literaly in between. But I quickly learn that in here, a strange agreement was made to not shoot each other. What refuge of civilisation amidst the horrors of the Zone.

This part of the Zone is clearly the more dangerous one, and so, the Stalkers that sir around here and tell of their heroics are a different breed, much more experienced than the rookies that hang around the Skadowsk.

A guy named Wano has serious problems. He indebted himself so much, that he had to sell his weapon and armor to raise money. However, now that he HAS the money, he can't go out to deliver it, since walking around without wepon and armor in the Zone is the second dumbest idea around here.
I agree to deliver it for him to the Bandits.
Speaking of Bandits...

Grizzly tells me of how the Bandits have begun to extort money from scavenging Stalkers, and even kidnapped one who failed to pay. Now, Grizzly and his mate discuss what to do. Grizzly wants to free the hostage with violence, while Torba, his friend, wants to give tham an artifact as payment for the hostage. I get to decide.
That means, YOU get to decide! I have three options:
1) Agree to hand over the artifact, saying that it's too dangerous with a hostage
2) Say that this demands violence, and agree to storm the camp
or 3) tell them that their discussing will get them nowehere. and that I'm going to do this my way. Whatever my way would be, we'll see about that.
Choose one! Oh, the participation!
(and, yes, I'm fully aware that you won't get much out of the conversation in the screenshot, I included it just for completeness' sake

Here's Nitro, resident technician. Well, guess what. He doesn't have any tools! Oh brilliant. Now, I'm well aware that you can't haul your entire workshop in the Zone, but how can you be a tinker without tools? Guess I'll have to get them. Again. But Nitro tells me that he has a second hobby, tinkering with radios and receivers (good luck without tools, idiot), but lacks any parts, since they are rare and nobody bothers with them, since there's no money in it (is there ANYHTING this guy can do on his own? Calm down, Degtyarev...). Apparently, however, parts can be found in the old concrete factory, that used to produce electronic devices before the accident.
I promise him to look around, and he seems genuinely grateful. I'm a sucker for a guy and his devotion, I really am.
But first, a strange old man asks me if I can lead him somwhere. He says that he don't want to bother his Freedom friends, and his repeated emphasis on the short duration of the trip and how easy it will be make me suspicious. But I decide to go with him. Friends and trust can really help you here.
So, before long, I find myself marching behind him through the night.

The Zombie-filled night.

Yeah. But Uncle Jar, as he calls himself, seems to really not care, and the Zombies seem to do likewise, so what the hell. I follow him up into the attic of an old building, where he suddenly reveals that he is here to set an ambush for a group of mercenaries that in turn have ambushed him before. And I'm supposed to help him. Since really noone likes Mercs, I guess it's safe, and after all, they won't know what hit them, and they won't tell, will they?

This battle, if it can be called such, was one of the most atmospheric fights I ever had. Sadly, it was also one of the most inefficient fights I ever had. The above image sums up most of what I saw through my scopes, and I vowed to get night vision as soon as I can. Sometimes, wepon fire lit the night, and sometimes it was split by a flash of lighnting, and I managed ton get a few shots into the general direction of my enemies.
Luckily, Uncle Jar had better luck with his rifle, and managed to get his revenge and reward me. Let's get out of here.

Next is Trapper, ex-hunter and now distributor of jobs to new hunters. He tells me that Stalkers drove away some Bloodsuckers that retreated into the nearby swamp, and I'm to make sure they never get out of it. When I tell him I've already taken out one of their nests, he's impressed. Ok. Time to get things done!
Luckily, the cement factory and the swamp lie next to each other, so I decide to hit the factory first. I make my approach under the cover of night, but find that aside from a few Zombies, the facotry in unguarded.

Before I can begin any scavenging, however, i'm surprised by a Blowout. The factory proves to have ample shelter, So I wait and watch. Sadly, Zombies are immune to whatever goes on when the sky opens the gates to hell.

The stairs are no good anymore

so I have to find another way in.

Up a nearby silo, and across some stairs on top of the main building.

From there, I proceed to search the building downwards

Almost getting bruned by those acidic plants or whatever those are

almost getting burned by an anomaly I really should have seen

but prevailing in the end.
While looking around in the underground, Is tumble upon a few small mutants called hamsters for theri size, and a strange symbol.

This symbol seems to mark no special spot, but it intrigues me nonetheless. I'll have to keep that in mind.
Next is Bloodsucker hunting. I climb atop the huge silo and get out my scoped rifle. For this occasion, I skip the trumpet-blowing and go straight for the shooting.

Sadly, my training with these kind of rifles was less than optimal, and my ten shots are gone really fast. I'll have to do this the old-fashioned way. Walter, fetch me the shotgun, I feel like some excitement.
And excitement I did have.

I approach the are where they have been seen, my shotgun ready.

I wrestle with the beasts, and one nearly magaes to suck me dry, but in the end

human tenacity triumphs over bestial aggression.
Both Trapper and Nitro are really happy. Trapper has the next mission ready. A group of Stalkers encountered some really strange and frightening mutants (it's both shocking and reassuring how fast the strange can become the ordinary. Most creatures here would be deemed horrors by the outside world, yet the Stalkers have adapted, and this is their normal now)
and the whole camp is worried. 5000 rubels are offerd to the man who manages to kill them. That's me!

I approach the old trainyard, wepon ready.
Apparently, those mutants are some sort of dwarves.

Dwarves capable of lifting tanks and crates and throwing them at you, as well as sucking out your stamina and forcing your weapon out of your hand. I can understand how the people are frightened.

These beats are as resilient as they are ugly, and can withstand severe punishment. I empty half a dozen magazines on them, and finally they die.

Man, they ARE ugly. Then again, the things of beauty in the Zone can be counted on one hand. A non-mutated, five-fingered hand, that is.
Again, Trapper is very pleased. With nothing to do around here, I head for the evacuation site in the abandoned air-defense base.
Guess who's there to great me? If you guessed Zombies, that's correct!

These things are little more than target practice (great for practicing your headshot skills, or testing how bullets fly!) and are easily taken out.

But the bulding is empty, so I'll ahve to take a look at the remaining base.

Speaking of that, there's a whole lot ofn goodies behind these bars. If only I could get to them. Man, a RPG. Hmm...

The only unexplored part is the underground bunkers, so that's where I'll go.
Some more hamsters

asking for grenades

some crouching

and another one of these short freaks. This time, I have the first draw, and he gets a grenade-and-bullets-shaped surprise. Sadly, he didn't take it well.

Through a key coded door (upstairs, I found the notes of the soldier who came here, saying he waited two days and then left, I got told by other Stalkers that the scientist's pathfinder picked him up. The note also told me the key to the door)

and open Sesame!

Sorry you guys, gotta go!
After dumping or selling my newfound goods, I head out for the mobile lab. Nothing really exciting here. The soldier acknowledges the note, but refuses to say any more, because it's secret (there was never the option to tell him about whpo you really are, a thing that annoyed me. After all, this is the first survivor I encounter. But no)
Gari, the tracker, tells me that he wants to leave, but has to remain with the scientists until he has found two artifacts that he can't get. I promise him to let him know should I ever stumble upon them.
A scientist tells me of a Stalker legend, of a place called Oasis. According to the talk, this place is able to heal all wounds and remove fatigue, but nobody has ever seen it, only (claimed) to dream of it. Should I ever stumble upon the place (like hell) I should let him know.

While making my way back to janow, Trappers contacts me. He says that Stalkers have found the tracks of a chimera. Apparently, it has it's hunting grounds near a series of old vents. It is the chimera that killed his old friend Fox (I've read of him when I was briefed on the whole Strelok-business, a shame he's dead), and so he offers 10000rubels to the one that slays this beast. Around nightfall, I should wait near the vents till it comes out to feed.
On my way, I encounter the strange symbol again, this time in a ptach of electrical anomalies on an abandoned parking lot. Hmm.

I arrive, and make camp where I can oversee the are nicely. Now, all I have to do is wait.

It appears all right, but whenever I shoot it from above (I think it can not access this position) it disappears into the night. Damn. So, once again I'll have to do this face to face. Damn.

The fight is really taxing. The chimera is fast, strong, and deadly. It can jump 10 metres easily, and is able to land a terrible blow out of the air.

It also has a hide tough enough to absorb the contents of several magazines.

Alas, even that was not enough, and in the end. The beast lies to my feet, killed by my hands. I feel proud.
On my way home, I see a strange light coming from within an abandoned train.

This must be the train one of the Stalkers talked about. A "hunch" told him that I could find tools in ther. And he is right.
Returning to the Janow station, Trapper and Nitro are again very grateful. Trapper's so relieved that he even gives me his trusted shotgun along with the 10000 rubel. A true hunter's weapon. With this deed, I have earned the respect of the Stalkers.

I am now not only Detective, but Monster Hunter as well, meaning that Stalkers will regularly deposit ammunition in my stash at the Janow station.
Finally, I return to the Skadowsk. I have now more than 55000 rubels, and it's time to get that little extra. Nibmle says he can get me a fine stalker suit for "just" 40000 rubel, and I pay him. Now I only have to wait for the delivery. It's about time I get a new suit, and all the Stalkers say that Nimble alway manages to get the best.

So, now it's time for you. Decide whether to kill or negotiate, or do "my thing". Should I roam about the Zone some more, visiting anomalies and opening stashes (look, mommy, I'm a real Stalker now!) or focus on the main plot?
Also, does anyone know a free an reliable program for making ingame videos?