If Lost Alpha shows anything, it's that the rush job needed to get the original Stalker game out was probably a good thing. It made for a more focused, compressed game, which offered just enough of a sense of the Zone to make you want more. But it didn't offer you enough to make you sick of the place.
That's the problem with _Lost Alpha_ as it stands. A lot of time is spent travelling back and forth to different regions, to explore labs to retrieve information and bring it back to interested parties. For example, I just got through a sequence where I finally reached the Bar. I got a request to go visit the X-18 labs, which are in a basement in another region called the Dark Valley. That's not terribly different from the original storyline from Stalker, and would involve a trip to another map, a dive into a scary underground lab, and a trip back to collect rewrads and get some clues that move me along the main storyline.
But here... well, first of all, every map of this game now incorporates VERY long walks to get to the transfer points, adding a good two or three minutes. So it takes longer to get through the Garbage map to the transfer point to the Bar... and then a good five to ten minutes to FIND the Bar in the new map... and then back over that path, because you have to return to the Garbage to get to Dark Valley.
And once you're there, you have to find an underground lab, find a uniform to use to sneak into a set of buildings. At some point you have to go to yet _another_ map, the Darkscape, where you have to travel a very long road, clib into a railway bridge, and walk through a LOT of underground tunnels to meet up with the leader of the Sin mutant faction and get him to ask you to pick up computer files from the labs, travel _alllll the waaaayy baaaaack_ to the Dark Valley, explore the labs and get the data, bring it _alllll the waaaayy baaaaack_ to the Sin guy, and bring it back to the Bar as well.
Yes, there are vehicles, which make some of the travel time a little faster. And it is the Zone. But this is far too much slow motion travel to endure. This is a game that could really use a Fast Travel system.
The sad part about this comment is that the Zone was a place where the lack of vehicles and Fast Travel was a _good_ thing. The A-life system made the place alive: you'd see mutant animals fighting it out a few hills away, you'd see a skirmish between Duty and Freedom factions where you might scrounge a weapon or two. Maybe you'd meet a bunch of Stalkers who might offer some amusement. But in Lost Alpha, there are just long, very long, intolerably long stretches of Just Walking past landscapes that offer a few ripples and bubbly radiation pits.
(At one point, I decided to use a vehicle to take a "short cut" through a new map, dubbed "Forest." It's just a long road that winds through a very large forest. Takes about half an hour to drive it, if you don't run out of gas as I did. There is a small cluster of buildings at the halfway point, and a weird sparky anomaly point further along... but there's nothing of interest here at all. Nothing.)
It's so tedious that you lose track of whatever story the Lost Alpha people have settled on. as with the original Stalker, you are the Marked One, searching for this Strelok guy to kill. There'a a different plotline for the Big Reveal, which was a neat changeup from what I was used to... but by the time you reach that point, you've spent so much time strolling around the place by yourself, hearing your boots clunk on the tarmac for long stretches of time, that Strelok's story gets forgotten unless someone else reminds you.
Stalker: Lost Alpha is free, which is great. but play it ONLY if you've played the other games in the series, and really feel the need to visit the Zone. I'll probably play it through to the end, but only because it's too cold to go outside these days. But this is one of those cases where the rest of the game won't make up for the awfulness in the first... Jesus, what if this isn't even _half_ of the game?
ADDENDUM: I've payed along a bit longer, and there was a segment that moved along reasonably well. There was still some moving between maps, with long transitions between them: to Yantar to meet with the scientist Sakharov, to the Army Barracks for a fairly pointless shootout with some soldiers, some exploration, and then on to the Pripya Outskirts for the next phase of the game... for which, I was just told, I would have to journey back to Yantar and get a device from Sakharov. MORE backtracking and pointless wandering.
So I give up. I'm taking this thing off my machine.