Wonderful read. I agree completely that STALKER should have scored much much higher. Most reviewers look at games the way most hi-fi enthusiasts listen to music. Because of their fascination of the technical workings and intricate details of the production, they lose the ability to sit back, "suspend disbelief" and engross themselves in the art itself. STALKER wasn't pretty, it wasn't bug-free, it wasn't .. a magnificent technical achievement. But it was one of the most interesting and enjoyable games I've ever played in my 20 years as a gamer.
Oddly enough, the same can be said for Operation Flashpoint. These days, I'm playing BioShock on my Xbox360. I love it, and I love the immense "quality of production". No doubt it will win countless GOTY awards - and deservedly so - but it doesn't have the feel that STALKER and Flashpoint had.
Playing STALKER, there's that sense of "I have no clue what will happen next", and the unpredictability - and originality - of the story gets me hooked completely. Bioshock has it's twists and turns, but it's still like watching an american horror movie. I'm not REALLY surprised by the plot, and I've seen it all before. Not so with STALKER or Flashpoint.
I remember reading in a pamphlet that came with a pair of insanely overpriced audiocables. It said something like "We hope that after using our cables, you'll still be able to just enjoy music" (...instead of just listening for minute details, they meant). I want music, not focus-group, massproduced, sugarcoated predictability.
Even though the artists werent the best in their field, from a technical standpoint, STALKER was wonderful music.