Kickstarter has suspended funding for Areal, a Ukrainian-developed successor to the cult hit STALKER. The suspension follows a huge spike in the game’s funding over the last few days without a corresponding increase in backers. This means that the game either found a few very high-rolling fans, or, more likely, studio West Games bought out the campaign to ensure they received the funds already donated. This is only the latest controversy the game has generated in the past month.
Adding to the oddity, the developers posted a bizarre letter of support supposedly from Russian president Vladimir Putin: “My daughter told me about your game called Areal, which is the spiritual successor to STALKER, and told me that she paid money to support your project on Kickstarter,” reads the letter in translation. “I also love video games as well as shooters, and I like this idea. It’s important that our people do not shoot at each other, but instead, play games like this.”
STALKER: Shadow of Chernobyl was an innovative, 2007 first-person survival horror game developed by Ukrainian studio GSC Game World. Set in an alternate history Chernobyl where the meltdown led to the genesis of powerful artifacts and mutants, the game was particularly popular with Russian gamers. While Areal is certainly reminiscent of the original, its haphazard Kickstarter campaign and combative developers (and their supposed imitators muddying the water) have raised serious skepticism that it may be a scam. Studio head Eugene Kim has called out journalists at VG247 and Forbes for providing biased coverage rooted in, “personal speculation and slander.”
In the same period of the funding spike and Putin letter, the campaign was also completely overwhelmed by nonsensical, trolling comments. Given the flurry of bizarre activity and the unexpected completion of its fundraising goal right before the deadline, it comes as no surprise that Kickstarter suspended the campaign to investigate its legitimacy. At this point the story has become so warped by the Internet echo chamber that it is nearly impossible to parse out truth from speculation and slander. We will keep you updated if any new evidence comes to light.