Overview (3 out of 5)
S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky is the prequel to S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl. Clear Sky attempts to solve some of its predecessors problems with this second trip to The Zone. A lot of major problems have been fixed, but new bugs in the system just drag it down a bit.
If you haven’t played Shadow of Chernobyl then you won’t miss much. The story in Clear Sky makes some references to the past game, but it occurs a bit before the events in Shadow of Chernobyl so you should be able to pick up on the issues quickly. The focus is around life in “The Zone.” The storyline is that a second disaster occurred at the Chernobyl site shortly after the original radioactive meltdown. This produced a big patch of land with a bunch of mutants, dangerous anomalies, and expensive artifacts. This mix drew a number of explorers, mercenaries, and criminals into the area who are now fighting for control.
Storyline (3 out of 5)
The storyline itself isn’t terrible, but it just doesn’t stand out from the game. It seems like it was tacked on to give a bit of guidance to the world, but most players will probably have more fun fighting in the faction wars and exploring. It’s not bad and it works well to drive you deeper into The Zone, but it just doesn’t feel necessary or exciting. Most of the story is just told through standard, go here, kill this missions that are no different from normal gameplay.
Gameplay (5 out of 5)
The gameplay is where Stalker really shines. Shadow of Chernobyl was supposed to have a fully functioning faction war occurring between two rival AI parties. You could choose a side or watch the fireworks. However, this didn’t make it into the final version. Clear Sky presents the polished version of this with a six-faction war for The Zone occurring constantly. The ambitious system is fairly impressive, despite the faults that plague the game. It makes the zone seem a bit more occupied and alive. Gunfights break out between rival patrols constantly so there is always something to do. It is also possible to completely eliminate factions under the right circumstances, making the war seem fairly real. Finally, it is just particularly cool to see how the AI factions manage without you. Area control changes constantly as different groups push further into rival territory, making new areas safe and old areas hazardous.
Clear Sky’s beauty definitely lies in its freedom. I loved the game because you are effectively free to explore and fight after the first 30 minutes. You can then fight in the faction wars, explore for artifacts, or do missions for the different groups. The shooting mechanics are also quite enjoyable. You can die easily, so fights have to be done with tactics in mind. The inventory limits also ensure that you aren’t a walking armory, so running out of ammo is a real possibility. It just generally has a realistic quality that most games are missing.
Setting (4 out of 5)
The graphics range from ugly to great. The Zone itself is quite barren, so don’t expect a lot in environmental beauty. The buildings and characters aren’t great, but they look good enough without placing too much stress on your computer. The sound is really nice overall. Mutants and enemies talk and chatter. At night, you stay alive by listening for nearby enemies for positions and clues. It manages to make for some fairly hairy moments.
This beautiful system certainly has a few flaws though. The bugs are really bad, even after a few early patches. Only a few of them are serious, but they are all annoying. Some of the biggest issues are just those in the game design. Several traders don’t buy weapons, so it is difficult to buy the ammo you need without walking halfway across The Zone. Mutants are very weak in this game, making human-vs.-human fights the only real combat.
If you don’t care for the system, their isn’t much else available for your fun. The AI also has horrible hiccups sometimes, with the faction wars being broken through forgetful AI that just refuse to advance on cleared positions occasionally. These are all minor but they just scar the nice engine in place and destroy the sense of immersion. A number of new patches and user modifications fix these issues, but I can’t judge the game by the unofficial additions to it.
The Big Picture (3 out of 5)
In the end, it is a great game that still falls short of perfection. The mechanics are incredibly fun and free. Battles feel intense and the danger feels fairly real. The issues in the game are just too much though, and many new players will just feel overwhelmed. If you haven’t had much experience with video games, then you probably won’t enjoy the pros of Clear Sky. Anyone who has played first-person shooters and role-playing games will probably love the immersion and freedom that can be found in Clear Sky.
A Beautiful Clear Sky
Information & Minimum Requirements
Minimum system requirements:
Windows 2000 with SP4 / XP / Vista with SP1
2.0GHz Intel Pentium IV, AMD XP 2200+ or equivalent
10GB HDD Space
128MB nVidia GeForce 5700, ATi Radeon 9600 or equivalent DirectX 8.0 compatible Graphics Card
Keyboard and mouse
LAN or Internet connection for multiplayer
Recommended system requirements:
Intel Core 2 Duo E6400, AMD 64 X2 4200 or equivalent
256MB nVidia GeForce 8800 GT, ATi Radeon HD 2900 XT or equivalent DirectX 9.0c compatible Graphics Card
Publisher: Deep Silver
Developer: GSC Game World
Genre: Sci-Fi First-Person Shooter