Last year’s S.T.A.L.K.E.R was one of the biggest surprises in PC gaming’s recent history. A heavily delayed title, it suddenly sprung onto shelves and proved that the aftermath of Chernobyl could be a fantastic setting for a gaming title.
Playing as a stalker, the first game saw you roaming the landscape are searching out artefacts that could be sold for oodles of cash. But the world out in the Zone was a dangerous place, with unscrupulous types more than happy to blow you away in order to take all the goodies you’ve collected. Plus there was always the minus point of roaming an area suffering from the aftermath of a nuclear disaster. Shocking stuff. Literally.
Clear Sky acts as a prequel to last year’s hit, and you’ll stumble across a number of the areas you’ve already visited (or should that be will visit?) though all will have a slightly different feel. Mainly due the huge influx of folk eager to take in the surroundings of the Zone.
For a nuclear disaster area, it seems that people aren’t too bothered about all the dangers lurking around every corner. Where the original S.T.A.L.K.E.R felt just bare enough to be both challenging and spectacularly atmospheric, this time there are simply too many people eager to chat/have a fight.
And all these people do little to help build the atmosphere. The new voice acting is reasonable for the most part, but certain characters have been stuck with phenomenally overplayed accents, which gives Clear Sky this ridiculously childish feel. You get the feeling that the developers were eager to try and cram in some Fallout-esque humour, without realising that they’re both completely different titles.
The big selling point for Clear Sky is the promise of faction warfare. With all these spectacular artefacts dotting the landscape, there are a number of groups eager to claim dominance. The intention being, seemingly, that you can join up with the faction you see as deserving of your talents, and head off to claim the Zone for yourselves.
But that all falls apart after the first half hour. Once you’re out of the initial swamp land (which proves to be one of the best sections of the game) then you’re essentially back out on your own once again. It’s a huge shame as the idea of frequent battles to claim areas of land is a decent prospect, and could have worked incredibly well in the S.T.A.L.K.E.R series.
The slight flaws continue. Enemies keep on flooding towards you almost as if you’re playing a standard FPS, which is not only to the incredible detriment of the atmosphere, but helps make Clear Sky an incredibly difficult game. Keep your fingers on the quick load/save buttons. Plus each enemy seems to have a never ending supply of grenades which can blow you to pieces without you even realising one has flown your way.
And then there are the bandits. Take them out from a distance and you can be merrily on your way after looting their corpses. But, let them get close enough to initiate a little talk and you’re stuck with allowing them to take the contents of your back pack before you can head on your way. There’s no opportunity to break out of the dialogue tree and simply blast them to smithereens, meaning you’ll be frequently loading up an old save rather than start all over again with no goodies.
But despite all this, is still does feel like a S.T.A.L.K.E.R title. It doesn’t do the whole NPC interaction or trading as well as say Deus Ex, but the tension felt in the quieter moments is glorious. The small semblance of character customisation only helps too, which only makes all the additional flaws a real disappointment.
The graphics have received a bit of a touch up too, though you’ll need to be packing a mighty gaming rig if you want to get the most out of Clear Sky. Even a real top of the range system can be brought to its knees by the top settings.
There’s no doubt about it, Clear Sky is a disappointment. With such a solid base to build on, it’s a true shame that the addition of so many flaws make this one a few steps behind the original.
It’s not all bad. It has still got that S.T.A.L.K.E.R feel, and it certainly looks a treat. But the poor implementation of the faction warfare, and the overly dense population in the Zone only push this one much close to mediocrity than anyone had expected.