S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Clear Sky
In Russia, everything’s possible. In Ukraine, even more! That much becomes clear while playing S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Clear Sky, successor to S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Shadow of Chernobyl.
Successor is a very loose term in this case, the events in Shadow of Chernobyl take place after those in Clear Sky. Or, in other words, Clear Sky is the prequel. Something which is made abundantly clear by including “Prologue” on the box cover of the game. The game places you in the fictional setting of a desolate Chernobyl (aka “The Zone”) in 2011. Desolate, safe for a group of S.T.A.L.K.E.R.S. Actually, a group… make that multiple groups.
The background story kicks off when you, as protagonist, are cought in a so called blowout. These result from a group of S.T.A.L.K.E.R.s penetrating the core of The Zone. When you miraculously survive one of such however, you’re tasked to chase this party, in the hope of restoring the balance in The Zone.
As good an excuse as any to guide you through the sloping terrain of Chernobyl. A setting that’s been recreated very detailedly and with a keen sense for atmosphere by GSC Games. The deathlike calm of the Ukrainian steppe manages to immerse the player in the story. With here and there a mutant or a so-called anomaly the landscape fills up pretty quickly. Add to those the fighting S.T.A.L.K.E.R. factions, and the aforementioned calm looks a lot more like anxious activity.
A convincing atmosphere, at least that’s what this reviewer felt. In Shadow Of Chernobyl you could already wander through the same countryside, and there was already an element of immersion. In Clear Sky, with the new graphics engine and the use of DirectX10 this element is much more evident. It literally puts The Zone in a whole new daylight. Even at night. The game has a continuous day-night cycle which allows you to choose (if you like to wait) wether to play a certain mission at night or during the daytime. Mind you, there’s no way to accelerate the clock, so when I say wait, you’re in for a while.
Just like in Shadow of Chernobyl, players walk around with a backpack capacity of 50 kg to stow goodies such as the guns you’ve gathered off the corpses on the battlefield, bottles of wine, bread, bandages, medkits and yes, again, sausages. As in the previous S.T.A.L.K.E.R. installment your weapons will degrade over time. Contrary to its predecessor though, the upgrade function of your killing tool of choice is a lot more expansive. It adds variation to the not all that varying arsenal Clear Sky has. Upgrading your weapon from scrap to its maximum potential pays off, a scope, a silencer, and your rifle is as good as the best of them. These upgrades obviously aren’t for free. To install them you need to find the proper specialist (visible on your newly updated PDA). The money needed to pay with can be won by doing sidequests, main quest, trade or, if you prefer, faction warfare.
Besides offering a fairly standard multiplayer part, the game also has a storyline mode and this is where S.T.A.L.K.E.R. excells. The storyline gives you access to the vast and open environment of Chernobyl with the only limitation that you cannot visit certain areas if you haven’t progressed far enough in the story. Besides the obvious main mission, there are also various side quests in Clear Sky. These can be unlocked by progressing in the story, or by joining either of the various S.T.A.L.K.E.R. factions in their warfare endeavours. Aside from the sidequests, joining a faction also gets you a new set of clothes and some goodies.
The multiplayer of the game comprises of four game modes. These are in no particular order: deathmatch, team deathmatch, artifcat hunt and capture the artifact. The names speak pretty much for themselves.
So, that’s all the good stuff about Clear Sky. Sadly enough, there is a flipside to the proverbial coin. Bugs, lots of them. Much to my regret, and I mean this, things can go awry in the world of Chernobyl. The game sometimes crashes to the desktop, has been known to give blue screens of death, or maybe your quest will get bugged. Many of these problems were solved with the release of patch 1.54. Many of, but not all. Unfortunate side-effect of the patch, savegames of a previous version of the game aren’t compatible. So, you’re going to have to start over on your gamesave. A shame, especially if you just restarted the story because of a previous patch. Although the story, and where it brings you, is entertaining, the novelty wears off fairly quick.
Despite all the work GSC put into improving the graphics of Clear Sky over those of Shadow of Chernobyl, they didn’t do the same for the sounds. Although not horrible, the gunshots of the various weapons on the game don’t always manage to impress. Another shame, because in a shooter, one of the things you’ll be hearing the most is obviously gunfire. It’s not all bad though, the enviromental ambient sounds add greatly to the atmosphere, just too bad they play second fiddle to the gunfire most of the time.
In conclusion, Clear Sky stands out as one of the few titles of today that brings new gameplay. Add to this a compelling storyline, brand new graphics, and an atmospheric and unique setting, and you have a succesful prequel. Sadly enough, some of these qualities suffer from the bugs that come shipped with the game. If you’re a patient gamer, or a devote S.T.A.L.K.E.R. fan, this will be a genuinely interesting title. If not, the game still offers a lot to win you over, but you may be more inclined to be less forgiving about the bugs.
Editor’s note: we tested the game as it came and not with the v1.5.05 Patch that was released the day this review went live so it’s possible that fixes most bugs we encountered.