S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Clear Sky
Gameplay 8
Graphics 8
Sound 8

Clear Sky is definitely a love/hate game and the larger emphasis on all out action might even alienate fans of the first game. While I missed the lonely atmosphere that the first game had in droves this one still kept me hooked right to the end. It still has its fair share of annoyances but overall is a good game.

Gameplay: A lot more action oriented than the first game.

Graphics: Some very nice new effects bring the zone to life.

Sound: Good ambiance and decent voice overs

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S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Clear Sky

Developer: GSC Game World | Publisher: GSC World Publishing | Release Date: 2008 | Genre: Action / RPG / First Person Shooter | Website: Official Website | Format: Digital Download

Set one year before the events that unfold in Shadow of Chernobyl, Clear Sky shows us a different side of The Zone. Instead of a lonely, desolate, radioactive wasteland teeming with anomalies, artefacts and mutants it’s now a crowded, fiercely contended, radioactive wasteland teeming with opposing factions. You are still public enemy number one as far as the zone is concerned so be prepared to once again die… a lot.

You start the game as “Scar” a mercenary minding his own business and escorting a few scientists through the swamp when a gigantic emission from the center of the zone ruins his day. The science expedition all bite the dust but Scar wakes up in the “Clear Sky” faction base, being told how lucky he is to have survived. Of course luck only stretches so far and in order to prevent the emissions that start following (and steadily start killing him), Scar has to follow in the footsteps of some daredevil Stalkers that have made it to the center of the zone and put an end to their plans.

As tough and unforgiving as the original Stalker was I thoroughly enjoyed it and was eager to get back into The Zone. Clear Sky serves as a prequel to the last game and as such features many familiar locations. There are some new areas to explore so it’s not a constant case of déjà vu and the gameplay dynamics have also shifted dramatically. Instead of the foreboding atmosphere of the original game you’ll now find yourself in the middle of fierce faction wars. This makes the game a lot more action packed but takes away most of the horror. Don’t fear however as the “survival” part is still very present.

After completing Shadow of Chernobyl and getting the “best” ending I thought I was more than capable of handling anything that the Zone could throw at me. Unfortunately it turned out to be grenades flying in my direction and if there’s one thing that a heavily burdened Stalker is not good at its running away.

Yes enemies now have the ability to throw grenades and they make full use of it. They also have tremendous aim and throwing power so just because you are hiding behind a wall and can barely see them through your sniper scope doesn’t mean they can’t plant grenades at your feet with alarming frequency. You think encountering invisible mutants in a dark tunnel is scary? Wait till it starts raining grenades…

Anyway, enough ranting. Clear Sky has a lot of new features that doesn’t involve your instant demise. Firstly the graphics engine has been given an overhaul and is looking pretty darn good. The start of the game is made even more memorable by the rays of sunlight streaming through the clouds and the dynamic shadows being cast everywhere. It takes its toll on your computer but should satisfy the eye candy crowd. Weather effects have also been improved as well as the day/night cycle which is looking better than ever. Nights are now very dark and stumbling around in them is not recommended. Enemies and mutants are now marked on your PDA map which removes a lot of the suspense but it is still possible to wander into trouble if you don’t pay attention. It also only takes one mugging by seemingly friendly sounding bandits to ensure you shoot these bastards on sight wherever you encounter them.

The faction wars that take place all over the zone is optional to take part in but in order to get decent cash and equipment you will need to jump in. Your over-arching mission will always be given to you by the Clear Sky faction but you are free to indulge in your mercenary ways and side with any of the other factions to help them out. Pick your fights carefully however as making enemies at the wrong time with the wrong people can create difficulty in completing the main storyline. Conversations with key characters generally have more dialogue options now and there is way more English speech. The dodgy accents remain however. Cash is much harder to come by which is a chore as there are now way more things to spend it on. Equipment and weapons can be repaired and upgraded at certain characters for a fee and with the relevant flash drives in your possession and those too lazy to trek back and forth can hire guides for a fast travel option. You’ll also have to cough up some cash to get the locations of stashes which will further deplete your funds.

Luckily artefacts are worth a ton of cash and litter the landscape like seashells at the beach right? Well no, they are now a rare commodity (like they were supposed to be) and even after tracking them down with a locater it’s almost a suicide mission to retrieve them. Instead of conveniently littering the side of the road they are now inside deadly anomalies which are usually in radioactive areas to boot. Its way more satisfying to get your hands on them (especially without losing said hands in the process along with your life.)

The new areas like swamp, Red Forrest and town of Limansk are pretty cool and travelling through old areas is also not a chore as you might believe from all the hours already spent exploring them in the first game. I had hoped for a few more dank, dark underground levels to raise spookiness level but a night time assault on Limansk with fierce street to street combat was just as cool. The improved enemy A.I makes every battle a life or death one and its nice seeing them scrambling for cover or trying to flank you. What’s not so nice is them spamming you with grenades or making impossible shots in pitch darkness but that’s life in the Zone for you.

Overall Clear Sky is a nice prequel to the first game with a unique playing style of its own. Fans will appreciate the increased carrying capacity and removal of time limits on side quests while newcomers can enjoy a fresh take on the genre. Most of the glaring bugs have been ironed out at this stage and while I had a few crashes it was nothing game breaking. This review is based on Clear Sky 1.5.10 but there are plenty of mods available that add even more features to the game and can push the score up a notch or so. If you want the exact experience you had in SOC this game is bound to disappoint. Likewise if you prefer your shooters in multi-player and let the single player mode gather dust. If however you can take a challenge and get more determined by repeated deaths rather than discouraged then give Clear Sky a try. Newcomers to the series are advised to check out Shadow of Chernobyl first so you can see both sides of The Zone.

System Requirements

    • Supported OS: Microsoft® Windows® XP(Service Pack 2)/Microsoft® Windows® 2000 SP4
    • Processor: Intel Pentium 4 2.0 Ghz / AMD XP 2200+
    • Graphics: 128 MB DirectX® 8.0 compatible card / nVIDIA® GeForce™ 5700 / ATI Radeon® 9600
    • Memory: 512 MB RAM
    • Sound: DirectX® 9.0 compatible sound card
    • Hard Drive: 10 GB free hard disc space
    • Supported OS: Microsoft® Windows® XP/Vista (SP1)
    • Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo E6400 / AMD 64 X2 4200+
    • Graphics: 256 MB DirectX® 9.0c compatible card* / nVIDIA® GeForce™ 8800 GT / ATI Radeon® HD 2900 XT
    • Memory: 2 GB RAM
    • Sound: DirectX® 9.0 compatible sound card
    • Hard Drive: 10 GB free hard disc space

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