Could do better
Well I have to say I’m disappointed. I played S.T.A.L.K.E.R. (hereafter just “Stalker” to save my fingers) Shadow of Chernobyl and after a slightly shaky start I really got into it, but I just can’t find a way to like it’s prequel “Clear Sky”. Like Shadow of Chernobyl, Clear Sky takes place in “The Zone” – the area surrounding what used to be Chernobyl’s nuclear power plant, so many of the locations you see on your travels will be familiar if you have played the first game.
The game begins with a cinematic showing your character getting caught in an “emission” and waking up in the camp of the Clear Sky faction. You learn that you “special” and that although you have the ability to survive these emissions somehow, each one is slowly killing you. Clear Sky have been working on a way to stop the emissions and they figure that you must be the key, and besides, it’s in your best interests to help them as you’re going to die anyway if the emissions don’t stop.
Next comes a small “tutorial” stage explaining the anomalies you will find in the zone and how to navigate around them. It also explains that “artifacts” (mysterious objects with certain powers” can be found in anomalies if you use your detector. The problem here is that the tutorial is, put simply, crap. It doesn’t tell you what buttons to press so if you can’t remember the controls from the first instalment or simply haven’t played it you’ll need to read the manual thoroughly. Even after doing this I was still baffled as to what button to press to pick things up (ie the artifact in the anomaly in the tutorial) as the button you need to press is labelled as “Use” in the manual and not “Pick Up / Interact” as it should be. The button is “F” by the way just to save you the hassle. I died a few times trying to get that first artifact because I was standing in radiation that was slowly killing me while I tried to figure out what button to hit…
After this incredibly short tutorial that explains very little, you are left to help rid the swamp of Clear Sky’s enemies, and again the game manages to go downhill. In a nutshell, the game is just too hard. You can understand that life in The Zone would be pretty tough and unforgiving, but come on, this is a game. If you can’t enjoy playing it what’s the point? Apart from the game assuming you’ve played the original and know how to bandage a wound or know when you are suffering from radiation, they’ve made things harder by making money really hard to come by
In a nutshell, the game is just too hard.
leaving you short of bandages and med kits if you can’t find enough of them in the zone. The combat is stupidly hard, and that’s with me playing on Novice – the lowest difficulty, because the AI are crack shots and will hit you with damn near every bullet before you are even in range to shoot back, and even when you are in range the randomness of your shots means you’ll miss most of the time.
While you are struggling to stay alive in the swamps, you’ll also be getting constant messages asking for your help at such and such a place or they’re going to die, which gets really annoying when they want you at multiple places at the same time. Oh, and the artifacts that littered the zone in Shadow of Chernobyl are now invisible and really quite hard to find. Coming out of the swamps you head to the Cordon (this is where you will begin to recognise things if you’ve played SoC) you are confronted with a military outpost that spots you no matter what you do and unleashes a torrent of heavy machine gun fire on you, and I have to admit this I where I nearly gave up as I died so many times trying to figure out what the hell to do. In the end I resorted to a walkthrough to help me out just so I could play a bit more of the game to enable me to write this. Finally in terms of crap gameplay did I mention that later the developers, for some unknown reason, decided to use that oh so cheap tactic of a set-piece mugging that leaves you without all the money you slaved so hard to make? Given that money is so hard to make in the zone I just can’t understand why they would do this…
I’m sick of talking about how hard the game is now, so I’ll move on to graphics and sound. Clear Sky has come on a bit since SoC and it does look really good, well as good as a desolate wasteland can look I guess, but it comes at a price. My PC is by no means the best out there but it is damn good – I build my machines myself to make sure of that. Clear Sky however makes it fall to the ground and beg for mercy. I was forced to drop the resolution and turn off some of the advanced options to get it remotely playable and even then I get a fair few stutters. To put things in comparison, my computer eats Crysis for breakfast so I was somewhat surprised to see a slide show in Stalker. The sound is pretty decent though so no complaints there, and you hear some funny lines from the squads you help out. The only thing that annoyed me at all was the constant radio blips from the cries for help I mentioned earlier.
To sum up, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Clear Sky is just too frustrating (and downright hard) for my liking. It’s just a little bit too realistic in some respects, and too unrealistic in others, resulting in an experience that just isn’t enjoyable. Clear Sky is just another one of those “it had so much potential” titles really, so unless you want an “extreme hardship simulator” I’d avoid this one.
The Bad: Cheap-shot set piece that ruins the game, Needs a PC from the future, Just too damn hard