Clear Sky fails to amaze this time around, but does offer a solid shooting experience. Consider it a warm-up for the holiday season, a game to
How many glitches can a sane gamer take? You often find yourself excusing texture problems or AI inaccuracies, but game breaking bugs are often the final straw. That would have been the case for the original STALKER if it wasn’t for its superb sense of atmosphere. Alone in the Zone, (the aftermath area affected by the Chernobyl disaster) PC gamers were treated to a harrowing look into what was easily possible. The original game might have been a tad unfinished and it definitely required the series of patches it got, but many overlooked its technical shortfalls as a minor annoyance. Its lengthy development time was soon forgotten as you lost yourself in a living-breathing world. This was a birth of a new IP.
It wasn’t much of a surprise that soon after its March 2007 release date; GCS Game World announced that a prequel was on its way. Titled as STALKER: Clear Sky, its pre-release hype machine boasted improved lighting, a more powerful X-Ray (the game’s graphics engine) and a world-wide faction system that allowed you to start wars between the game’s inhabitants. That’s not forgetting the simple joy of being able to enter the barren wasteland and settle down next to a camp fire with your chums. With its release last Friday does Clear Sky manage to make it two for two or does it miss the mark?
If Only It Would Run Like This
It’s a testament to Clear Sky that it was patched before it was released outside of Russia. Many of its issues that we came across may indeed be already gone. It’s best to start with what’s wrong, because it’s what you’ll first notice. The game still crashes on occasion and there are plenty of bugs. It’s not as bad as the original game, but it’s still just missing the mark. Luckily you can save the game without being dumped to desktop and Vista does produce a playable experience. Patching the game, like Shadow of Chernobyl, will require a new game to be started so it’s worth weighing up the patch notes.
The most depressing thing is the resources that are needed. We ran the game on a BFG 8800 GTS, Core 2 Duo 3 Ghz and with 4 GB of Ram on Windows Vista at 1280x1024 (19 Inch). The rig could manage high settings (with maximum producing slight shuddering) and the Enhanced Dynamic Lighting mode. One step up is the DirectX10 Dynamic Lighting, which when combined with Maximum settings produces a gorgeous slideshow. We’ve also tested it on a similar rig with a slightly better processor and a Radeon 4870 and it struggled. In the end it needed the Static Lighting to be playable. We’re unsure as to whether the new lighting mode is akin to Crysis’ ‘Enthusiast ‘(formally Very High) settings where it’s a game for the future. It’s also possible (as with the last STALKER) that the game just requires optimization. If that’s the case, several patches down the line could warrant this criticism as defunct.
That’s not to say that Clear Sky is ugly on the settings we ran. The Zone is as deliciously detailed as the original, if not more. Realistic vegetation, wide expanses of open flora, wind affected grass, derelict buildings and detailed character models all combine to produce a pretty game. There is the odd rough edge and the lip syncing is still far from perfect, but good localisation and lighting rectify any visual shortfalls. While we’re not able to run it maxed out, Clear Sky does impress on many occasions.
The Reality of Playing
Grain Effects Are Used
What was worrying is, while it improves on the graphics, it loses on its atmosphere. The original title was genuinely unnerving, worrying and frightening simultaneously. You felt alone, without help for miles. It was you versus the world. Sustain a wound and out of bandages? You’re toast. The game was difficult enough; balanced perfectly. Then along comes Clear Sky.
It quickly becomes obvious that Clear Sky is all about the combat. There’s little occasion where you’re sitting at your PC, trembling in your radiation suit. The only time you’ll feel slightly on edge in Clear Sky is when it’s night time. The echoes of dog barking. The gentle whisper of the trees. The sound of nuclear silence. Then you turn on your flashlight, keep an eye on the radar and remember you’re just playing a game. We’ve seen fellow STALKERs sit around the camp fire before. We’ve seen them fight off the wildlife. It quickly becomes a case of ‘seen that, done it’. STALKER is no longer about the zone; it’s about the guns.
Like the earlier game, the shooting mechanics are a bit hit and miss. There’s no wild spraying and pistols don’t have the range of sniper rifles. Shotguns will jam and carefully aiming SMG shots at the head will drop your enemies. You’ll manage your ammo and weapons via the improved inventory. This accompanies an improved PDA which simplifies quest management, reminds you of past conversations and tracks the movement of Clear Sky’s various factions.
What It Can Look Like
Thus we arrive at Clear Sky’s biggest ‘pulling point.’ You’ll come across groups such as the Bandits, Clear Sky, the Army and Freedom. Undertaking missions will increase your favour towards while the opposite comes from shooting at them. Each of the faction sends out patrols and combat groups to take new territory, defend outposts and assault enemy positions. You’re free to get involved or just avoid the fights. What it does do is bring the world to life. It dynamically changes your surroundings and causes you to react. It works and it’s Clear Sky’s saving grace, it’s saviour from mediocrity.
Being a prequel you’ll visit the same places, see familiar faces and experience the same difficulty as before. The game includes a fast travel system and it’s still broken up into large sections with fairly quick loading screens. Multiplayer contains a ‘capture the artefact’ mode that’s worth a pop, but it’ll unlikely hold your attention.
S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: CLEAR SKY VERDICT
Clear Sky fails to amaze this time around, but does offer a solid shooting experience. Consider it a warm-up for the holiday season, a game to tide over your destructive urges until the big boys arrive.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Withstanding a horde of blind dogs while on your last clip of ammo.