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

If you were browsing TR in March of last year, you might have seen the blog post where I lauded S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl for being a unique, captivating, and sometimes frightening experience with an atmosphere thick enough to cut with a knife. You might understand, then, why I’ve been looking forward to the prequel ever since GSC Game World announced it in July 2007. S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky finally came out last Friday over here, and I eagerly rushed to the local video-game shop to purchase a copy.

I finally reached the ending last night, but I now have somewhat of a sour taste in my mouth. It’s not that Clear Sky is a bad game; it’s just that it seems to lack many of the elements that made the original great—elements like an unpleasant, surreal atmosphere; oppressive dungeon exploration that makes you glad to see pixelated daylight again; the lonely, derelict feeling of long missions in an unforgivingly hostile world; the desolate feel of a barren countryside full of decaying, abandoned buildings… I could go on.

Clear Sky does look great on paper. It tightens up the gameplay, improves the graphics (some of the environments are simply breathtaking), removes some of the need for traditional RPG tedium, and makes the whole experience a little more linear than in Shadow of Chernobyl. But there’s just something missing. It’s kind of like Shadow of Chernobyl is the cute, geeky girl with glasses and Clear Sky is her smoking-hot cousin who thinks Europe is an island where everyone speaks French and there are no indoor toilets.

That analogy fits better than you’d think. Whereas I still think the first game was a masterpiece tarnished with little flaws, the prequel seems to focus on technology while neglecting some key gameplay elements. The tighter storyline doesn’t give you as much time to soak in the atmosphere, there’s a myriad of bugs, and some aspects of the game just feel off.

For instance, I never had enough money to purchase better armor, so I went through most of the game with a suit some character gave me. Perhaps I should have joined one of the multiple factions to get some free goodies, but Clear Sky’s character is a mercenary, and I felt like staying self-employed. Besides, I always had so many bandages and medkits that didn’t really impede my progress. Similarly, Clear Sky makes the process of retrieving and using “artifacts” (rare objects that improve your character’s stats) so difficult I never felt compelled to bother with them. Yes, I could have gathered those for money, but I also expected that repeatedly helping some factions in huge gunfights would reap financial rewards.

Even the graphics are missing a certain je-ne-sais-quoi. The new-and-improved X-ray Engine conjures up truly beautiful images, but I think everything’s just a little too pretty and sunny, so you don’t get the same oppressive feeling as in the original. Oh and you still can’t sleep, despite the abundance of prop beds and sleeping characters, so you have to play a portion of the game in pitch-blackness with a flashlight. That made me feel like I was missing out on some of the eye candy, especially since the game doesn’t really encourage back-tracking.

Then there’s the ending. I won’t spoil it, but after the epic, multi-ending bonanza of the original, I was expecting more than a short bit of gameplay and a one-minute cut scene.

Of course, Clear Sky does have its upsides. Environments have a distinct realism and authenticity that makes you feel like you’re really there, and the storyline sheds light on the events of the original in interesting ways. At one point, for example, you help a faction capture an army base that becomes their headquarters in the first game. Cool. Then again, almost everyone had died by the end of the gunfight, and a pack of mutant dogs finished off the rest while I was up a tower fiddling with radio equipment. Clear Sky also makes you chase around the character from the first game and figure out his past, along with the whole amnesia thing.

Having said all of this, I will likely try playing Clear Sky again and following a different path this time. GSC Game World released a second patch this week, so that should also help squash away many of the immersion-killing bugs. Heck, maybe I’ll just wait for a third patch to be sure. I definitely feel like there’s plenty of potential here, but it looks like it’s dug in much deeper than in the first game.

If you’re planning to buy this game when it arrives in America next week, I won’t try to dissuade you—especially if you’re after something different than Call of Duty 4 and the endless stream of console ports. It may not be as good as its forebear, but Clear Sky still remains a welcome, albeit imperfect diversion in a sea of monotony. I just think GSC could have made it far better with more polish and slightly different gameplay mechanics.

Comments closed
    • cutting edge
    • 12 years ago

    i cant beleive how shabby the ending was all those new weopons to sell……….brilliant game if the patches were applied, the copie I bought from the shop was that buggy that without the patch couldnt even finish the game, and i dont know if you know what i mean but just when I think the game just might start getting good it ends with some place where it was supposed to begin they should put a goverment health warning of sour tastes not relating to entertainment. I loved most if not all it but could have waited another year to make it unforgetable in a good way

    • l33t-g4m3r
    • 12 years ago

    A lot of people seem to like oblivion lost, but I think it does too much.
    The Zone Reclamation Project is a bug fix project that makes the game how it should have been.
    §[<http://www.metacognix.com/stlkrsoc/<]§ the float32 mod isn't that great either. It is supposed to add performance, and after using it I can see why. It reduces the lighting effects and makes everything overly dark. Stock lighting is much better, as I like to see where I am going/looking at.

    • Kaleid
    • 12 years ago

    Its a great game, it is after all STALKER, but it also doesn’t really feel like a new game. More like original STALKER with new content and old one remixed.

    Hopefully Oblivion Lost will also come to this one too.

      • Corrado
      • 12 years ago

      Thats what it is. It feels like an expansion pack to me. And I’m OK with that. Thats what it SHOULD feel like. As long as the content is all there, and it is. Its more guided, which I find welcoming. The graphics are better, and it runs well. The new interface isn’t DRASTICALLY different, but its different enough. Upgrading guns and armor is a fantastic idea. Just very very great game in my opinion.

    • Corrado
    • 12 years ago

    So I’ve been playing Clear Sky since it was released on Steam last week. I had some issues, then built a new PC then had more issues (not the game it turns out, it was MS Intellipoint ipoint.exe crashing and shutting my machine off). But I’m about an hour into the game now and I’m loving it. I’m not too far engaged in the story yet, as I’m just now into Cordon, but I think the game LOOKS amazing, runs fairly well (Phenom 9950, HD4850) @ 1680×1050 with 4x AA on. Just really loving it. Its different from SoC but still feels the same. The way I think it should. Just really recommend the game to everyone, esp if you liked the first one. I’ve had zero stability issues with the game itself.

    • herothezero
    • 12 years ago

    #36, just get Oblivion Lost 2.0. It’s the only mod you need–it’s pretty comprehensive.

      • Kaleid
      • 12 years ago

      Yes, get it but there are newer versions.

    • ShinyN00b
    • 12 years ago

    So has anyone else played any mods for Shadow of Chernobyl? I was interested in them but there’s tons of them and I just didn’t feel like sorting through all of them.

    • pharago
    • 12 years ago

    as far as i can tell, this game rocks, i didn’t finish it, but everything is an improvement from the previous version, graphics, ui, loading times etc.
    it’s very inmersive, runs quite well in my 4850, if you want to enjoy it, take your time to make things, dont go rushing till the end, don’t ‘play obey’, if you don’t have money, well, do what a stalker should do, take everything you can, and sell it, im almost rich and still didn’t got out from the swamps

    • ish718
    • 12 years ago

    Sooooo……….. is it worth a download? O_O

      • BoBzeBuilder
      • 12 years ago

      Sure, pay the full amount first, then download it from steam : )

        • ish718
        • 12 years ago

        Ofcourse, thats what I meant 😀

    • Vrock
    • 12 years ago

    Get out of here, Stalker!

      • Corrado
      • 12 years ago

      Don’t just stand there, I said come eeen!

        • ClickClick5
        • 12 years ago

        Ello? Ello?
        Ello? Ello?
        Ello? Ello?

    • clone
    • 12 years ago

    I loved the original Stalker, I bought it the day it was released but was busy with a different game……. in the end it was a huge bonus to start playing it late as GSC had released all of the needed patches to fix the game by the time I started it so nothing spoiled the experience.

    played the game through 3 times explored everywhere tried to save Stalkers when I could and killed anyone who thought they might have a problem with me.

    the only problem I had was that I never found a way to get into Duty’s armory, I decided to ally solely to freedom and kill Duty on sight which lead to a lot of firefights……. I mean alot every time I came into Duty’s town with sporadic firefights against Duty and Fellow Stalkers who had allied with Duty.

    game became tedious and the sound of the guns became mundane just because I was constantly fighting…… retrieved 1000 rounds from the bar and my stash that I had stored and had to use up 600 before I made it to the Garbage because I ran into the equivalent of an army of Duty guys just outside of town….. easily 25 of them and as I was looting them more kept coming….. it was crazy, I had stacks of dead bodies everywhere left from after I was looting them, trying to keep the area organized was insane.

    • El_MUERkO
    • 12 years ago

    i have every confidence clear sky will be both stunning to look at and an absorbing and unique experience to play … after four or five patches 🙂

      • toxent
      • 12 years ago

      Did you know the fourth patch is out already?

        • Corrado
        • 12 years ago

        And it runs fantastic and looks great and is very fun with that fourth patch 🙂

    • Vrock
    • 12 years ago

    Wait a minute…Europe’s not an island?

      • eitje
      • 12 years ago

      i was more surprised that actual PEOPLE still speak French!

        • Joel H.
        • 12 years ago

        Right. Besides French psuedo-people.

          • CasbahBoy
          • 12 years ago

          and Canadians 😀

    • toyota
    • 12 years ago

    yeah I would have never finished the original game without mods to help balance out the game. I admit that I suck but damn it was aggravating that the enemies could pick me off even in pitch black darkness and sometimes even through walls. yet I could dump 15-20 rounds into them at almost point blank range and them not die. most of the time it was actually better to use the freaking knife than a gun in close quarters combat.

    • indeego
    • 12 years ago

    I never bothered with stalker because I heard it was released unfinished. Should I give it a whirl nowg{

      • CasbahBoy
      • 12 years ago

      Definitely, indeego. Keep in mind that it suits a certain play style more than others. There are a good number of scripted events, mixed with the (sometimes weird, sometimes unintended) results of environmental AI interactions. I heard many complaints about unrealistic weapon [in]accuracy, but it never once bothered me. There are still a few niggling things that are obviously bugs, like dialogue repetition and the like.

      If you let yourself explore and ‘take in the view’, and if you are the sort to run into a lot of situations like ‘I wonder if I can make it over there, or take some of these guys over here on a little early’ and if you allow yourself to get totally immersed in the game’s environments, then the game is pretty much without compare.

    • ssidbroadcast
    • 12 years ago

    q[

    • Neutronbeam
    • 12 years ago

    I’ll probably get both after they fix the bugs and combine them into a value package. Still working on bringing down the Citadel in City 17 right now.

    • flip-mode
    • 12 years ago

    As soon as I kill Fontane I’m going to plunk down for Shadow of Chernobyl, based solely on Cyril’s initial blog post about that game.

      • drfish
      • 12 years ago

      You won’t regret it, it was my favorite single player FPS of 2007 (I count Portal as a puzzle game).

      • fpsduck
      • 12 years ago

      l[

        • Meadows
        • 12 years ago

        A man chooses, a slave obeys.

      • clone
      • 12 years ago

      the nice thing about buying the original Stalker is now is all of the update patches have fixed the game.

      it’s also selling for cheap now which is always a plus.

      I loved stalker and wound up playing it through 3 times with the 3rd being dedicated to finding everything and searching everywhere.

      just loved the game.

    • ClickClick5
    • 12 years ago

    I bought the first Stalker at launch and I had to play it in the “Static Lighting” setting the first time. A few patches later, the glitch was fixed.

    Yay blue sky!

    Going into “Full Dynamic Lighting” made a big difference for me to play it again. The labs were scarier….

    I hope Clear Sky runs a little better. Heck, there are are already two patches out now. lol

    • herothezero
    • 12 years ago

    I have to say, much as I enjoyed the first STALKER in the OEM build, the mods are really what I found to be engrossing–like the Oblivion Lost 2.0 mod for the original. It changes almost everything, and almost all for the better–physics, weapons modeling, AI interaction, in-game economy, graphics, new events/characters (radiation blowouts and new mutants), et al. The mod totally remade the game and created a stellar experience.

    I guess I have to hope for the same with Clear Sky. Oh well…

      • Disco
      • 12 years ago

      I haven’t tried any of the STALKER mods. How does this one work? I’ve read the information at the mod webpage, but it doesn’t really explain it to me. Is it the same game but with many small ‘improvements’? Or is it a completely different game/story? I’ve never played Oblivion, so referencing how that plays won’t help me.

      I really enjoyed the original, after the first couple patches. Would it be worth playing again with this mod? thanks for any info.

        • Corrado
        • 12 years ago

        Its the same story, but its more RPGish. Bullet damage is way changed, and more realistic. In the original you can unload a clip in to the face of an enemy and they pop you once and you’re dead or extremely wounded. OL2.0 evens it up a little bit. You need to rest and eat much more often (you can’t rest in the OEM). The only thing I’m NOT a huge fan of is the blowouts since theres not always a place to hide… but thats besides the point. The game is much much better and a lot different… the graphics alone are worlds better in my opinion. Try it out, its free.

          • Disco
          • 12 years ago

          thanks for the info. It definitely sounds like I should run through it again. Maybe by the time I’m done, similar ‘fixes’ for ClearSky will be available.

          dave

    • Silus
    • 12 years ago

    Thanks for this Cyril. As you, I loved the first game and everything you described that made the game great for you, were also the same that made it great for me.
    After reading the initial reviews, I was disappointed to say the least, but I still wanted to try the game myself. Unfortunately what you described as the downsides of Clear Sky, are the same in the other reviews I read. I had feared this, since I was highly anticipated this game and really wanted this game to be better than the first.

    The upsides you described do not make up for the downsides IMO, since what’s worse than the first game, was exactly what I wanted improved in Clear Sky. At least my machine will be able to run this smoothly, since I have a slightly better system than yours.

    • Jigar
    • 12 years ago

    r[

      • ish718
      • 12 years ago

      lol hellgate was sooooo boring and felt pointless

    • SecretMaster
    • 12 years ago

    Hey Cyril, any chance you might be able to tell us how the game runs on your system? (With that said, I just realized I don’t know what your system is)

      • Cyril
      • 12 years ago

      I have a Core 2 Duo E6400, 4GB of RAM, a GeForce 8800 GT, and a 20.1″ wide-screen display. I played the game at 1440×900 with the detail set to “maximum,” although I did turn light rays down to “medium.” The game ran very smoothly pretty much all the way through.

    • drfish
    • 12 years ago

    I nearly cried over the less than stellar reviews Clear Sky is getting… I was hoping for STALKER perfected, but it takes steps backward instead…

    I’ll probably still buy it, but sometime after Far Cry 2 I think (if it’s as awesome as it looks), after it’s good and patched to be the best it can be. I played the first STALKER all the way though without patching (since the first patch killed saved games) and while there were bugs I didn’t mind them much, what with my jaw on the floor so much of the time and all…

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