Innovation Sans Proper Implementation
For me S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Shadow Of Chernobyl offered one of the most realistic FPS experiences. The concept of you, alone in an open-ended, irradiated world popluated by free roaming and hostile mutants amid other adventure-seeking stalkers
was topped off by very
realistic weapons and weapon effects and an ultra real combat system. S.T.A.L.K.E.R. was touted as an action RPG sans character stats where you, the player, actually got better at combat, taking cover and generally surviving while playing the game. S.T.A.L.K.E.R Shadow Of Chernobyl was best described as atmospheric and haunting; you were all alone at the mercy of the zone and its denizens. No wonder I gave it a 9/10 when I reviewed it. GSC Game World achieved nine out of ten objectives they started out with when designing the game. For me, Clear Sky had large shoes to fill.
This time you are a stalker called “Scar” with the Merc (mercenary) faction. Clear Sky is based on events of a year preceding Shadow Of Chernobyl. The zone is still unstable on account of the explosion and sudden radioactive emissions and dense pockets of anomalies are commonplace. The game starts with a cut scene in which your character is leading a group of scientists into the zone when a blowout occurs. You, survive for some unknown reason and are rescued by a group of researchers called Clear Sky; and their objectives quickly become yours as they realise you’re a merc who sells his gun to the highest bidder. And herein lies one of the new additions to gameplay; the concept of belonging to a group and taking on group objectives. Different factions are based in different maps and when you take on missions for them and complete them you may get the chance to join their outfit. This is a double-edged sword however as befriending one group often antagonises another. Team objectives aren’t always very clear, mainly because the map is a little confusing and not all locations and waypoints are named. Patches improve this as I discovered. You will also work with teammates a lot of the time. Although working with a team does spoil the atmosphere somewhat but for the most part you’ll be alone.
Clear Sky adds the ability to repair weapons at a weaponsmith’s shop which is a huge plus especially if you have gotten accustomed to a really good weapon. You can also modify your weapons stats thereby increasing its range, rate of fire, accuracy and reliability. Some weapons can be modifed to accept sniper scopes and under barrel grenade launchers and silencers. Thankfully the delicate armour can also be repaired and upgraded.
Now you may wonder as to the perk of joining certain factions since some others will surely become hostile; all groups except loners have some enemies; the exception being bandits and military stalkers, who open fire on anyone trespassing around their domain. Each faction has a weapon specialist who will modify weapons. But these gunsmiths have a few more powerful upgrades that they only do for members of the same group. Also consider that not all gunsmiths do all upgrades, some are armour specialists, some work with shotguns better, the others may be able to make assault rifles more powerful. There are also some weapons which only the bigger faction gunsmiths (Duty and Freedom) may be able to upgrade. Some heavy armours are also only repairable by specialists of these factions. So your choice of faction if any should ideally be based on which weapon you intend to use; since a fully upgraded weapon makes a huge difference. That being said I played as a loner, (didn’t join a faction), and ended up with a half upgraded SEVA armour suit that offers brilliant anomaly and raditation protection. I ditched my handgun and stuck with an upgraded Tunder S14 assault rifle and a Vintar BC sniper rifle; because they use the same ammunition, I saved some weight by stockpiling only on one type of round. Clear Sky does allow you to carry more; although the weight limit is still 50 kgs; it seems that ammunition and even guns weigh less somehow as I could carry two guns all the time.
Upgrading weapons implies that they are much weaker when not upgraded and if you pick up a new gun you may find that emptying two entire magazines of rounds into a soldier may not kill him — this is unrealistic. Headshots do the trick although you’ll be hard pressed to get them as the enemies dodge and move around a lot. And this brings me to another significant point — the game is rather difficult; fail to take cover and enemies can home in to you at even great ranges and even entry-level assault rifles like AK74s can tear you up in a single burst. Heck, even a peashooter will cause your health to nosedive. But as you play and get used to your weapons recoil and aim characteristics this will get better.
Artifacts are now much rarer and also invisible. Which means you will come across them very seldomly and this is more a matter of chance. You have a detector that when activated indicates the presence of artifacts near you. The thing is artifacts are no longer lying in the open but usually near pockets of dense anomalies that are likely to kill you before you get your paws on any treasure. Thankfully, artifacts now fetch more cash; and money itself lasts a lot longer as weapons and armour are cheaper than they were in the original game.
The missions are very interesting; as good as the original game. One issue — Clear Sky crashes every now and again, something which persists even after installing the 1.503 patch; this is unacceptable. Sometimes Clear Sky will crash when running into a particular section of the map. Other times taking a certain route to solve an objective means it remains unsolved even after you’ve completed it. I picked up a parcel to return to a trader only to find he still doesn’t recognise it from my inventory and tells me to fetch it again. Then there are issues with travelling between maps, which also mysteriously crashes while working fine sometimes. Thankfully the patch version 1.507 seems to clear up most of the issues I faced, but your older saved games no longer work and you must begin afresh. To make a buggy game, release it, and then create ineffectual patches and leave debugging to the development community is just unacceptable. The Starforce anti-piracy system doesn’t help by not detecting the original game in the drive half of the time; a crack .exe was the only way out, and I have the original game! If I’d let my temper and frustration guide my hand; Clear Sky would get a solid 3/10.
But it’s still an excellent, albeit flawed game. The visuals have gotten much better, and the environments are splendidly done — the wasteland really looks like the product of a nuclear fallout. Shadows are brilliant; shaders are beautifully done Weapon and charactermodelling are also superb. The audio component is amazing. If only they could have gotten rid of those pesky bugs, if only the realistic weapon system hadn’t been tampered with — this game would be so much better. Before I forget, if you are intent on playing Clear Sky with anything less than a GeForce 8800 GT / Radeon HD 4850 — please upgrade.
Developer: GSC Game World
Web site: Deep Silver