Think your neighbors are loud? Try moving to Chernobyl.
The more obscure and complicated areas of science will always be a wondrous playground for those who create any kind of fiction. Ever since radiation was discovered it’s been a fantastic jumping-off point for all kinds of stories from the fascinating to the absurd. After all, it’s easier for us to suspend disbelief when we aren’t sure what to believe in the first place.
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Clear Sky is a prequel to the previously released S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Shadow of Chernobyl. This open-world FPS series takes the tragedy of the Chernobyl meltdown and brings some good of it by creating some unique gameplay and an interesting alternate-history storyline from it. Unfortunately, while the game is ultimately rather enjoyable, there’s a bit too many design flaws along the way.
I would go so far as to say I’m a fan of this series but more so for its potential than what it currently is. The first game had flaws that have been more tweaked than fixed in Clear Sky. Clear Sky is much more of an expansion than a totally new entry in the series. The game is still a bit buggy and feels as if it had a solid foundation but was just plain rushed. This is why we shouldn’t harass developers about delaying game releases.
The item allocation balance issues of the original seem to have been lazily avoided by simply flooding the game areas with ammunition and supplies, removing a lot of the need to ration. Rationing made the player’s struggle feel more real and desperate in the previous game, not unlike a survival horror game. You will do a lot of looking for loot in this game. It’s much like Diablo in that sense. The items I found, however, just weren’t all that interesting even after upgrading them. Alternatively, the radioactive anomalies in the game sometimes hold “artifacts”, strange objects that can give you abilities often at the expense of others. This is essentially akin to the magic found in other games but it’s done in an interesting way and I was wishing I was finding more.
Nurse Muertos is here with a little medicine for your mutant ass.
While interacting with characters is now more interesting it still feels very cookie-cutter and limited. Characters often say uninteresting things and seem to always have the same few basic supplies to trade. Stalkers clearly often use grenades and yet they’re never willing to trade them? This is Clear Sky‘s main flaw- too many design oversights. Why is it that when I repeatedly put myself on the line to help out other stalkers the game rewards me with rubles (the currency in game) or items, yet I can’t simply have them follow me as backup. I fight for them and they can’t return the favor? They can’t rescue me when I get shot down… ever? It really puts a big kink in the MMO-esque single player feel that the game is clearly going for. I doubt it would be hard to implement in the code but this could be attempting to hide the fact that the AI is just not all that bright.
While I rarely saw enemies or friendlies do anything outright stupid it was fairly easy to take on five or more heavily armed enemies just by finding decent cover. The AI just didn’t take any risks and I can’t honestly say they ever even clearly tried to flank me. There was times I could clearly see them but it seemed as if some invisible was was blocking their view of me.
On the bright side, I do like Clear Sky as a whole. The game areas are shockingly large with minimal loading and are better laid-out than the previous game. The day and night cycles combined with weather effects make the environments very immersive.
The game’s story and the gameplay concepts stemmed from it are impressive. The creators came up with some really interesting ideas to make even radiation a more unpredictable, erratic and almost organic foe. Fictional “anomalies” are abundant. Walking along through an otherwise barren area only to have your Geiger counter suddenly start going nuts while your vision blurs and you start to “burn” is effectively intimidating. The radiation is far more spotty and dense than in real life so at times you’ll actually have to walk slowly while throwing metal bolts in front of you to see if they disintegrate. Sure it’ll make any nuclear physicist cringe but it adds a ghostly threat that causes the otherwise huge sweeping landscapes to feel a bit more claustrophobic.
This of the house of Russian Leatherface. It’s best not to go in.
The graphics seem to be pretty but inefficient at higher settings. It really made my system chug. I don’t have the best setup but the visual detail I was getting at higher settings didn’t seem to warrant the choppiness. I’m certain this is due to the huge landscapes so it’s forgivable. Lower settings even strained a bit but mostly worked fine without inhibiting the gameplay too much. Just make sure to at least turn up the view distance in the advanced options. Being able to see far ahead is vital in S.T.A.L.K.E.R.. As for the sound, music is almost non-existent and sound is very sparse but I found myself using it tactically at times so it at least works well.
Surprisingly, multiplayer manages to be heavy on sniping and stealth while still being fairly fun and even solid. I actually played a really long game of team deathmatch on one big map and had a good amount of fun with it. I actually forgot to look for lag because it was so rare and I didn’t crash at all in the time I spent with multiplayer. My framerate was fairly high too.
Gameplay in multiplayer is a lot like Counter-Strike (with item purchasing) but a good usage of stealth is fairly necessary which deters a lot of the stupid bunny-hopping rushers found in other FPSes. Sometimes you’ll take down a few guys who never saw you coming. Sometimes they’ll return the favor. It’s not boring nor is it mind-numbingly arcade-y. The multiplayer does fast-paced stealth rather well and I must commend them for that.
With more polish and possibly even some clever procedural generation this game could have easily been much better, which is frustrating. I’m actually really looking forward to another game in the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series and I truly hope we see one. The series is practically emanating radioactive potential.