S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky PC Review

If I told you that there is a game out there that combines the best parts of such titles as Oblivion, Bioshock and Deus Ex, you would say to me, “Holy cow man you’ve hit the honey pot, whatever is this game called?” To which I would lift up my shirt and show you the several gouges of flesh I had pulled out of myself, purely to have something substantial enough to throw at the my computer monitor in frustration. I would lean over and whisper into your ear as my moist seeping chest presses against yours “Stalker: Clear Sky, of course.”

I’ll admit it now, I didn’t play the first one, there… are you happy? What I lack in background knowledge of the previous title, I made up for in my anticipation. The anticipation to sink my teeth into a game series that is apparently “atmospheric as f!ck.” Set before the original, a prequel if you will, the Zone (Chernobyl disaster) has decided to kick up a hissy fit. After a team of Stalkers have made their way to its centre, anomalous energy waves have swept across the Zone, changing and twisting it from the way it once looked… or will look? Heemmngh! After a short cut scene showing your character leading some scientists across the Zone, you are hit by an energy wave and knocked unconscious. You awake in a town of people all loyal to the faction Clear Sky. After some forgettable dialogue, and equally long winded and forgettable exposition, you have a mission. And you are the only person who can carry it out, roll on mediocrity.

I have been lead to believe over the years, perhaps wrongly so, that tutorials are meant to be your first fun sample into the basics of the game. “Hello and welcome. Thank you for buying me, lets have fun together. Here, try this. You’re good at that aren’t you? See you next time. Love you!” Stalker greets you with a realistic and nostalgic face slap, reminding you how games used to be, and how far player friendly games have come. Go down one route, die of radiation poisoning, but it won’t explain to you sufficiently how to look out for radiation, nor will I explain later when you’re slowly dieing from nothing, that you have to cure yourself of radiation sickness with medicine you might or might not have. Go down the other route and run face first into invisible energy force fields, only detectable by “throwing a screw in front of you”, which the game neglects to tell you how to do, thus seeing yourself either pressing keys in a process of elimination, or stopping to check the controls, something I haven’t had to do on a FPS for about 5 years, along with spamming the quick save button every time a fight ends which I lived through. The game is riddled with this kind of sloppy half made quality, leaving the only pulling factor, the universe it is situated in, far from immersive or attention grabbing.

Combat feels like a badly AI’ed multiplayer game, the type of game that is meant for human players, and an AI system has been pasted on later for people with no friends (see Battlefield 1941). Huge combat flaws like, large swamp areas filled with enemies that are able to see you through the reeds and bushes, leaving you to fire wildly in the hopes of hitting anyone, with their aim completely unhindered. Coupled with the bizarre particle effect triggered when hitting plants, which had me convinced my bullets weren’t making it through them at all. There is a fine line between genius and stupidty, as with flashes of sharp-shooting brilliance from the AI, we have moments of mind numbing incompetence as 8 enemies run to the same position for cover, in the same place as my cross hairs were trained for a headshot, 1 meter away from them, on the other side of a door archway. How are you expected to care about anything in a world, where the most simple and enjoyable act of shooting a gun at someone who isn’t you, has all the fun taken out of it? I mean, when peek-a-booing around corners becomes your most powerful offensive tool, surely a rework of the fighting system is in order? I digress…

If you are willing to delve into every character, sub character and storyline other than the main plot, there is a huge amount of content to be had. The maps are giant varied and expansive terrains, and exploration and movement between them is as simple as turning and running in the direction (If you don’t want to ask a guide for a short cut.) The game is very loot heavy, most human characters drop the weapons and items they had on them. This adds a sense of grim reality when after a battle you find yourself scavenging the bodies of friends and enemies alike, for weapons, ammunition and supplies, and as there is no character requirement for the use of any of the weapons in the game, once you pick it up its yours, forever. Which may be fun the first few times, scavenging a free weapon, but there is a sense of detachment and envy that comes with it, like that person on the ground earned this gun, and I am just stealing it. Which quickly brings me back to a negative about the game, it breads a kind of hoarder nature within you, where you have to have everything incase at some point you need it, and you daren’t leave anything behind incase you never come back here again, and everything is ridiculously expensive so buying it is beyond your means. So you rightly, start dwelling over your inventory, only to have everything stolen from you, never to get it back. Utterly infuriating.

One of the things that did impress me was that all of the maps you enter seem to be living, breathing, reacting environments, i.e. you can stumble upon a corpse of someone who was recently killed, by whatever, something unknown to you, something else currently on the map? The key interesting thing is that it happened independent of you, and your character is just finding on the occurrence, he’s just along for the ride.

Graphically the game is lovely, and level design although obviously sparse in places on purpose, has some nice touches with worn down walls and buildings, all of them feeling as if they have been lived in with some real subtle human touches. Even the more advanced army bases, that are now to coin a phrase “held together with duct tape”, feel as if they were once bustling and functional, now reduced to mere squatters’ fortresses. Although with all settings on high the dynamic lighting makes even the best graphics cards yelp for mercy, you may find yourself as I did, turning the advanced graphics off. The game is still perfectly playable, even when not seen in its best light…*cough*

After being blocked in a main story mission by a flame that was spawned to make my escape from an underground facility more dramatic, I found myself unable to pass though it, untill after jumping on a barrier found I could then “JUMP ONTO THE HORIZONTAL JET OF FLAME” and escape. I then decided to read up on the game and try to get some back story into why its so utterly broken, I was interested to find out that apparently the original Stalker went through the same teething problems. Which were later sorted out by constant patches and updates. But I don’t know what to recommend, if sorted out this game has enough to rival the large and interestingly populated environments of Oblivion, the gun play and faction choices of the great Deus Ex, and a watered down, but still edgey dark play style of Bioshock. But right now Its just soo far from being great, and currently its not even good. Would I really recommend you buy the game, and put it on the back burner until it perhaps stops sucking?

… Not for all the “Artifacts” in the “Zone”.

5/10

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Version tested: PC

Developer: GSC Game World

Publisher: Deep Silver

Genre: FPS