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S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky Review
developer: GSC Game World
PIV 2000, 512MB RAM, 10GB HDD, 128MB video card
|ESRB rating: M
release date: Sep 05, 08 (released)
|» All About S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky on ActionTrip|
Contrary to my initial skepticism about S.T.A.L.K.E.R (the original), the game turned out pretty good, regardless of repeated delays, halts in production and other hindrances during its development cycle. There were a few issues, which I hoped to see removed in the add-on STALKER: Clear Sky. Also, with the spiced-up visuals and promises of more content, I became more optimistic.
Unlike most games today, Clear Sky has a solid plot, tying well into events of the original. It's actually a prequel, with events transpiring one year before STALKER: Shadow of Chernobyl. Players jump into the role of a veteran mercenary named Scar. In a bizarre turn of events, Scar survived a powerful energy emission, while escorting a bunch of scientists through the Zone. He's rescued and brought to safety by an independent, secret faction called Clear Sky. These guys dedicated their lives to researching various aspects of the Zone, in an effort to answer its mysteries. When a second deadly emission occurs Scar survives, yet again. Lebedev, Clear Sky leader, nurses him back to health (in an un-gay kind of way, of course) and explains how the unusual increase of these emissions originates from Chernobyl power plant - the very heart of the Zone. Nobody knows why these emissions are occurring, but Lebedev provides a few theories that it could be a result of the Zone itself reacting to human activities. Concerned for his own safety, Scar sets out on a journey to learn if any Stalkers are attempting to reach the center of the Zone.
Make no mistake, Clear Sky has the same eerie atmosphere, which made its predecessor so immersive and enjoyable. Be warned, "enjoyable" turns into "frustrating as hell" very quickly. GSC Game World had some very good ideas of how to improve upon the first game, except most of those ideas were shattered thanks to shoddy programming and a number of serious AI issues. In short, the game still sports opponents that are incredibly accurate, even from great distances. You'll have a hard time taking each one of them down, whereas they'll have no problem killing you with no more than one, maybe two, insanely precise shots. To ease my frustrations, I decided to save my game as often as I possibly could, even if it means quick saving after each slain soldier or mutant. It worked, though that's not my idea of first-rate entertainment.
As much as the AI is capable of giving veteran FPS fans the challenge of a life-time, it also exhibits annoying problems. For example, in one of the areas I ran into an ambush. Desperately, I tried to fight off a group of very determined stalkers, but I was dead within seconds. Shortly after, I retried the mission from the same spot and found that the ambush was in place, but the enemies did not react to my presence until I fired the first shot (plus, I ran up to the nearest stalker there was still no reaction from them).
Unpolished games are a common symptom of the industry. In this case, technical difficulties not only get in the way of gameplay, but are liable to ruin the entire experience, especially for average gamers. GSC Game World did stress a number of times that STALKER fans were the main target audience here. Regardless, my guess is that the most devoted STALKER enthusiast is bound to curse the game and certainly not just because of AI bugs. Using a shotgun is not all it's cracked up to be in this game. Firing several point-blank shots at your opponent usually isn't enough to survive in combat. Also, in relation to unrealistic enemy accuracy, you'll frequently witness enemies tossing grenades right in your face, usually sending you on a one-way trip to Slaughterville... Hm, NPCs using grenades is another poorly implemented new feature.
Enjoyable story, ties well into the previous game, better visuals, weapon and armor customization, plenty of new quests and stuff to do;
"Improved" AI turned out to be crappier than ever, bugs every which way ruin the experience.