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

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

The Zone is Back
and Clearer than Ever

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Clear Sky is the second installment in the underappreciated FPS series developed by GSC Games World. It is important to mention that this review is of the latest, patched version of Clear Sky, version 1.5.04, and not the original retail version. Clear Sky’s story is a prologue to the original game, Shadow of Chernobyl, and puts the player in the role of a stalker named Scar. In the beginning, you survive a strange emission that sweeps through the Zone and then begin your journey after being rescued.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Clear Sky screenshot

The first and most astonishing thing about Clear Sky, as with its predecessor, is how well the mood is established. The design of the game world is practically flawless. There is a great variety of environments that look the part of a post-nuclear torn area. The character models are designed around the idea that people in the Zone are mostly scavengers. The day-to-night cycle makes for a truly immersive experience-the nights are so dark they require a flashlight or night vision gear to get around in effectively.

Aside from the mood it sets, Clear Sky is just a beautiful game to see. Boasting DirectX 10 support and a new host of visual options the player can turn on or off, the game has serious potential and even competes with the likes of Crysis. Every beam of light or casted shadow plays a part in the game’s overall look. Dead shrubs and trees, burnt down houses, rustic machinery, and large, open fields and swamps are all brought to life. Moreover, despite the fact that concentration on combat is essential to survival, players will have a difficult time focusing when the environments are this great.

Unlike the original game, which focused on exploration and uncovering the mysteries of the Zone, Clear Sky changes the focus and provides the player with a more combat-oriented game. In Clear Sky, the Zone is relatively “new,” and different factions with varying goals and objectives have sprung up and begun fighting for territory and riches. These same factions did play a role in the original game, but the player’s ability to interact with them was limited; Clear Sky changes that.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Clear Sky screenshot

Players now have the chance to ally themselves with different factions as they progress through the story. The overall game world is split into different regions, and each of these regions is, generally, contested between at least two factions. When the player arrives, he is given, at some point, the opportunity to side with a particular faction. Helping one faction defeat another is a simple matter of capturing key locations around the map. These locations could be anything from an old pump station to a road barricade. Once enough objectives are captured and enemies are killed, the balance of power will begin to shift. Then, the player is able to reap benefits from the faction, which could include different types of rewards ranging from new weapons to money to free upgrades.

Unfortunately for the faction wars, once a player effectively eliminates the opposing faction, the struggle ends, leaving you with nothing more than to pick off a few straggling hostiles, bandits, and mutants. And, since certain factions are only present in specific regions of the world, as the player progresses, the opportunity to continue working for one faction ceases. This is a disappointment because it puts a linear taste in an otherwise non-linear game. On the other hand, it does give the player a variety of factions to befriend or fight, but that could have still been an option without the linear feel.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Clear Sky screenshot

The controls consist of the standard first-person keys and are fully customizable. However, there are a few flaws. For example, there are three types of positions a player can stand in: standing, crouched, and a lower crouch. The issue is that, despite being able to assign a key for each position, you must first be crouched before going into the lower crouch. And, if you want to stand back up to run away, you have to go from lower crouch to crouch before standing. This becomes particularly annoying when in intense fights, since the best way to increase accuracy is to be in the lower crouch stance. There really should be an easier way to move from lower crouch to standing. Aside from minor design flaws, however, the controls are solid and easy to master.

Two of Clear Sky’s best features are its A.I. and level of difficulty. Both combined provide enough challenging gameplay to keep even the most veteran FPS gamers on their toes. Don’t expect your typical run-and-gun FPS combat where there is no need to find cover, bandage wounds, or upgrade that body armor. Enemies aren’t going to just mindlessly run down a corridor while you take pot shots at them. For example, if you’re just outside the entrance to a compound, won’t be able to camp there and wait for them to just run out. Instead, they’ll wait for you to come to them and then jump out from behind an unlikely corner or window. If you’re overrunning a position rather easily, hostiles won’t just wait for you to continue mowing them down. Not only will they retreat to find better cover, but they’ll set it up to try and flank you. There are only a few rare moments when enemies will not have multiple lines of sight on you, which makes it difficult to take them down one by one.

The non-human enemies, on the other hand, behave a little more chaotically, depending on the type. Zombies are slow-moving and mindless, while mutant dogs are ferocious but easily scared by gun shots. Some of the other mutant creatures you’ll encounter will try various things to get the better of you, from attacking in packs to waiting until you’re not in the open.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Clear Sky screenshot

The role-playing aspects of Clear Sky are pretty much the same as they were in Shadow of Chernobyl. The player can loot just about every dead body, desk drawer, abandoned facility, and more. Then, those items can be sold at vendors for money or kept and used. Purchasing better weapons and armor, as well as keeping a healthy supply of med kits and food are all important. In this sense, Clear Sky provides a more survival-horror type gameplay. Trying to make sure you always have plenty of ammo can be a problem, but not an annoying one. Ammo and provisions can almost always be found on downed enemies. There are no character levels or unlockable abilities, but collecting artifacts can give players certain bonuses and advantages, like being able to run faster or carry heavier items. In the end, while a bulk of your success relies on quick thinking and careful aim, there is a decent amount of character depth and progression to achieve.

The musical score is an interesting combination of bleak soundtracks for the more atmospheric and mood-setting moments and fast-paced, pulsing beats for those intense firefights. The environmental sound effects provide an impressively realistic and edgy backdrop for the game’s ever-changing mood. For example, the sound of rain pounding against the ground sounds different depending on whether the character is facing forward or looking up at the sky. Unfortunately, Clear Sky is a Russian game with Russian dialogue and voice acting. So, while a lot of the original Russian is left in to provide a more authentic feel to the game, a large chunk of the game’s crucial dialogue was dubbed with English-speaking voices. And, even though the English voice acting isn’t terrible by any means, it certainly doesn’t live up to the rest of the game’s quality.

One thing that does bog down this otherwise amazing game is the complement of bugs and technical problems. In fact, even with the latest, patched version, Clear Sky has some strange issues. It isn’t the severity of the bugs that really get under the player’s skin so much as it is the quantity of them. Clear Sky plays more like a beta version than a fully tested retail game. While many fans of the original were hoping that Clear Sky would deliver a relatively bug-free experience from the start, it looks more like most will be waiting for a few updates before delving too far. The main reason most gamers are waiting for more patches is because of an issue with updating the game. For some reason, updating Clear Sky to the latest available version will erase all saved games and progress that has been made, forcing the player to start over from the beginning. Moreover, if the latest version still has plenty of bugs or problems, starting over and then having to start over again later on doesn’t sound too appealing.

The multiplayer component of Clear Sky is very similar to the original. And, like the original, most people don’t seem very interested in it. Most of the typical gametypes are available for players to choose, so in this way, it is unremarkable. There are some interesting RPG elements to the multiplayer game that make it more than simplistic deathmatches. However, because it’s difficult to find a server with enough active players, most will probably stick to the single-player component, which isn’t really a bad thing. Of course, if you do manage to find a nice server with a regular and healthy population, the experience can be fun.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Clear Sky screenshot

Overall, Clear Sky is a game with its fair share of problems. Bugs and technical issues are all too common and shouldn’t be present in this capacity. The multiplayer, while fun at times, is difficult to get into and seems a little tacked on for a game in the FPS genre, where multiplayer is generally a primary focus. On the other hand, it is nearly unrivaled in creating a truly immersive and creepy setting. The game’s visuals are astonishingly vibrant and artistic, and manage to be both beautiful and horrific at the same time. The combat is realistic, intense, and challenging to keep even the most hardcore gamers interested and the role-playing elements complement it well. If you’re a fan of the original S.T.A.L.K.E.R., or you passed it up the first time because you weren’t sure about it, take a chance on Clear Sky. Like a good book, it has the ability to grab you and hold you until the very end.

A gorgeous game that is brutal, beautiful, and horrific all at the same time. 3.5 Control
Standard FPS controls, despite being customizable, become annoying because of the way they don’t well together. 3.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Great music and nearly perfect sound effects provide an immersive experience, while English-dubbed voice acting can be jarring at times. 3.5 Play Value
Challenging and realistic gameplay is bogged down by a great quantity of bugs and technical glitches. 3.5 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.

Game Features:

  • Freedom of Action and Movement: You are entrusted an entire world -a huge territory populated by various creatures, impacted by unknown and bizarre laws, bearing glory or richness or death.
  • A-Life: A groundbreaking A.I. system which is responsible for controlling all of the game characters and events in the Zone. Over 1000 stalkers go about accomplishing their tasks, exploring the Zone, fighting, resting, eating -they truly live in the Zone.
  • Faction Wars: Interact with specific factions in the Zone by becoming their friend or enemy and affect the balance of power in the Zone.
  • Day & Night Cycles in Real Time: As you learn to live in the Zone, time flows. Day changes into night, and bright sunny weather is ousted by stormy skies. The time of day impacts your gameplay – while you and other stalkers see worse at night, most of the monsters see normally.

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