S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky
Developer: GSC Game World
Released: August/September 2008
Played: story complete in 20 hours
AboutAs a prequel to S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl, Clear Sky follows the mercenary Scar as he investigates the cause of the recent massive radiation emissions from the centre of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. With the help of a research group called Clear Sky, Scar determines that a stalker has disturbed the balance of the zone - Strelok, the player's character from SoC.
At LaunchClear Sky received average review scores of 75%. Clear Sky was widely criticized for falling short of Shadow of Chernobyl in many ways, though still considered a good game. Many reviewers considered the atmosphere and environments to be stronger in the original, and experienced many bugs and glitches in Clear Sky.
Post LaunchA bunch of patches were released to fix various bugs and issues. I'm not clear on whether the patches are included in the Steam version. I think they are, but if you find that they aren't, the patches can be found on the official site.
Clear Sky begins in a new area, the swamps, but quickly has you return to the Cordon, the starting area from the previous game. It's not quite a copy/paste job - since it's set before Shadow of Chernobyl, anomalies are in different locations and faction control of each area varies.
Combat is quite lethal and you'll have to be careful if you're used to soaking up lots of bullets - the last game I played was Mass Effect 3 where my vanguard could replenish shields in an instant, so this is a change of pace. If you're unfamiliar with the series, what are you doing you should play the first one first, but I'll explain anyway. Health does regenerate very slowly - as in, too slow to help at all during a fight - so there are first aid kits for healing. But a good hit you can also start you bleeding, which requires a separate item to fix (or the rarer army medkit). So if you get shot you may be low on health and bleeding, which is a bad situation in the middle of a firefight. And radiation poisoning also drains your health, and that needs yet another item to resolve. If you haven't got the hint yet, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is somewhat survival-oriented, so quicksave frequently.
I did encounter a few bugs, though mostly minor. A couple of times, enemies disappeared when I shot at them. Not died - just vanished, leaving no bodies or weapons. Odd, but not a big deal. I got occasional skipping for a fraction of a second, but I get less to none when I set the .exe process priority to high. And as a very minor criticism, neither of the STALKER games I've played so far work with the Steam overlay.
Emissions are a cool idea, but quickly become annoying. Sometimes when you enter a map, you'll be warned that a dangerous emission is approaching, and you have a short time to find a safe spot. That gets annoying after a few times, but what's more annoying is that the game is almost too generous with the amount of time it gives you - I constantly find myself reaching the safe spot and having to just sit there for quite a long time until the emission passes. Boring. Emissions would be much more exciting with a greatly reduced timer - as is, there's no rush, and even an overburdened character can make it to a safe spot.
The faction war - one of the core elements of gameplay - is well intentioned but disappointing in a lot of ways. Once you join a faction, you quickly lose access to the vendors and upgrade services of other factions. Depending on the faction you chose, this can mean that some items can no longer be upgraded or obtained at all. This wouldn't have been so bad if you had to join a faction on reaching a certain point in the story, but as is, you're discouraged joining a faction until as late as possible, once you've obtained and upgraded all the gear you want. There are also some major game-breaking bugs associated with the bandit faction, so don't join them.
Now that I've listed all these complaints, I'll note that many of these issues are resolved with the Clear Sky Complete mod. In addition to fixing many of the bugs and glitches, the Complete mod also bumps up the graphics and textures, and adds more sound and music for atmosphere.