It’s hard to believe that it was only just over a year ago that STALKER Shadow of Chernobyl first introduced us to a bleak, post-apocalyptic vision of an otherworldly Zone created around a mythical second devastation at the former Russian nuclear plant. Now the Ukraine-based GSC Game World studio has brought out a prequel set in 2011 that hopes to capitalise on the first game’s massive appeal.
In this game you play Scar, one of the mercenary s.t.a.l.k.e.r.s (i.e. Scavengers, Trespassers, Adventurers, Loners, Killers, Explorers and Robbers) who are drawn to the powerful artefacts and mysteries contained within the Zone. Two things are different, however. The first is that a massive blowout of anomalous energy has been triggered within the Zone by renegades delving deep within its heart, creating massive changes within its structure. This has in turn started a chain reaction of powerful aftershocks that are growing in intensity and fury and so it’s your job to get to the heart of the incursion and try to solve the problem.
The second change in your character from the first outing is that you appear to have your own kind of immunity to the worst effects of the blowouts, so you will be able to delve into hazardous areas of the Zone that others can’t. The downside is that the longer the aftershocks last, the more they are linked to your nervous system and they’ll eventually kill you.
Veterans of the game will recognise several revisited sections of the Zone but there are also some stunning new discoveries to explore, including the extensive Swamp lands that occupy the first part of the action. While you’ll need a high spec PC and graphics card to make the most of the visuals (there’s complete DirectX 10 support), the end result is often spectacular, especially the gradual transition from daylight to night time activity.
In terms of gameplay, though, the picture isn’t so rosy. After a short time you’re involved in a faction war where you must decide which side to back in the fight for territory and artefacts. The problem is that the enemy seems to be constantly respawning and there’s a paucity of weapons and armour. The enemy will also lob grenades at you with no warning (instant death) or mug you and take all your hard earned weapons, ammo and extras. When you can barter or loot some kit, much of it can be upgradeable but that’s no comfort if you then have it all nicked.
Artefacts are also a lot harder to come by as they appear from near-invisible anomalies and can only be detected using a separate scanner. That’s good if you’re a hardened veteran needing a challenge, not so good if you’re trying to get established in the game. While there’s still plenty to enjoy from a tactical point of view (and from the multiplayer option), Clear Sky just isn’t as scary and unpredictable as its predecessor.
Company: Deep Silver