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Stalker: Clear Sky Preview

Recently released into the atmosphere on September 5th, S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky just irradiated away from a full review in this issue. So let me instead provide you with a brief preview on the expected fallout, in not only graphical and gameplay improvements, but also how this release is shaping up in the way of quality.

GSC Game World - the Ukrainian developers of the standalone prequel Clear Sky and the highly atmospheric original Shadow of Chernobyl - once again promises much in the way of graphical marvel. This includes volumetric smoke, depth of field effects, more dynamic objects and real time lighting, and even the implementation of the Screen Space Ambient Occlusion technique; that's efficient object self-shadowing to me and you.

In the gameplay department we're told we can expect to see significantly improved A.I., including enemies making the use of cover and grenades. A large territory war provides a more non-linear stage for the main quest, with you choosing the faction you wish to ultimately lead to victory. Six new and six reworked older areas provide the basis for your adventure. Lots of other tweaks are included, with inverse kinematics and the ability to shoot down birds the obvious highlights.

However, some early reports and play tests reveal the game is increasingly annoying. Such information tells that a proportion of these new "features", such as invisible anomalies, many more enemies filling the game world and even the ability for the enemy to throw grenades, make the gameplay unnecessarily difficult and frustrating. The crucial result is frequent shattering of the legendary atmosphere which made the original so special.

It's hard for me to fairly comment on this, since I'm yet to complete the full game, but I have generally been impressed thus far. Early on the faction war provides a tactical, high octane affair, with my face gleaming at every little territory capture. Even some of the old annoyances of the original seem to have been improved, like not having to worry about bleeding to death all the time, and also enemies seeming to have a more realistic amount of health points.

But despite all the graphical improvements, the game still seems to look a little out-dated, probably no thanks to the still ugly vegetation. However the lighting effects truly are first class, which set's the scene for an atmospheric game world. Those pesky bugs make an unwelcome return though, with the first patch available just days after the release. It took six years to develop the original S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl, and so the less than two year development time for Clear Sky looks to have been a little poisonous to the franchise, in what could be an unfortunately below par sequel.

My advice would be to try and avoid blindly purchasing this one thinking it is of the same quality as the original; read several reviews and have an open mind, or risk possible disappointment. Still, having not played Clear Sky in its entirety, I hold some hope for a good run-out.

Clear Sky is again available on Steam, but remains a PC exclusive. However, in a recent interview with Oleg Yavorsky - the developers PR director - it was hinted that the consoles could on the cards for future releases, despite Russia's gaming market still being 98% PC.

A full GameOn review of Clear Sky will be in the next issue of the magazine, but in this issue we can instead rediscover or even just relive the original S.T.A.L.K.E.R. in our Shadow of Chernobyl review.

POBmaestro | 7th September, 2008

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