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

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S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky
STALKER Clear Sky.jpg
Developer(s) GSC Game World
Publisher(s) Deep Silver
Engine X-ray Engine 1.5
Platform(s) Microsoft Windows
Release date(s) RUS 20080822August 22, 2008

UKR 20080825August 25, 2008
EU 20080905September 5, 2008
AU 20080905September 5, 2008
NA September 15, 2008[1]
JP 20090227February 27, 2009

Genre(s) First-person shooter, survival horror
Mode(s) Single-player, multiplayer
Distribution Optical disc, download

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky, is the prequel to S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl, a first-person shooter survival horror video game with RPG elements by Ukrainian developer GSC Game World.[2] The game consists of a roughly 50/50 mix of new areas and old, remodeled areas from the previous game. The X-ray graphics engine has been updated to version 1.5 and includes DirectX 10 support (later patch 1.5.06 included DirectX 10.1). Additionally, the AI received an overhaul to accommodate the new faction wars feature.

Plot[edit]

Clear Sky is a prequel to S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl.

The player assumes the role of veteran Stalker Scar, who is injured and rendered unconscious by an energy emission while guiding a group of scientists through the Zone. Scar, the only one to survive, is then rescued by Clear Sky, a secret independent Zone faction dedicated to researching and learning about the Zone in their attempt to better understand it and its related phenomena. It is not known how Scar has survived the emission, but it is noted he has suffered damage to his central nervous system and seems to exhibit other, subtle physiological changes.

The nature of these changes becomes clear shortly. Word arrives that a platoon of Stalkers has come under attack by mutants, and Lebedev, leader of the Clear Sky faction, asks Scar to seek them out and help them. During the rescue attempt another emission occurs with little warning, giving Scar and the Stalkers no time to seek cover. Once again Scar is the sole survivor, recovering shortly after the emission dies down. Lebedev is amazed that Scar is still alive; the Clear Sky lead researcher, Beanpolev, believes that Scar has acquired some "unusual ability" that allows him to navigate and survive anomalies and parts of the Zone that would normally kill any ordinary man.

Lebedev begins to theorize that the Zone is being disrupted by a dramatic increase in energy emissions, emanating from the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in the center of the Zone. The emissions are a sort of "immune response" to an outside force that the Zone perceives as a threat. Lebedev believes this outside force to be a group of Stalkers who are reportedly making an attempt to reach the center of the Zone, and have made it further than any other group of Stalkers before. Both Levedev and Chebekov fear that the Zone's reaction may cause untold destruction should the group succeed. Scar is asked to seek out this group and stop them at all costs.

Scar is sent to the Cordon, an area near the edge of the Zone, to get further information about the group of Stalkers. The trader Sidorovich is able to identify the four-member group of Stalkers as Fang, Ghost, Doc, and Strelok and gives Scar a lead on locating Fang. Scar follows this lead to another, and another, following a trail of leads to encounters with multiple factions of Stalkers across a large area of the Zone. Eventually Scar tracks the group's progress to Yantar, the site of a Brain Scorcher, where he learns from a scientist that Strelok has just recently obtained a prototype psionic shielding unit which should protect him from the mind-damaging effects of the Brain Scorcher surrounding the Chernobyl NPP.

Scar nearly catches Strelok in the Red Forest, only for him to escape into a tunnel leading towards Chernobyl, which is immediately collapsed behind him by an explosion. With the assistance of some recently rescued Mercenaries and the Clear Sky faction, Scar captures a nearby bridge to Limansk from Bandits, which provides an alternate route to Chernobyl. Progress through Limansk is impeded by Bandits, the Military, and the radical and heavily armed Monolith faction, who seek to kill anybody approaching the center of the Zone.

After proceeding through Limansk and finding an alternate route through the partially underground ruins of a hospital, Scar arrives at Chernobyl along with Lebedev and other members of Clear Sky. Strelok has already arrived and is progressing towards the sarcophagus surrounding the number four reactor. While Clear Sky battles with Monolith forces on the ground, Lebedev gives Scar a prototype "EM1 rifle", a long-range electromagnetic weapon, and instructs him to use the weapon to disable Strelok's psionic protection. Battling Monolith forces himself, Scar nonetheless is able to succeed. With the "threat" eliminated Lebedev anticipates a sudden settling of the Zone, but instead Zone activity increases dramatically and the plant releases an emission which incapacitates everyone in the immediate area. Scar's fate is left unknown, but several hints are provided in the original that Charon, a monolith captain, is in fact Scar, as he is the only named monolith trooper, and he has Scar's unique weapon, which is one of a kind.

The ending shows Strelok waking up in a dimly lit hallway lined with other Stalkers sitting slouched against either wall, semi-comatose. Each Stalker is facing a stripped down display which shows a series of cryptic images, part of their brainwashing process. Strelok himself is also in the process of being brainwashed. The view then moves to focus on Strelok's exposed right arm, which has been tattooed with the acronym "S.T.A.L.K.E.R."

Gameplay[edit]

This game combines elements of first-person shooters ("twitch-based" aiming, with a first person perspective), survival horror (ammo scavenging, frightening atmosphere with powerful monsters), and RPGs (inventory management, quests, character interaction, armors and defense stats).

The most significant gameplay addition since Shadow of Chernobyl is the faction wars system. Different factions will struggle for territory, attacking to gain territory and then defending to keep it, while others then try to retake it. The player will be able to join and help factions in their battles. The stronger a faction becomes, the better equipment the traders can provide and their soldiers can use. The player character is a mercenary, and may do missions for any faction or remain completely neutral without disrupting the necessary progression of the game. Each of the main factions provide services, most importantly access to a trader and an engineer.

While Scar is always aligned with Clear Sky, and his ultimate goal is to defeat Strelok, he can fight against or ally with the four other factions in the Zone (Loners, Duty, Freedom and Bandits). The Swamp-dwelling Renegade or the Military factions cannot be joined. Careful choice of faction alignment needs to be considered in some parts of the story, for it may be difficult to progress further if the Stalker the player is interacting with is hostile, has needed information or is essential to triggering the next stage.

Other gameplay advancements since the first game include a deepened weapon customization system with the ability to repair damaged gear. Anomalies are harder to notice and now contain the artifacts in the game, which require a detector to locate. NPCs are given the ability to use hand grenades, take cover dynamically and use "blind-fire" techniques. Light machine guns have been introduced. There are NPC guides in the zone that will provide fast-travel for a fee. Emissions, powerful waves that are sometimes visible or invisible determinant on the intensity, unleash lethal radiation, psi-emissions and other unknown particles and energy directly from the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, directly affecting the Noosphere in The Exclusion Zone, making it deadly to all lifeforms except specific mutants. Emissions also occur on an infrequent basis, requiring the player to take cover in a building pointed out by the PDA. If not adequately concealed, the player's nervous system shuts down, resulting the player's death.

Factions[edit]

Within the zone are a number of factions with different goals and views about the zone ranging from government forces to clans of stalkers living off the zone:

Army: The Ukrainian Army is keeping the Zone unreachable from outside contact. They are well-armed and present a major threat when you enter their area of control in the Cordon. The Army was not always at war with the Loner groups. In fact, they used to work with the stalkers, making profits while the Loners made theirs. However, the Army sold out the Loners to the Bandits. Encounters with the Army are rare, but without the proper equipment you may die within seconds. Regardless of your actions, they cannot be joined.

Clear Sky: Clear Sky is a faction which has dedicated themselves to researching the Zone. They are lightly armed, low in manpower, and isolated in the Swamps. Most of their manpower comes from wandering stalkers who are found in danger or in need of help by some of the main members of Clear Sky. These stalkers, appreciating the help of Clear Sky, join the faction, and some leave after paying their debt to Clear Sky. Though the player may align with another faction, the player will always receive objects from Clear Sky that serve to advance the story. Though at first Clear Sky may seem weak with their members wielding below-average weaponry, such as hunting rifles and pistols, they are quite powerful when mobilized into action, wielding deadly assault rifles, such is seen when they assault the city of Limansk.

Renegade: The Renegades are an elite group of bandits that were not present during the events in S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl. They raided the Zone from the North-West and captured Limansk, isolating themselves within the area. In Clear Sky, they try to gain control of the Swamps, which consequently causes them to fight Clear Sky members. They are the first faction you fight, weak and easily beaten. They cannot be joined.

Loners: Loners are rookie or free stalkers, who are not interested in any factions' goals. They seek personal profit among the riches of the Zone. Almost all of the other major factions get their manpower from this group, which is the largest in the zone. Those who have trained and suffered enough of the Zone's dangers may be accepted by other factions. When this faction was introduced in S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl, it showed that there were stalkers who had no affiliations to other groups. Most Loners are in small groups and are armed with dated weaponry, but some like Father Valerian's group in the Cordon (the Loner base of operations), are looking for greater treasure by cooperating with the Army.

Bandits: In Clear Sky, bandits are an organized group of thieves and marauders who extort stalkers for their own gain. They capture and rob wandering stalkers and they are always hostile to the other factions. Bandits claim that they enforce the "law" around the Garbage area, a large field where countless numbers of irradiated objects are dumped into. In this field Loners, known as Diggers, come here to make a small living by salvaging usable materials. Often, the Bandits raid Loner-held locations such as the Flea Market. They have a seemingly replenishable source of men to fight. Bandits rove in patrols and steal all a stalker's equipment save for their pistol, knife, and basic armor.

Duty: Duty is a group of former special forces operators and military grunts that were sent in to take control of the zone but ended up being nearly wiped out because of a lack of preparation and data for the zone's unusual features. They were abandoned after a conspiracy by their commanding officers to break away from the military by arranging a communications breakdown. Being the most organized and fundamental group in the Zone, they are trying to prevent the Zone from spreading, and waging a Crusades-style war against mutants. They also train, accomplish day and night watch duties, patrol their territory, and research the Zone, trying to learn new ways to eliminate it.

Freedom: Freedom are a clan of stalkers who believe in free access to the zone. While Duty restricts the Zone from the outsiders, Freedom aims for the opposite; Freedom wishes the outer world to be allowed freely into the Zone, stating that the Zone is a gift to humanity and could be the key to unlock secrets that could revolutionize and solve the problems of mankind by using artifacts. They also believe in studying the zone. Because of this they are commonly called Anarchists by Duty and much of the other factions of the Zone. Freedom isn't well organized; they allow members to use their skills to find a niche and do as they wish. The majority of Freedom's arsenal is a combination of NATO, Western and Soviet weapons, though they generally use NATO and Western armaments such as the SIG SG 550 or the SA80. Freedom is based in a factory complex in the Dark Valley.

Mercenaries: Mercenaries are a clandestine faction of elite stalkers, operating in the zone as soldiers-for-hire. They are usually sent into the zone for missions instructed by their client, be it assassination, combat or retrieval. Not much is known about the mercenaries except some work alone while some work for organisations and are usually distrusted by most of the other factions because of their unpredictability.

Monolith: The main antagonist faction of the entire series. The Monolith are a faction of stalkers that are brainwashed by the C-Consciousness, the experiment that was responsible for the creation of the Zone. The Monolith are fanatics who do not value their own personal safety to protect the "Wish Granter", they would gladly die for it with no regrets, rather than let anyone get close to the center. They also begin to lose their humanity over time if they are continuously exposed to psi-emissions and also due to the fact that they are mysteriously controlled by the C-Consciousness. This mental manipulation degrades their ability to communicate rationally due to obsessive and religious perspectives enforced on them toward the Zone. This also affects their conscience and makes them ultimately aggressive and merciless. The C-Consciousness use the Monolithians to act as their fighting arm. Monolithians are known for being brutal fighters in hand-to-hand combat with rumors of them throwing their weapon to the ground after going dry of ammunition and either taking out a knife and just fanatically charging towards the enemy or even pouncing at the enemy with knife in hand or with their own hands and repeatedly stabbing or ripping the threat to them apart with their own bare hands. The Monolith faction are also feared by many a stalker throughout the Zone with stalkers who have survived encounters with them telling bone-chilling stories about the superior armor, weapons and even equipment they have at their disposal and the psychotic behavior they display to any that isn't their own.

Military Stalkers: The military stalkers are a secretive group of highly trained former stalkers contracted by the military, tasked with carrying out extremely hazardous missions deep in the zone. They are distinct from other military units with their heavy armoured suits and high-end 9x39mm weaponry.

Ecologists: The Ecologists are a scientific expedition, sent into the zone on behalf of the Ukrainian government. The ecologists are tasked in documenting the zone's anomalous features and at the same time, studying them. Despite being government personnel, they constantly recruit stalkers to do their hazardous field work for them because the Ukrainian military are unable to assist them because of their slipping grasp in the zone.

Development[edit]

X-Ray 1.5 Engine[edit]

Sunbeams effect

Advancements made in 1.5 include volumetric light, dynamic volumetric smoke, full volumetric fire, soft water, dynamic wet surfaces (with water streaming down the sides of surfaces), depth-of-field blur, DirectX 10 support, SSAO (Screen Space Ambient Occlusion). A complete day and night system is included along with improved weather effects.

However, the game will maintain the same minimum system requirements as Shadow of Chernobyl, and is scalable enough to run on outdated DirectX 8 hardware. The engine's revamp has allowed for improved and increased performance on most systems. Version 1.5.03 of the game supports MSAA for DirectX 10, while version 1.5.06 added support for DirectX 10.1.

Copy protection[edit]

Stalker: Clear Sky uses the digital rights management (DRM) software Tagès as copy prevention. Some versions can only be installed on a limited number of machines (5).[3][4] It has been disabled via patches.

Marketing[edit]

Separate limited edition versions of the game were released in conjunction with the standard version.

The Russian limited edition is presented in a larger box and contains the game disc, a bonus disc, a neckerchief, an A2-sized map of the Zone, a patch with a logo of one of the game's factions, a dog tag, a custom lighter and a little white ball called "The Clear Sky Artifact".

The second limited edition, released in the rest of the world, is presented in a metal box and also contains a bonus disc filled with extras (such as bonus artwork, screen savers, making of videos, a five-part interview with Oleg Yavorsky the PR Director for GSC Game World and the soundtrack) and the A2-sized map of the Zone.

Polish limited edition, presented in medkit-like bag with game's logo contains: game disc, soundtrack, patch with logo of one the game's factions, stickers with logos, small map of the Zone, t-shirt with game's logo on chest and inscription "Сделано в Чернобыле" ("Made in Chernobyl") on back.

Reception[edit]

Reception
Aggregate scores
Aggregator Score
GameRankings 74% [5]
Metacritic 75/100[6]
Review scores
Publication Score
Eurogamer 70/100[9]
GameSpot 7.0/10 [7]
IGN 7.3/10[8]

Reception for Clear Sky has been generally positive. PC Zone UK and Games Master UK have both given Clear Sky a score of 88 out of 100, while Edge Magazine gave 7/10, saying the game "turns the best and worst of PC gaming into something extraordinary".[10] GamesTM gave the game 90/100 saying "Clear Sky chiefly succeeds because it transforms grim fantasy into a startlingly real-world experience".[10] PCGamer UK awarded the game 68% saying it is "The disappointment of the year", particularly criticizing the increased difficulty and that the atmosphere of the zone was not as well delivered as the original.[11]

X-play's review was generally unfavorable at 60%, citing boring environments, glitches, and antiquated gameplay. GameSpot gave it 7.0/10 due to glitches, and hoping the patches will fix some major things. In GameSpot's "Best of 2008" the game was nominated in just one category, in "Best atmosphere" but it lost to Dead Space.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Faylor, Chris (29 August 2008). "S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky Delayed Again, Recalled from North American Retailers". ShackNews. Retrieved 2008-08-29. 
  2. ^ "S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky Forming The Zone," Game Informer 178 (February 2008): 84.
  3. ^ Williams, Rob (2008-09-24). "STALKER: Clear Sky Features 5-Time Activation Limit". Retrieved 2011-01-21. 
  4. ^ "S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky". Retrieved 2011-01-21. 
  5. ^ "S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky for PC - GameRankings". GameRankings. Retrieved 2 August 2013. 
  6. ^ "S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Clear Sky for PV reviews at Metacritic.com". Retrieved 2010-02-08. 
  7. ^ "S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky Review - GameSpot.com". GameSpot. Retrieved 2 August 2013. 
  8. ^ "S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky Review - IGN". IGN. Retrieved 2 August 2013. 
  9. ^ "S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky Review". Eurogamer. Retrieved 2 August 2013. 
  10. ^ a b "S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky". Metacritic. Retrieved 2011-01-21. 
  11. ^ PCGamer UK Edition 192 (October 2008)

External links[edit]