There has always been a distinction between the sweeping space operas of Western sci-fi and the looming barrenness of Eastern European sci-fi (as well as the mad-as-a-hatter outrageousness of Japanese sci-fi but that is a different story completely). The Stalker series, based on the extremely popular book ‘Roadside Picnic’ is an impressive example the Eastern style of an oppressive and dark future for humanity.
Its based in ‘The Zone’, a vast and supposedly empty space that surrounds the Chernobyl nuclear plant (which went Ka-Blam-O quite a while ago in case you missed it). The result of the nuclear fallout caused natural and supernatural phenomena, including mythical artefacts of untold power. Naturally these items attracted all kinds of fortune hunters that took up make-shift accommodation in the Zone.
With this desolate wasteland filled with mutants, mysterious and questionable accents sounds familiar, that might be because you’ve played the Metro series. A lot of similarities can be made between the two, which starts with their similar source material. Unfortunately, the Metro series in terms of story and gameplay has somewhat of an advantage to the Stalkers it references.
Stalker Clear Sky does a good job, and is enjoyable, but with a steep learning curve with tough RPG-like mechanics to master, while Metro does a better job at easing the player into its grey and doomed world. And although Stalker is fun, its less focused approach leaves first time players more confused as they begin exploring the wastelands for the first time.
And with gunplay as hard as nails, Stalker can throw off quite a few undedicated players quite early on. Being caught by just one or two bullets will be enough to kill off your unlucky Stalker, while having enough bullets yourself to win any battle is surprisingly difficult. Topping off that is the limited healing supplies and no other way to replenish your constantly waning health, quick saves become more and more of a gamble.
Some mechanics are very immersive, nodding at the fans of the novel in doing so. ‘Anomalies’ such as gravity wells form all around the Zone and are nearly invisible to the eye. In order to spot them, the player must careful and precisely throw metal bolts out to check the route is safe. It can make for remarkably tense gameplay while stalking (or being stalked) by an enemy, but starts to feel like a nuisance while safely exploring the grounds.
The further you can get into the game, the more rewarding the story can becomes. One of the most interesting mechanics at play is the Factions. It might remind the player of the same faction system from GTA2, because its pretty much the same, except less comical. Instead of the lunatics there are the bandits, and instead of the scientists there are… the scientists. But there are many other factions that have their own ideologies, enemies and allies. As the player progresses further through the Zone you will have to jump between factions to exploit their territory and knowledge in order to stay alive.
Its fun to play, and as you discover or favourite or most sympathetic faction you might try to stay there as long as possible, although you’ll probably surrender your ideologies for safety, which is an interesting concept in the game.
The graphics of Stalker hold up surprisingly well for a game five years old, with a refreshing brightness somewhat marred by the overall greyness of the colour palette. Enemies of both the human and mutant variety might look and move in a somewhat unnatural fashion but as far as the scenery and landscape go the game is quite the sight. One positive note is that the game is afraid of having multiple and varied enemies, which at least changes up the pace.
On top of all that, Stalker Clear Sky also hosts an array of mods to spice up or completely change the game. But standing alone, STALKER Clear Sky can entertain and frustrate you for hours and hours, if you can get past the initial confusion. It has all the markings of an older series FPS with its difficulty, reliance on saves instead of checkpoints and none regenerating health, it might not be for the people that only play CoD, but it might be worth a look, if you want a challenge.
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