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Gaming Evolution
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Gaming Evolution
Gaming Evolution
Published By: Deep Silver / GSC Game World
Developed By: GSC Game World
Genre: First-Person Shooter
Players: 1
Rated: T (Teen)
Release Date: September 15, 2008
Screenshots: Link
Amazon: Buy Now!
Written By: Christian H.

Last year, developer GSC Game World released the long-awaited S.T.A.L.K.E.R. - Shadow of Chernobyl to almost universal praise for its concepts and design mentality, but also frustration with its bugs and lack of polish and tuning. A year later and already we are greeted with the prequel, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. - Clear Sky. A year between releases is a far cry from the seven years of development weathered by Shadow of Chernobyl. Clear Sky is basically a second chance for GSC Game World to make S.T.A.L.K.E.R. into everything they wanted it to be. Clear Sky, however, only manages to highlight the harried development of this series, showcasing a conflicted approach to the design.

Everything old is new again. Thatís really the best way to describe the setting of Clear Sky. Being set a year before the events of Shadow of Chernobyl, the Zone is a different place. The rush for its valuable artifacts and salvage is in full swing and nu-merous factions vie for control of familiar areas. Formerly desolate or abandoned areas are now the bases of organized Stalkers, soldiers, and bandits. As the mercenary Scar, you are free to join with any (or none) of these factions and participate in the faction wars during the course of your effort to track the Stalker Strelok and stop him from reaching the center of the Zone.

The faction wars were an element present to a small degree in Shadow of Cher-nobyl, but in Clear Sky they are a primary element of the gameplay. You work with al-lied characters to take bases from other factions and mutants and secure supplies. Seeing the faction wars fully realized and the Zone as a battlefield is exciting, but also somewhat contradictory to the nature of the game. One of the elements that made Shadow of Chernobyl so effective was the overwhelming feeling of isolation. It seems inevitable that this feeling would be lost with the introduction of the faction wars, but the feeling is lost too much. Factions control entire maps and the player never feels alone or isolated, even in the most dangerous areas. Unless you deliberately make enemies of various factions, you always have support close-by.

This contradictory nature is compounded by further over-simplification of the ba-sic game design philosophy of Shadow of Chernobyl. Characters of all factions--allies and enemies alike--appear on your PDA map, as they did in the first game. Now, however, the PDA also depicts the movement and objectives of these characters. Even mutants are tracked by the PDAís map, robbing the game of any sense of spontaneity or threat. Another side-effect of this design is a lost value in exploration. Shadow of Chernobyl was all about exploration, encouraging the player to seek out abandoned buildings and hard-to-find areas in the hopes of finding good loot. Most of these areas now, however, are occupied by factions, with shops, mechanics, and quests for the player. On any given map, in almost any given location, you know exactly what youíll find there because it appears on your map.

The simplification isnít all bad, however. The new fast-travel feature, in the form of guides who will escort you to various locations for a fee, is welcome. Guides can only take you through points that are controlled by friendly or neutral factions and their prices are high enough that you are forced to really consider the worth of their services. In some cases, it makes more sense to walk yourself. Then again, if you have money but are in desperate need of supplies, then they provide a much better option than run-ning and risking a tedious quick save, die, quick load, repeat, scenario. Weapons and armor can now be repaired and upgraded, meaning the player has to do less salvaging for crummy equipment and instilling a greater sense of progression; a new weapon may be just ok when you pick it up, but with some repairs and upgrades it can be a companion through the game.

The other side of the coin is the over-complication of other elements, and this is how Clear Sky shows us how conflicted it is about what it wants to be. Artifacts--while too plentiful in Shadow of Chernobyl--are now too rare. They can now be found only within anomalies (which are now harder to see, grouped more densely, and always surrounded by strong radiation) and only with the use of a special locator device. The sense of accomplishment for finding one is greater, but to actually go hunting for them to make some much-needed cash is just a chore. Night, while argued by some fans to be too bright in Shadow of Chernobyl, is now overwhelmingly dark. Itís impossible to see more than a couple of feet in front of the character. This fails to make the night seem more terrifying or atmospheric, and only makes it frustrating, as most opposition will come from enemy NPCs who are hardly affected by the darkness.

GSC Game World just doesnít seem to know what it is they want the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series to be; they donít seem to know what its place is in this world of modern shooters. Shadow of Chernobyl was very much in the vein of games like Deus Ex and System Shock. Clear Sky seems to want to marry those games with the likes of Call of Duty or Half Life. Clear Sky tries to be a more straight-forward shooter with elements of adventure gaming and RPGs, but it never coalesces into a consistent whole. Both design approaches remain separate, but hastily taped together in an effort to make two things one. The factions wars provide an entertaining and surprisingly deep distraction from following the linear plot of the game, and the combat is improved, but it comes at the cost of the atmosphere of Shadow of Chernobyl. The Zone is still interesting, still eerily and morbidly beautiful. What it isnít, is a character, a world with a life of its own. The process of shooting things is improved but very little else fails to come together, turning Clear Sky into merely a competent shooter, as opposed to the grand experiment that was its predecessor.


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