Clear Sky Preview

By Jim Rossignol on March 4th, 2008 at 8:40 am.


My preview of STALKER: Clear Sky, penned jointly with Tim Edwards of PC Gamer, has been posted on computerandvideogames.com. In it we talk to Anton Bolshakov about how the original game came to be, before moving on to the nature of the new beast:

Central to that is what GSC are doing with the various factions that inhabit the zone. While there were a large number of factions in the original game (Freedom, Duty, the military, the mercenaries, the scientists, the neutral stalkers and the servants of the monolith) you were only really able to follow three paths: Neutrality, Freedom, or Duty. In Clear Sky you’ll be able to join up with seven different factions, work with them, fight them, and ultimately lead your chosen side to victory.

“It’s a global war of factions within the zone,” says Bolshakov. “Now each faction has a fully fledged main camp with a number of key characters in there, like a trader, a mechanic, a leader, a barman, and all of those perform specific roles.”

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47 Comments »

  1. nihohit says:

    That sounds quite mechanic, as if all the factions are the same game-wise – all fulfilling a couple of services for the PC, with just a diffrent “ideology” spewed by the random NPCs.
    Since I don’t think the original was about banding with any, if at all, group, I don’t see this as an important thing to focus on in the expansion.

  2. Jim Rossignol says:

    I disagree actually, I think the faction stuff was the most interesting aspect of the original Stalker.

  3. Stromko says:

    I didn’t find the faction play in the original STALKER to be at all interesting, the way it was presented. To me it was all about location, location, and brutal combat.

    So long as there’s still cool places to go, maybe some new freaky enemies to take on, perhaps more variety and “fairness” in the guns, I’m sure I’ll like the expansion.

  4. arqueturus says:

    I’m actually trying to play through the original again.

    So far, I’m at the garbage and haven’t got a clue what’s going on factionally, other than the fact that the military and the bandits shoot me on sight.

    Great idea, shonky execution.

  5. Jim Rossignol says:

    The faction stuff doesn’t come into play until you hit the hub section (the Bar).

  6. arqueturus says:

    That’s a relief then.

    On a different note, Stalker really punishes my packrat tendancies :(

  7. Lou says:

    I’ve yet to see someone better the faction system of Gothic 1/2.

    Three significantly different “political” factions (conservatives, liberals and commie hippies, more or less) the player could easily love or hate, with none of them being right or wrong, and with quests for the factions tying in neatly with the respective faction’s ideals, so that the player would almost automatically land in the arms of the factions that corresponds to his view of the world.

  8. Piratepete says:

    *yawn*

    Stalker is such shoddy game hasn’t worked on the two PC’s I have owned since the original came out, even after hours of faffing about with it, patching etc.

    The most I have ever seen is the first firefight which would have been more enjoyable if it was one of those flickbook animations. Its also unbelievably ugly, even on high settings.

    I’m sorry, but after waiting an interminable time for original to come out I have ceased to care. I haven’t even read the preview in PCG. Personally I would have all references to it removed from history.

    Utterly utterly broken in so many ways. Even the menu font is shoddy.

    Emporors new clothes? Yes I think so

    Would a game as broken as stalker have done so well if published by a big games company and not a little Russian one? No. It would have got 20% less in the PCG score and would have been consigned to the bargain bin.

    PS: If anyone wants my copy they can have it.

  9. Jim Rossignol says:

    Worked on my PC and it’s been one of the most enjoyable gaming experiences of the last five years.

    It’s only “Emperor’s New Clothes” if your PC can’t run it…

  10. Lou says:

    Emporors new clothes? Yes I think so

    That’s probably the least correct comment about a game I’ve read in ages.

    FWIW, I’ve played Stalker on my old PC, my new PC, and the girl-friend’s PC without ever having a single problem.

    Would a game as broken as stalker have done so well if published by a big games company and not a little Russian one? No. It would have got 20% less in the PCG score and would have been consigned to the bargain bin.

    I believe the opposite is true. Would a renowned Western developer have made exactly the same game, it would have received even better scores on average.

  11. Colthor says:

    S.T.A.L.K.E.R. was brilliant. Definitely the best game of last year, probably for a lot longer than that.

    And it ran nicely on my machine, too.

    I’m hoping they keep up the good work with Clear Sky.

  12. Ravenger says:

    I played the game through on my old PC and loved it. Until Crysis it was the only game where I could look around an environment (the train yard being one) and say ‘yep, that looks real’. It also had the distinction of being one of the only FPS games to be good at both interiors and exteriors. The dynamic lighting was great too. Stay in the train hangar in a thunderstorm and watch all the shadows of the complex roof geometry flicker around when the lightning goes off. Awesome!

    Now playing it again through on my new PC, this time being able to set every detail level up to max, and in places it’s showing a little age compared to Crysis, but it still looks stunning and very real for the most part.

    It’s still one of the scariest games I’ve ever played, and I’ve jumped more than once in my current playthrough.

    I’m very much looking forward to Clear Sky.

  13. TreeFrog says:

    Can’t wait for this, just hope it gets a bit miore polish and bugfixing than the original.

    One of the interviews I read (or it might have been the PC Gamer article) said they’re making the anomalies invisible, and you need to put away your gun and pull out a detector to avoid them, which sounds utterly tiresome. Hopefully the SDK will finally see the light of day and that “feature” can be modded out, assuming it’s still in at release. Is there a date for Clear Sky yet?

  14. Flint says:

    I’d really love to play Stalker, but all the mixed comments have made me wary of buying it, and there’s no demo. I really hope Clear Sky fixes that.

  15. Lou says:

    Is there a date for Clear Sky yet?

    There was a March date iirc, but the mighty Steam now says “May”.

  16. Piratepete says:

    What is this train yard of which you speak?

    scary? Only scary if you can get to the scary bits. If you have a look at the forums there does seem to be an above average amount of comments from people who can’t even get it to play. But thats just my opinion.

    And Lou, yay for it working on your machine but from my perspective, its broken. Whats worse is its broken hype.

    To not work on one machine may be considered misfortune, but on two? well… I rest my case.

    Frankly I can’t give a monkeys if it works for you guys, it doesn’t work for me so i’m entitled, as you are, to my opinion. Maybe one day when Pc’s are made of lasers and controlled by mere wishes alone may it work on a PC I own, until then thats my view of this game. But of course by then it won’t run on the current OS :)

    Flint you can have my copy, really.

  17. Flint says:

    Seriously? Erm, contact me via email (laa la laa, editing this address out for fun now that it’s not needed) if so to discuss details and whatnot. I do have to warn you that I live in Finland though and not in a comfortable wherever-you-live country to ship to.

    You better not be pulling my leg, I’m a gullible sod :(.

  18. Alec Meer says:

    Hmm. The RPS Swapshop. Now there’s an idea…

  19. Piratepete says:

    I’m not but i don’t really want to post it to Finland tbh. Sorry

  20. Flint says:

    Yeah that’s understandable. No hard feelings.

  21. John P (Katsumoto) says:

    It is a mandatory requirement of the state that every time a Stalker article pops up I say the following:

    Stalker was my “goty” 2007, by a considerable distance. Atmosphere totally unparalleled. I also recommend everyone try the plethora of mods that are available – my particular favourite being the “Nuclear Snow” mod (look it up on google and it will be the first hit) which was featured in PCG a while back. Sublime.

  22. TreeFrog says:

    Flint,

    This lot deliver to Europe and have the best price I’ve seen anywhere:
    http://www.thegamecollection.net/stalker-shadow-chernobyl-cdrom-p-1772.html

    I bought Stalker from them after someone else posted that link on a previous thread (thank you, whoever you were). Best gaming fiver I’ve ever spent.

    It was the US edition I got, for some reason, and the patches are region-specific. Just so you know.

  23. Flint says:

    Thanks, have to check that out. Most likely can’t get it meself (my Visa Electron is a wanker who doesn’t work anywhere in the net, bar Last.FM bizarrely), but I’ll see if I can (remember to) ask a friend to order it at some point. The price is pretty damn sexy though.

  24. Piratepete says:

    Well I could give it another go i spose *sulks*

    Perhaps I am just jealous everyone has played it apart from me

  25. Lou says:

    “And Lou, yay for it working on your machine but from my perspective, its broken. Whats worse is its broken hype.

    To not work on one machine may be considered misfortune, but on two? well… I rest my case.

    Well, of course. But from my perspective it’s not broken. And it worked flawlessly on three entirely different PCs. I rest my case as well. ;)

  26. akbar says:

    Piratepete, I hope it works for you this time. ‘Tis a fine game and truly original. Compare Bioshock: they hyped the whole “player freedom” thing to the max with that game, talking up how “every encounter plays out differently.” Whatever. You just trudge through the game, changing direction at the whim of your unseen helper/adversary. The roaming about, looking at the views, and actual, random “encounters” in Stalker proved a whole lot more satisfying.

  27. meatpeople says:

    Oh I loved Stalker. Just recently finished it playing it through twice – even suffering periodical blue-screen-to-hard-reset crashes for it.

    Funnily enough I thought it looked gorgeous. Whatever they did with the colour saturated made it feel very alien and unsettling.

    I look forward to Clear Sky immensely.

    There’s an interview with the AI coder here, lots of interesting snippets about the factions and NPCs going on quests and trading etc.

  28. cHeal says:

    I absolutely loved Stalker, and I’d consider it the best game I’ve ever had the pleasure to play. It’s highly unfortunate that it was so buggy and broken for so many people but I don’t know too many people who were afforded problem free gaming and thought it was anything less than great, but those that didn’t like it, tended to hate.

    I’ve always maintained that nobody should disuade someone from at least trying this game in some form or another. It’s really a very individual experience and every gamers experience will inevitably differ.

    I wasn’t initially looking forward to Clear sky as I assumed it would a rushed expansion to try and cash in on the franchise but now I’m looking awfully forward to it, seems the developers are really trying to create the original game to whatever extent they can.

    And those screenshots are fantastic, people complain about the graphics, and of course they are right, the graphics are a little old hat, but the amount of object diversity and detail is far far higher than any game I’ve ever seen, and I think more games should follow suit, less shininess and bloom and junk and instead fill the world with lots of objects and give each area something unique. Every area in Stalker had an unmistakable personality, something missing from a lot of other big budget big graphics games on the market.

  29. Jim Rossignol says:

    Pete, if you do get it working take some time to mess around with the advanced detail settings. I found just reducing the vegetation draw distance a few notches gave me another 10fps.

  30. dhex says:

    does this have an official release date yet?

    stalker, for all its buggy weirdness in spots, is still straight up amazing. “atmospheric” may be overused, but that’s exactly what it was.

  31. Geoff says:

    Well crap, pretty big spoiler in that article.

    I’m playing through STALKER (I’ll do the caps, but skip the dots) now, thanks to the overwhelming positive comments I’ve seen on this site (plus Tom Chick mentions it a lot).

    It probably helps that I’m playing it now, with it patched up to 1.005, many of the bugs are ironed out. I’ll admit it’s annoying that when I start running across the wide open landscape, and all of a sudden the game locks up for a second or two.

    But to be fair, I can’t think of another game that offers this sort of experience, with or without occasional hiccups. The feel of the game (and I’m surprised not to have seen this comparison more) reminds me immensely of Fallout, but with an FPS interface. And I even like the feel of that FPS – the guns and combat feel more real, less cartoony.

    Also, like arqueturus, I have strong packrat tendencies that are frustrated by this game, but I think it’s a good thing. I liked it in Halo too – choose two weapons to use right now, based on the situation you’re in. Choose wisely, you can’t just collect EVERYTHING. Think a bit.

    Anyway, great game, and I’m now really looking forward to Clear Sky, I just wish I hadn’t read that spoiler.

  32. James T says:

    I love STALKER. I also can’t play it at the moment because my monitor complains of a ‘sync error’ when I try running it (probably something I could fix in an ini file or something, but I can’t find it). That aside, it really should run a lot better than what it does, and that’s a difficult problem to ignore — mind you, it’s still the best thing I played in 2007.

    If they make ‘Clear Skies’ more ‘robust’, and give it the same freedom of exploration available in the original, then I’ll be happy (although invisible anomalies can fuck off, they spoiled the so-called ‘realism mod’), but it’s a big ‘if’ — the last two patches for STALKER were fucking multiplayer tweaks (do you know anyone who plays STALKER for the MP? Damned if I do!), while several dismaying SP bugs remain unsolved. Hopefully their neglect of STALKER implies greater effort being put into Clear Skies, but there’s no guarantees there.

  33. Jim Rossignol says:

    I’m not sure what the spoiler was, which probably means it wasn’t actually a spoiler.

  34. Piratepete says:

    Jim, to be honest i got no performance improvement even at the lowest resolutions and detail settings, certainly not enough to make it playable. But thanks for the advice. If i find a bit of time i’ll install it again and have another tinker with it.

  35. TreeFrog says:

    @ James T
    I also like to think the effort is being expended on CS. After all, they’re not a particularly big dev house. But like you, I’m wary. Part of me wants to preorder it on Steam, part of me wants to wait for the first two patches. My trepidation rends my soul, I tell you.

    I don’t think the effect of having such freedom in an FPS can be overstated. I played Stalker before Episode 2 or BioShock (demo) and going back to a standard linear FPS felt claustrophobic and irritating. Also the guns in Stalker *feel* right. The Half-Life 1 and 2 guns were/are totally unconvincing.

    Where am I going with this? Not sure now.
    Episode 2 and BioShock were crap! Stick that in your pipe and smoke it!
    There, that’ll do.

  36. James T says:

    Treef: Yeah, when I was playing STALKER, I thought “…Is Bioshock actually going to be able to ‘beat’ this?” Unfortunately, it didn’t. I don’t mind linear FPSes (I pretty much have to not-mind them, they’re the ‘default’), but I think a lot of them, Half-Life most certainly included, would benefit from a bit more thought put in at the level-design stage, to allow for multiple attack/exploration vectors in their otherwise-linear progression.

    I’m not sure what the spoiler was, which probably means it wasn’t actually a spoiler.

    To quote the PDA from the opening movie… KILL THE STRELOK, Jim. KILL THE STRELOK.

  37. Tak says:

    I heartily enjoyed what little of STALKER I played. For me the game came to a point where there was much more flailing about in the missions, side missions, extra missions, faction missions, folk-guitar-listening-to missions, etc, coupled with a few technical hiccups that ultimately just made me stop enjoying the game. That was a few patches ago, and I do plan on patching up to give it another try soon.

    For everything that the game achieved in setting an atmosphere (STALKER is right around Shock2 in my book) it *just* missed in the gameplay during my time with it. It was almost too open. Like some odd mix between Oblivion and Fallout, but without a clear idea of which one it wanted to do first (give you a world to explore or tell a story).

  38. ghosted says:

    As I played through Stalker I found myself thinking absolutely every last bit of it was flawed in some way. The weapons, the inventory, the missions, the artefacts, the factions, the layout – every single bit. However, that somehow didn’t stop it being easily the most enjoyable and absorbing game I played all through 2007. The atmosphere was utterly stonking and whilst it has so many flaws the final product is truly worth more than the sum of its parts.

  39. cHeal says:

    James, That really isn’t a spoiler.

  40. Scandalon says:

    I picked up STALKER @ CircuitCity for $10…(+Tax). Very intriguing, “atmospheric” as many have said, but a bit too freeform, methinks. It horribly bugs me that you can get into a firefight (with guys that want to kill me…why exactly?) and supposed allies (well, neutral) guys 30 yards away won’t investigate. Or if they *are* involved, will quickly go right back to sitting around a fire and playing guitar with nary a word…meanwhile, 15 bodies lie around waiting for me to loot, but nobody else seems interested…

    Right now I’m supposed to go north into some radioactive zone but I don’t think my character is equipped for it…Still, I’ll go back to it when I get some time again.

    As for performance/fixes:
    http://www.tweakguides.com/STALKER_1.html

    Also, be sure to get the “Float32″ mod that redoes some of the graphics witchery to be both faster and “better”:
    http://www.thefloatingpoint.org/main/download.php?list.4

  41. malkav11 says:

    My attempts to play the game were put to a stop by my copy of the game persistently (across multiple installs and with and without modding) crashing when it tried to load any saved game whatsoever.

    That’s really not a game that can be played without saving.

  42. James T says:

    cHeal: Er… yes it is?

  43. dhex says:

    float32 is highly recommended – i found it helped on my old machine with performance quite a bit.

  44. Jim Rossignol says:

    Release for this is apparently in August: thus

  45. born2expire says:

    “This game will unlock in approximately 1 week, 5 days and 5 hours”

    I can’t wait!

  46. Nick says:

    Jim was disappointed.

  47. kitsakorn says:

    very good

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