Stalker’s Sky Darkens

By Alec Meer on August 31st, 2008 at 11:39 am.

Bad news for Stalker: Clear Sky – it’s been recalled from stores. Well, only briefly – apparently the initial shipments didn’t contain CD keys, cleverly. So it’s been delayed a few days while some poor sod presumably prints out a load of stickers, meaning its September 5th release date in the US ain’t gonna happen.

Shacknews reports this may delay the Steam release too, though apparently the European release is unaffected. Amusingly, Shack readers are reporting spotting the game in stores nevertheless – and even if those copies don’t have CD keys, I’m pretty sure the single player works without ‘em. You need the key only for multiplayer, as I recall.

Oh – and you should now be able to get hold of Jim’s review in PC Gamer, and my review in PC Format (both the UK versions). Won’t spoil the scores, but, well, [sad face]. Kieron’s also been playing it, so we’ll be talking more about Clear Sky here soon, rest assured.

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91 Comments »

  1. Sum0 says:

    I certainly want to try this, at least. I’ve been playing the fantastic Oblivion Lost mod recently to get ready, and – I’m not sure if I’m seeing things the mod added or things I just didn’t notice in the vanilla game, but it really elevates STALKER from “some nice ideas” to “genre-defining classic”. I was hoping Clear Sky would polish STALKER to perfection, but perhaps they’re going in a different direction…

  2. Andrew Doull says:

    @Cooper: “spore got a very high score for a review that, though praised it, spent most of it nit picking at the game”

    Didn’t you hear? That’s the new New Critical Games Journalism school of reviewing…

  3. Optimaximal says:

    How long was the first game in production and how many difficulties did that have on release? Given how fast CS has been produced and the changes they are implementing if anyone really expected a trouble free game on release then I know of a few nice used bridges down westminster way up for sale.

    I was under the impression that making the actual engine was a large portion of SoC’s development time. That and I think development was restarted several times because it was taking so long.
    I certainly remember about 2 years before release, they did a big demo and got slagged off because they were missing the sort of dynamic shadows that made Doom 3 so important, so they took the engine back to the drawing board and added more mega DX9 stuff…

  4. Requiem says:

    @Mori, Real Horrowshow & PJ thanks good to hear that, it’s funny how something so trivial adds or detracts from a game. Just been replaying Doom3 and post Crysis it’s really noticable that my character has no feet or pretty much any physical form other than arms.

    @Optimaximal I was just throwing out some old cover discs the other day and noticed one had a gameplay vid from back in 2002 of Stalker when it was still called Oblivion Lost. It’s funny to see how much it’s changed, but my point was really that CS has come out very quickly and that they haven’t just gone for the easy option of just same game new story. If you look at most sequels/expansions that have come out within a year of the original game and dared to make gameplay changes they have usually tended to be bugged, unfinished or just plain boring.

  5. Mori says:

    With the PCGamer review, I can’t help but feel that the reasons given aren’t really justification for that low a mark. When completely boring games like Crysis are given high marks, it seems strange to give much more adventurous games such low marks. I suspect that the reviewer encountered a lot of bugs, but was forbidden to talk about them due to those magical lists of stuff you can’t talk about that come with review copies.

  6. Will Tomas says:

    Well, I suspect that Jim won’t enter into a debate about the review here (it’s a little pointless because everyone’s going to have differences of opinion when it comes to things like this) once the game’s properly out and RPS feel able to discuss it we might have the answers to the scores when Jim, Alec and Kieron get round to talking about it here.

  7. Real Horrorshow says:

    @ Mori:

    The PC Gamer (U.S.) review of Crysis reeked of payoff. Crysis was fun, but 98%? REALLY?

  8. wcaypahwat says:

    Hey, this is that game that’s pretty much oblivion with guns, right?

    Okay, bad joke. Im still going to pick it up.

    I loved the oblivion lost mod. Freaked the hell out first time night fell.

  9. Saflo says:

    It’s almost as if that particular reviewer really loved Crysis or something.

  10. Saflo says:

    That was a bit twatty of me.

  11. Stromko says:

    @Horrorshow : I thought Crysis was a stinking hunk of garbage, not even worth my time and therefore not what I would call ‘fun’, so just think how I must’ve felt. ;) I’ve picked up a couple of issues of PC Gamer U.S. lately, they have some fun articles on the first read through but it’s not like my dog-eared last copy of Games for Windows (formerly Computer Gaming World). I guess mediocre and forgettable is a more solid business approach here in the states, and not jacking off the developer that gave them so many cover-stories over the years wouldn’t be ‘nice’.

  12. Mr. President says:

    Hilariously, this game has a “PC GAMER: MUST BUY” seal of approval on the box. Apparently we have our own PC Gamer here in Russia, I dunno.

  13. Mogs says:

    Alec, Alec, Alec //shakes head. I’m just reading your review on IGN. Dear oh dear.

    ‘There’s deeply amateurish sense of what’s cool and what’s funny to it, and an overwhelming concern that the developers are lacking vital quality control now they’re unshackled from the first game’s publisher, THQ. It sounds horribly presumptive but it really does come across as though a bunch of fairly inexperienced designers were let loose on this game with no-one in place to overrule their worst excesses. How upsetting if so – that Stalker’s brilliance may have been a result of US publisher interference and not, after all, a team of Ukrainian developer-heroes defying the odds.’

    What absurd conjecture is this? As someone who works in the games industry I can tell you that you are dead wrong. THQ’s QA is a complete joke – they are largely a powerhouse of shovelware. I’d be able to take your views much more seriously if you didn’t espouse baseless nonsense like that, even if you acknowledge it as being so.

  14. Kieron Gillen says:

    Mogs: As someone who works in the games industry, I’m surprised that you think QA is the only way that a publisher interferes with the games their developers make.

    KG

  15. Mogs says:

    I’m not going to be drawn into a semantic discussion about what constitutes quality assurance. My point stands – it is highly unlikely that THQ’s interference was responsible for STALKER being (mostly) good and to suggest as much is highly obtuse.

  16. Mogs says:

    Anyway, barring that unfortunate blip, that was a pretty good & insightful review. Bizarrely, I am actually encouraged by some of the things you highlight as weaknesses. The merciless combat, for example, sounds like the sort of uncompromising challenge that few console games would dare to indulge. I can see things like the grenade accuracy etc being sorted in a patch fairly easily if it proves to be universally loathed – GSC seem pretty good at accomodating the community.

    Also, you talked about how one of the highlights of the first game was just being able to mosey around soaking up the general vibe of the place, but list blowouts as a tedious break in the action. Well you’ve played it & I haven’t so maybe it is just a case of lousy implementation, but that sounds like a perfect way to make the player schtop! and feel like they are actually living in this world – sometimes you just have to wait out the storms, that’s part of being in the Zone. You can’t rush dees thingsh guysh.

    Also, I’d like to mention that the premise of Clear Sky was not to be a glorified expansion pack of STALKER (i.e. more of the same), but rather a fundamentally different experience, an attempt to show the Zone BEFORE order 66. A lot of what caused the creepy world/atmosphere in the first game was a result of events that take place after (during?) this one. This is a fundamentally differrent place by design. Similar, recognisable, but fundamentally different. Therefore, anyone who wanted to bask in the same ambience that STALKER provided was always bound to be disappointed. Personally, I’m looking forward to something different.

    But then I like the Star Wars prequels too… :P

  17. Hobbes says:

    @Mogs:

    ‘quality control’ (no caps) != ‘Quality Assurance’ (very much with caps).

    So, I can’t debate how good THQ’s QA are/are not, but certainly Alec’s proposition doesn’t seem as straightforwardly erroneous as you would have us believe.

    All developers occasionally need a little guidance. In much the same way that many authors would acknowledge the positive contribution of a good editor. It is not completely outside the bounds of probability that THQ beneficially influenced the original STALKER.

  18. Mogs says:

    Well yes, there are good producers and bad producers, good QA staff and bad QA staff, and I’m sure they probably did chip in with a few demands/suggestions. But as far as publishers go, THQ is one of the…most relaxed when it comes to ensuring a high standard of quality. Notoriously so. As long as there’s no blatant crash bugs, they’re usually happy. Indeed, it would be even less of a concern for them with a PC game given the lack of certification process. THQ = To Hell with Quality (no, I didn’t just make that up).

  19. JakeB says:

    “Mogs says:

    Edge LOL. I mean, STALKER’s good & all, but it’s no Halo – the game that revolutionised gaming by inventing first-person with its Interactive Innovation.”

    Wait a tick, Halo didn’t do that…I do believe Half-Life had a nice interactive environment. Plus broader range of puzzles, and lots of “OH MY GOD, WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!” from the random scientists that roam black mesa’s halls.

  20. Mori says:

    the IGN review says that all the nonessential dialogue is now in english, which sucks a lot. It complains about the awful humour, but if you want to preserve the amazing atmosphere of the original stalker, never read the translations of the campfire talk. There are something like 30 different jokes the stalkers tell eachother, and they’re all bone crushingly terrible.

  21. Andrew Doull says:

    (Finished reading the Eurogamer review) Well it looks like they’ve made the mistake of listening to their customer base and increasing the game difficulty to a near vertical level to satisfy the hardcore. Which is a shame – because if it was easier, we’d be guaranteed a slew of mods which would do the same thing.

    Who else is going to ignore the reviews and buy this just because the first game was so kick ass?

  22. Deuteronomy says:

    Actually reading these reviews make me want to play CS even more even if the scores are crap. I’m sure the devs and the modding community are going to sort things out anyways.

  23. Mori says:

    With regard to the unskippable bandit theft in clear sky that is mentioned in the IGN review, didn’t the reviewer know you can get out of any dialogue in a stalker game by pressing escape?

    I mean, sure, it’s shitty design that there isn’t just a “fuck you, let’s fight” dialogue option, but pressing escape achieves the same effect.

  24. Real Horrorshow says:

    Also read Alec’s review at IGN (IGN PC RSS FTW) and I gotta agree that all the things he listed as faults are plusses to me. I also have to agree with some of the commonts left on the review over at IGN pointing out how the review is pretty scarce on facts and is mostly conjecture and explaining of feelings and general dissapointment. Afterall I honestly don’t care what score a reviewer gives a game, I read mostly to get a clear picture of what the game is like through facts from someone who has played the finished game, as opposed to “hands-on impressions” previews and stuff like that. Waiting for the IGN U.S. review. With all due respect to Alec, Charles Onyett is my guy :)

  25. Mori says:

    It’s been said that they made the mistake of listening to their hardcore fanbase and tailoring the game towards that, rather than to the mass market, but it’s nice to finally see someone do that, rather than watering down the concept and releasing shallow, overly easy and patronising sequels

  26. Real Horrorshow says:

    Well they did a good job with that. If anyone’s part of the hardcore S.T.A.L.K.E.R. fanbase, it’s me :)

  27. Steve says:

    Well, I suppose I’ll get to find out for myself in a few hours.. (ehm.. baring work necessity and all that)

    According to my handy dandy e-mail type thing Amazon started shipping yesterday.

  28. Mogs says:

    One thing to bear in mind with these reviews as well is that while it may seem that ‘Eurogamer’ and ‘IGN’ have posted their reviews & they seem pretty similar,they’re actually written by the people that run this site. It gives the impression of two reviewers independently reaching a similar conclusion. However, I suspect that Alec and Kieron have been discussing and sharing their views on the game prior to writing their reviews, which for me taints their legitimacy as two separate reviews and is somewhat misleading.

    Care to shed any light on this guys?

  29. Kieron Gillen says:

    Reviewers feel similar things about a game they’ve both played! It’s a conspiracy, I tell you.

    Yes, obviously we talk. All reviewers talk to each other, on every review, across most magazines. This is just human communication. You may as well say we shouldn’t run this website as we’ll be tainted by the comments threads.

    I also hope to see this one brought up next time someone gives good marks to a game and they agree about its qualities rather than just when you’re trying to devalue reviews which think a game is a bit of a disappointment.

    KG

  30. Jim Rossignol says:

    Actually we didn’t bother playing or forming an opinion this time, we just used a dartboard for the score and rearranged the words in our old Boiling Point reviews.

  31. Alec Meer says:

    The Hivemind thing’s a gag, y’know… There’s an inference of weak-mindedness to such a claim that’s a little offensive.

    As is Stalker fans devising assorted reasons why our reviews can’t be trusted, looking for an excuse to invalidate our opinions. The hardcore are going to appreciate CS, as I’ve said. On my part, it ruins what I loved about Stalker. That people are behaving as though I’m not entitled to say that is just MGS4-gate all over again.

  32. Mogs says:

    I mean no offense! I’m not suggesting your reviews are invalid or that you’re weakminded lol. It simply helps us to interpret them correctly knowing that you’ve come together and discussed the game prior to reviewing it. As you’re all obviously friends, there’s bound to be a certain amount of influencing of opinions going on if you come together to decide what you think about the game (you’ll probably argue that that isn’t what you’re doing, but with respect, it will be to an extent).

    That doesn’t mean you’re weakminded, but it’s important that we know the context in which your reviews are made because (as opposed to me commenting here), people will actually use your reviews to decide whether the game is worth their hard earned cash or not. Obviously you understand this and I don’t want to patronise, but there’s definitely a certain level of responsibility. It’s not as simple as “Well me & my mates all agreed that this was good & this was crap” for you lot. Speaking for myself, your reviews would certainly be more helpful to me if I knew that you’d played the game, thought about it on your own, written your review and THEN discussed it with everyone else.

  33. Alec Meer says:

    Would it though? Are you really sure such discussion, whether before or after writing the review, could really influence our individual experiences of playing the game? Whatever we did or didn’t discuss, we each played the game on our own, on our own PCs, with our own thoughts and reactions in our own brains. Any amount of chat isn’t going to influence that – unless we were weak-minded, which we’re not. Stupid, illiterate, incoherent maybe, but not weak-minded – we’ve had bitter fallings-out about games (and our reviews of games) in the past.

    And honestly- none of these publications would be offering us reviews if we were homogenising critical opinion, whether by accident or design, in the way you suggest.

  34. Mogs says:

    Well there’s one way to see for sure

    //waves hand

    You will write your reviews independently of any influence from other journalists

  35. AbyssUK says:

    It sounds just like me and my mates down the pub arguing why Halo is/isn’t rubbish. We may be friends but we have very different views.
    I see no harm in this.. in fact I’d go as far as saying it must aid the process especially in massive games with multiple paths.. reviewers collaborating a little will find more of the game. I personally for example really like the ‘team’ reviews that RPS do! [Note do more already] they really get into the +/-’s of the games, and sounds more like me and the guys down the pub.

  36. Kieron Gillen says:

    Mogs: So you don’t want people to review MP portions of games?

    KG

  37. cullnean says:

    sorry but when it comes to reviews the score is the least important thing to me, the words and ideas/views of the reviewer are what matters to me.

    and i just happen to trust the rps team.

    (this thread needs more walker)

  38. Kieron Gillen says:

    Walker hasn’t played the game yet. I imagine his opinion has been completely tainted by now.

    KG

  39. John Walker says:

    I hate that Stalker game! 95%

  40. cullnean says:

    see he tips up and gives a good reason as to why critism may be leveled at a game with out saying its terrible…..i think

  41. Mori says:

    People keep talking about them having added terrible atmosphere ruining jokes and such, but you guys do know the original was full of those too? They just didn’t have the time to translate the sound files. So rather than being awful jokes hinging on bad russian puns, they sounded like grim campfire conversations.

    The bandits all talk like chavs, they call eachother lads (patsani) and end half their sentences with the russian equivalent of innit.

    The mercs primarly talk about how badass they are, what they’re going to spend all their money on once they leave the zone.

    Freedom are a bunch of stoners who tell jokes about weed and how square Duty guys are.

    That said, I’ll be looking forward to the inevitable russian language mod someone will release.