A few people have mailed us over the past few weeks suggesting that we take a look at the Total Faction War mod v1.8 by PhoenixHeart, Darkenneko and Smoq2. I finally got around to doing that this week, and I've written up some thoughts below. Long term readers will recall that I previously attempted to mod the errant son of the Stalker dysnasty into a place in my heart last year, with mixed results. This is the first mod I've had installed that comes close to fixing what was otherwise the weakest aspect of Clear Sky, even after modding: the factional warfare.
It's worth remembering that TFM is still very much a work in progress. It includes a bunch of smaller tweaks that as standard in other overhauls, such as the sleeping bag, but the heart of the project is in overhauling everything to bring the wonky factional warfare aspect of Clear Sky to the fore. Whereas it never really worked in the vanilla game, eventually forcing you to give up and try to wade through the linear storyline as best you could, here the storyline has been chopped out entirely. Rather than starting in the Clear Sky base you simply wake up in a tricky situation in the zone and fleet to find a guide. That guide will take you to any faction base of your choosing - including at least one that I didn't recognise from the original game - and from there you can immediately join up and start getting involved in the faction war.
The principles of the factional fighting remain the same: there are multiple points across each of the areas of the zone which can be captured by the arrival of an allied squad. Enemy squads are also out and about and will attempt to take positions held by their opponents. The mod does a great deal to rejog the AI that makes all this happen, building on the original system which told you which areas needed attention. There's also the continuous radio-chatter from neutral stalkers across the zone who report what they've seen, such as enemies, and will even report have rare items to sell, and where they can be found for the trade.
You job is essentially as a kind of roaming commander and fire-support unit. You can ask squads to move about to different locations - most significantly between different zones - but you don't have to stick with them. You can go ahead and clear out enemy held areas, or monsters that might endanger the squads, or get on with scavenging, trading, or scouting. This makes the pattern of play quite different to the original game. You aren't really ever carrying out traditional quests for the story game, and instead you're much more concerned with shooting dudes, and staying well equipped. EDIT: I should also mention at this point that you can also take on NPC companions, who can follow you around and help out in combat. These can be picked up in the faction bases, and also the neutral trade centre.
I'm rather enjoying wading through all this, despite it being fairly laborious at times, but I don't seem to quite have the hang of capturing the relevant points on the map while also defending the areas that are under attack, thanks to having limited allied squads to boss about. As such I'm a long way from seeing if the end game is achievable, which should result in domination of the zone for your chosen faction. (I'm also getting pissed off because it has the accurate grenade spam in.)
In conclusion then, this is a genuinely interesting mod (especially if the team continue with their stated intent of building a new storyline for the mod) and I will likely be coming back to it. It is, I hope, the final fix that will save Clear Sky from its status as the weakest Stalker game, and give us a proper reason to play it as an alternative to Shadow Of Chernobyl, or Call Of Pripyat. Go take a look for yourself, and perhaps keep an eye on future updates.