Stalker: Clear Sky

| Thursday, September 27, 2012
I finally got around to buying and playing this game.  It helped me see what I love about Stalker, by not having them.  It's recognizable as being Stalker, mostly because about half the maps are the same as Shadow of Chernobyl.  The other half are new, but not as good as what they replace.

Lessons learned

1 - I actually like being scared
In SoC and Call of Pripyat (the newest of the three) there are a few underground laboratories that the player runs through.  They aren't friendly places, filled with dangerous mutants and deadly anomalies, closed spaces that make me feel claustrophobic.  One was inhabited by a giant brain in a jar, which was fine, except going too close to it resulted in my psy protection helmet warning me about the critical emissions, which always startled me.  Another featured poltergeists (they levitate stuff and throw it at you and look like balls of electricity and are hard to hit), followed by a giant monster that could shoot earthquakes, followed by a poltergeist that shoots flames.  And then the military attacks.

One of these places scared me so much that the next time I played I was stuck for days: I needed to find a time that I could play that was long long away from when I'd need to sleep.  Horrible, right?  But the lack of these places in CS wasn't much fun.  They were a neat change of pace, from the open-world to the cramped, sending me into a place where I needed to be cautious, but not scared, and where I needed to be fully prepared.  Running out of bullets halfway in with the enemies stubbornly refusing to die was not good.

2 - Have a good story
In SoC you have amnesia and have a serious mystery to figure out, not only of your identity, but of old conspiracies.  In the end you learn something close to everything, or die in various ways, thanks to the multiple possible endings.  In CoP the story isn't as cool, but you do at least get to feel like a bit of a hero, saving people along the way and doing a great service to your country.  In CS you're instead being strung along, possibly being lied to (fans aren't sure), to hunt the hero of the first game, and in the end all you manage to do is fix absolutely nothing and are either dead or brainwashed.  It doesn't have any of the sense of figuring out a mystery and it doesn't have as much of a feel of being the loner against the great conspiracy, since you're basically the tool of a larger group being used to kill some guy based on a nonsensical pseudo-scientific dung pile of a theory (the 'scientist' claims that the guy you're hunting is triggering blasts which are slowly killing you, based on next to no actual evidence).

3 - Work
CS is buggy.  Very buggy.  Fortunately the players who were so enthralled by the awesome game which was SoC put a lot of effort into fixing the many problems in CS and with mods they could fx many problems, but not all.  In particular, the ambitious and neat "faction wars" system, which was meant to allow for allied factions to gain territory, is poorly-scripted and so the NPCs who are supposed to reinforce and therefore capture points often do not show up, leaving the conflicts perpetually unfinished.  This didn't affect my ability to complete the game, but it did harm the feel of it and was an annoyance, to capture an area and then have it fall the moment I step away, when it should not.

4 - Open Worlds and Consistency
All three games use open worlds for the most part, mostly.  SoC and CoP are 90% open-world, where you're free to wander and come and go.  CS is at the start, but after a particular point and with no warning you're thrust into a mostly-linear path for several zones, and unable to turn back.  I hope you wandered into that part of the story with the armor and weapons you wanted.  Hallway-oriented FPS combat has its place, in other games, not in an open world near-sandbox.  I'd complained about the ending to SoC, which was linear, but that was a single zone, not half the game.

This is, however, mostly a matter of consistency.  Hallways shooters exist and that's fine.  I've played them and they were fun.  But that's what I expected from them, not an open world.  Meeting expectations in terms of gameplay is important.  This isn't just about marketing, but about what the game builds up as you play it.  If the first five zones are of one style of gameplay, the sixth should be as well.    The way around this is to build-in variety from the start, so zones 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 are different and therefore 6 can be as well, though that runs the risk of just making an incoherent pack of mini-games.

But you might want to buy it anyway
I know I just spent the post pointing out flaws and I think they are all there, but despite those flaws, I do think it is worth a few bucks.  If a Steam sale pops up, get it and it will be worth it.  Full price, maybe not so much, though it's only $10 anyway (keep in mind I'm really cheap).

I found it interesting for seeing what happens if you give the same areas to a developer team and tell them to write a different story.  Same place, new plot.  It's intellectually interesting and maybe you'd find yourself thinking about what you'd do with the areas.  If it were not almost my bed time I might conjure up some comparisons to the Cataclysm of WoW.

P.S. If you do play, I suggest finding an addon that disables or in some way fixes grenades, because for some reason they are homing weapons.


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