From Russia with deep, dark despair
If computer games are to be believed, we’re in for a pretty bleak future: one in which our planet seems destined to be ravaged, either by an alien attack or a zombie outbreak. When it comes to bleakness, however, few games beat the pure desolation of the Stalker series.
Clear Sky, a prequel to the original Shadow of Chernobyl game, is a none-too-cheery exploration of life in The Zone, a cordoned-off post-nuclear-winter land surrounding the Ukrainian power station, devastated by the effects of a second accident at the facility.
Clear Sky picks up the story a year before the events of the first game, when your character awakens in a strange encampment after surviving a freak accident. You play as a Stalker – a kind of futuristic mercenary type. It transpires that you have been rescued by a group of scientists and soon you are tasked with investigating the bizarre goings on in the Zone.
Gameplay works, by and large, like a first-person shooter, with mission-based forays into various other camps and run-down sites dotted around the Zone. The game also weaves in a touch of role-playing, with customisable weapons, clothing and armour as well as a vast open-ended world to explore. And it’s the world itself that’s the star of the show. The Zone is a great creation: big, brooding, deeply inhospitable and full of surprises.
There is a variety of human factions to deal with, along with plenty of unfortunate mutations, hazardous fauna and weird atmospheric anomalies, all of which can seriously damage your health. The faction element is new to the series and allows you to ally yourself to various groups and carry out squad-based missions.
While Clear Sky is in many ways an improvement on the original Stalker, it also suffers from as many – if not more – bugs and glitches as its predecessor. At the time of writing, a patch had been released that fixed many of these, but we still found a few frustrating problems with the game.
For the most part, though, Stalker is an excellent game. It's a thinking person’s shooter with an astonishing sense of atmosphere and a pretty good story.
The minor glitches aren't enough to spoil this atmospheric game
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