First Look: Stalker: Clear Sky
Thursday, July 03, 2008 12:00 AM
Despite achieving a more than favourable reception amongst critics when it was released in March last year, Stalker always had a cloud of negativity hanging over it.
Constant delays in development and a leaked pre-alpha copy of the game made Stalker famous years before we ever saw it on the shelves.
Although it never quite gained the reputation of games like Duke Nukem Forever, it still managed to win Wired Magazines 'Vaporware 06' award five years after the game was originally announced.
Once gamers did finally get their hands on the game however, it was quickly clear that Stalker was a serious contender for Game of the Year.
The game featured vast, detailed environments that had often been seen in RPG games, but rarely in the far more linear world of the first person shooter.
This RPG-style environment leaked into the game itself, with a full inventory system, missions and weapon stats backing up the fundamentally action-oriented gameplay.
On top of all this, Stalker looked the part, with realistic lighting effects and an incredible atmosphere that has yet to be beaten.
Unfortunately, numerous bugs, technical flaws and hyped features that were later removed left many players a little disappointed with the final product.
And so enters Stalker: Clear Sky. Although its early release date and subtitled name might lead to the belief that Clear Sky is an expansion pack, it's actually a full stand-alone prequel to the original.
The player assumes the role of a mercenary stalker called Scar, although Strelok has not been removed from the game, and in fact Scar's initial goal is to kill the stalker whose personal story formed the focus for the original game.
Little else is known about the plot, although, being a prequel, we'll hopefully get some back-story about the zone and exactly how some of the effects seen in the previous game came about.
The overall RPG/FPS style gameplay will remain very much the same as that which we've seen before, although developer GSC has announced significant improvements to both the game engine and AI.
It will certainly come as a disappointment to some that we won't be seeing an entirely new game, as around 50 per cent of the original zones will be appearing once again in Clear Sky.
How well GSC can modify these and play on the prequel concept will determine just how recycled a project this is; it would be great, for example, to see buildings and infrastructure that appeared ruined in the original game to still be standing and functional in Clear Sky (or even to play a part in their destruction perhaps - irradiated Ed).
The new zones that have been announced look large and detailed, enough to quell any initial fears of the world not having much to explore or interact with.
Furthermore, all the environments are backed up by the new graphical engine, which features major upgrades to lighting, water and fire effects and takes full advantage of both DirectX 9 and 10.
Stalker is known for being reasonably happy with running on older systems and GSC has assured players that anyone capable of playing Stalker will have no technical problems in playing on the new 1.5 version of the engine.
On top of this, a completely overhauled faction system, backed up by an impressive AI, seems finally capable of throwing grenades and reacting realistically to the player.
This promises to entirely re-focus the game back to the original's under-developed faction warfare ideas.
If Clear Sky can show us clear and impressive evidence that our choice of faction affects the overall zone, it has the potential to be a very impressive part of the game.
Unfortunately, two big requests from fans - vehicles and a co-op mode - will not appear in Clear Sky's main game, although the inclusion of vehicles in multiplayer is currently being considered by GSC.
Stalker is released worldwide on August 29th, 2008. We hope.