This is the first Stalker game I played. I knew it was the prologue so I played it before Shadow of Chernobyl (SOC). Hopefully that won’t mess up the story for SOC for me. Stalker: Clear Sky (CS) starts out as a tough open-ended game. In the swamp area you get your feet wet with fighting enemies, finding artifacts, and avoiding emissions (or getting close enough to get artifacts). The swamp also sets up the main story and your character’s role in it.
In the first half of the game you move from area to area following the main story, but each area also has plenty of side missions and items to find. In this part of the game you are trying to earn as much money as possible to purchase upgrades for your weapons and armor (you don’t need to buy weapons and armor because you will find plenty on enemies and in stashes, but their are other items like ammo and add-ons you may want to purchase). During this part of the game I felt I could do missions as I wanted and it was fun and challenging.
The second half of the game turns into a regular FPS with linear missions all related to the main story. You pretty much go from battle to battle and area to area doing what you are told until the end of the game. You also find some of the best weapons during this part of the game. Unfortunately, their are very few traders and no mechanics to upgrade your weapons. You also have very little time to enjoy these new weapons.
The interface of the game works well and is an improvement over SOC (which I started playing). However, I think there is so much potential this game squandered. Working to upgrade weapons and armor was fun so I don’t know why they gave up on this later in the game. Also the side missions could be a nice break from fighting enemies on your way to the end of the game. Furthermore, the game seems to make a big deal out of the factions in the beginning of the game. You can join the different factions such as Stalkers, Freedom, Duty, etc. and they give you some nice items for joining. But the only thing joining seems to do is give you an enemy to fight (each faction has an enemy faction it is fighting). You can still do many missions without joining the factions so joining seems rather pointless except for the stuff you receive.
There are other frustrating parts to this game. When you enter the Cordon (the second area of the game) you walk through an area in which you immediately come under fire from a machine gun from the Military faction. You cannot go around this and it is very difficult to get through. I thought this rather pointless as well (although I felt good about killing all the Military idiots later and taking their stuff). Carry weight is another problem in the game. In the beginning you need lots of money. There is plenty of equipment from enemies to sell, but you are limited to 50kg. I did finally use a mod to change this to 500kg which made things easier because I could sell more things for money without having to backtrack and I could select take all from people without having to cherry pick items. Speaking of backtracking, two more problems are moving around the zone and having to go back for reward money. Each area of the zone is big and moving back by foot takes time. There are guides but you have to pay them to go faster. It seems like if I can walk somewhere I have been by foot, I should be able to fast travel there on my own. Further, since I joined the Stalkers I would sometimes do side missions which required me to travel back to their base in the Cordon for the reward. Why the Stalkers who gave the missions couldn’t reward me I don’t know. And toward the end when you take the bridge to Limansk, Clear Sky gives you 50,000 RU reward plus a cool rifle, but you have to go all the way back to the swamp to get it (it is worth it, but the game doesn’t make it clear that is where the reward is).
Also, many side missions are broken and cannot be completed because you miss something or other. In one mission I was supposed to help a rookie Stalker kill some dogs, but I couldn’t find the dogs. Later I found the dogs nearby but it was too late to finish the mission. This becomes a real problem when the mission is part of the main story. In the swamp area when you are cleaning the renegades out of certain areas, one area didn’t complete because the game said reinforcements had to come. Well the reinforcements wouldn’t come until I killed some other renegades nearby. Also later in the Red Forest the game screwed up in one part where I was supposed to meet a mercenary and go find a transmitter at a base. I never received this conversation choice so I had to reload a previous game and do some parts over. Make sure you do hard saves often not just quick saves.
On the bright side, CS does give you the option of regular saves, quick saves, and even auto saves the game for you. There are no stupid check point saves here. The weapons are cool and fighting is tough, even on Novice. I liked the AK-74 the best. After fully upgrading it and using AP bullets I kicked butt with it until the end of the game. NATO weapons stink because they jam up a lot. Forget grenades, but grenade launchers on your rifles work good. As far as artifacts go, I ended up with 2 that gave me -4 and -6 radiation respectively, a +4 health artifact which speeds your auto healing, and a bleeding artifact that saved me from having to use any more bandages.
I will see how CS compares to SOC and Call of Pripyat (I think CS is supposed to be the weakest of the three). I did have fun with CS, I just wish the second half of the game was more open and less linear. But I do recommend it for FPS fans.