Last time, I talked about S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Shadow of Chernobyl. The game was released, gaining incredible popularity and good ratings. Therefore, the developers decided to strike while the iron is hot. Already in the summer of 2007, the first addition to the game called “Clear Sky” was announced, which was supposed to be a prequel to “Shadow of Chernobyl”. In this article, I’ll tell you whether the game turned out to be as good as the original and whether the project corrected the mistakes of its predecessor.

Back to the Zone, stalkers!

Unlike Shadow of Chernobyl, the development of Clear Sky did not go to production hell, as previous experience was taken into account. The project began to be developed in September 2006 under the name “S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Anarchy Cell”. The name was later changed and the game’s presentation was announced for July 11, 2007. The developers promised new locations, new monsters, weapons, updated graphics, etc. The improved X-Ray 1.5 Engine included support for such technologies as volumetric light and smoke, improved water display, DirectX 10 support, and better weather effects. The graphics in Clear Sky really look better than in Shadow of Chernobyl, which becomes clear from the first minutes in the game.

Unfortunately, these graphics created an incredible amount of technical problems. Even now, on some systems, Clear Sky constantly crashes and refuses to work properly, and the situation was even worse at release. The number of bugs in the game has increased, both visually and gameplay-wise. In general, Clear Sky turned out to be a rather “raw” project. It remains a mystery why the developers were in such a hurry. The previous installment sold almost twice as well as CDPR’s The Witcher, and it really could have used more time to optimize and refine the game mechanics. But it turned out as it did.

The release of Clear Sky was significantly damaged by the fact that a copy of the game was stolen the day before and leaked on a torrent. The developers had to release the game a week earlier, on August 22, 2008, to somehow offset the potential losses. In other words, the game had a bad start from the very beginning, which subsequently had a significant impact on the fans’ impressions.

My own gaming experience this time was not as satisfactory. The game didn’t crash, but it constantly generated graphical bugs and situations that prevented me from completing quests. All screenshots are original from my walkthrough. I completed Clear Sky in 13.6 hours, compared to 19.3 hours spent in Shadow of Chernobyl, and I’m ready to share my impressions!

Clear Sky begins with a video in which the main character of this part, a mercenary named Scar, leads a group of scientists through the swamps. And then a powerful blast occurs, killing everyone except Scar. Stalkers from the Clear Sky group find him unconscious and bring him to their base. After regaining consciousness, Shram has his first conversation with the group’s leader, Lebedev, during which he introduces himself, gives a brief introduction, and leaves on business. The hero gets some time to walk around the Clear Sky camp, talk to the locals, and of course sit around the classic campfire with other stalkers.

Chronicles of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Clear Sky. Impressions of the game in 2023.

Lebedev is the commander of “Clear Sky”.

Here you can appreciate the second innovation after the improved graphics – a more complex social grouping. Now it’s not just a few dozen soldiers, factions and commanders. They now have their own bases and certain specializations. For example, there is a mechanic who repairs and improves weapons, a bartender gives tips on where to find caches, a merchant can buy ammunition and a new barrel, and so on. These special NPCs also got more personality, and I remember Ashot from The Will most of all for his witty phrases.

After a brief acquaintance with the environment of Clear Sky, Shram meets Lebedev again. The latter asks the mercenary for help because the Zone has recently significantly increased the number of emissions, which significantly affect the life of the territories. In particular, this is the reason why a bandit group called the Renegades moved to the swamps and is now preventing the Clear Sky research team from functioning normally. Lebedev asks Scar, as an experienced mercenary, to help, but he doesn’t have time to answer because the Clear Sky outpost is attacked by mutants. He is tasked with dealing with it. He is given a generous set of weapons and sent to a guide to lead the player to the outpost. A good innovation to the game is the ability to quickly move around the Zone with the help of a guide. Each group has such a character, and for money, he is ready to help you cover a considerable or not so considerable distance.

In fact, Clear Sky starts off quite well. The developers have improved the graphics and added features that were so lacking in Shadow of Chernobyl. In addition to fast movement, we also got a weapon repair system. Previously, a broken barrel had to be thrown away, but now it can be repaired for a few hundred units of local currency. We have made your weapon leveling tree quite convenient and accessible. Now you can choose the upgrade path that best suits your playstyle. Some upgrades are only possible after you find the right tools for them.

We changed the search for artifacts. They are no longer just lying on the ground like garbage, but are carefully hidden in anomalies. Now, to find them, you need to complete a kind of quest. You take out a detector near the anomaly, and the louder it starts beeping, the closer you get to the artifact. Thus, the value of these stones has been significantly increased, and their search has become more interesting. Later, you can buy better detectors that will make the search for artifacts faster.

The balance was also changed. Mutants have become much fatter and need more bullets, especially the pseudogiant. In the Red Forest, I decided to just run through it so as not to waste the rest of the ammo. Bandages no longer heal, they only stop bleeding. Bullet spread and enemy intelligence have also changed, but more on that later.

Later in the story, Scar recaptures the outpost from the mutants and another outburst occurs. Now I’ll tell you more about them, because we haven’t touched on this topic yet. This is a process where the Zone creates a significant energy release that destroys everything in its path. In the previous part, the emissions were more of a cosmetic phenomenon and occurred only during the staging moments.

In Clear Skies, they became a part of the gameplay in addition to a plot element. At any moment, an outburst can occur in the Zone and you will need to hide from it, otherwise you will die. Surprisingly, I didn’t encounter a single release during my playthrough, although in the sequel called The Call of Pripyat I encountered them almost every day. Most likely, this is due to the fact that the emissions are activated when you go to each location after completing the storyline tasks. There’s about a 15% chance of getting an emission after completing a task on the Border, plus 10% for each movement between locations.

Due to the stupid plot structure, I ran through the locations quite quickly and didn’t go back, so this is probably the explanation why I couldn’t get 100% probability to see this mechanic for sure. There are locations where emissions never occur – Swamps, Agroprom, Yantar, Limansk, Hospital, Chernobyl, and the places where I spent most of my game time. Compared to Call of Pripyat, the emissions mechanics in Clear Sky are very mediocre and have almost no effect on your gameplay.

Scar wakes up again at the Clear Sky base, having survived the second powerful release. The mercenary learns from Professor Kalanchy and Lebedev that he has some superpowers that saved his life twice. But the next release will definitely kill him, so they need to stop them. Lebedev believes that someone has gotten behind the Brain Burner and the Zone, as a living being, is trying to fight this person with the help of emissions – this is its protective reaction. There can be such a powerful explosion of energy that will destroy absolutely everything around, so you need to act. Someone has asked the trader Sidorovych, whom we know from Shadow of Chernobyl, for specific details, so Shram has to go to the Border. But first, he has to deal with the Renegades.

For the next few hours we will be destroying the Renegades in the Swamps. The location is generally cool and quite interestingly made. You’re surrounded by tall grass and reeds, behind which mutants, anomalies, or bandits can hide, oh Renegades. In fact, this faction differs from the bandits in the Dump only in name, they even dress the same way.

Swamps in all their glory!

First, the developers have worsened the shooting. While in Shadow of Chernobyl almost every barrel had individual characteristics in terms of bullet spread, in Clear Sky they now “mow” or “do not mow”. In shootouts with the first type of weapon, you can never be sure that your bullet will hit exactly where you were aiming. Another disadvantage is grenades. The idea is good and should make shootouts more diverse, but it’s not implemented well.

The range of a grenade depends on the difficulty: at the Beginner level, it is 30 meters, while the Master level will throw grenades from 60 meters away. The main problem is that several grenades are thrown simultaneously by each bandit. And they throw them very accurately, so if you don’t react in time, you’re dead. That’s why a lot of shootouts lose their tactical nature, because you are more busy running away from this “rain of grenades”. And it is very annoying.

The enemies themselves have become more resilient, but also much dumber. For example, they hide less, often reload right in front of Scar, and so on. But their stupidity is compensated by their survivability and accuracy. They hit you from such distances that you can go crazy, and the “rain of grenades” will finally finish off your nervous system, because the player himself did not receive any health bonuses. In general, I think the shooting has lost in comparison to Shadow of Chernobyl.

Chronicles of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Clear Sky. Impressions of the game in 2023.

Secondly, the war of groups. This has become the main feature of the game, but it is very questionable. We’ve played through Shadow of Chernobyl and know where and how Duty, Freedom, Bandits, and others will be located. What’s the point of helping stalkers beyond the border if they’re going to be driven out by bandits anyway?

In the Swamps, we only spend a few hours clearing Renegade bases together with Clear Sky, then on the Border we help stalkers fight bandits, then we can join Dolg and kill Volya or vice versa, but it must get boring at some point. I got bored after The Swamps because I appreciated Shadow of Chernobyl for its atmosphere and unusual situations that A-life throws at you. Clear Skies has too much of a shooter part, which is not perfectly done, and there are enough competitors in the “run, shoot, clear bases” genre, so S.T.A.L.K.E.R. shouldn’t make it its main feature.

Third, uncorrected bugs and the generation of new ones. How could you create quests that say “Come to a certain place at midnight to complete this task” and not give the player the opportunity to sleep to miss the time? Do I have to wait ten or twenty game hours to do this task? Additional tasks are often of very low quality and are generated not only by merchants, but also randomly on the map, but due to bugs, it is impossible to complete all of them. Geocaches still cannot be opened unless you have bought or found information about them.

The map was made in such a terrible way that it simply breaks the game. What genius in GSC thought of displaying absolutely all NPCs on the map? Now you have a great opportunity to run through all the enemies if you want to, because the map shows not only their approximate location, but also their movements. Say goodbye to unexpected encounters with mutants or bandits, now literally every living thing is visible on the map. This makes the already problematic open world even less open and even more problematic.

Instead of the cool arena battles that I liked so much in Shadow of Chernobyl, there’s target shooting, which is a step backwards and I personally didn’t like it. Moreover, the work on bugs has been done, but only pointwise. The ability to repair weapons and a more interesting search for artifacts is cool, but these are almost the only weaknesses of the previous part that have been fixed.

Chronicles of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Clear Sky. Impressions of the game in 2023.

Це були не жарти, в цій грі дійсно кожного персонажа видно на карті.

Chronicles of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Clear Sky. Impressions of the game in 2023.

And then a few mutants attacked the stalker base. The effect of surprise for the player when the base is discovered is completely lost!

After you destroy the Renegades and get to the Border, the next stage of the game will begin, which, unfortunately, also has many drawbacks:

Bugs in scripts. In my quest Wolf of the Border, my quest character kept dying under very strange circumstances, so I couldn’t complete it at all. A quest for help appears on the map two meters away from the player, I go there, and nothing happens – not after five or ten minutes. Such moments made me lose the desire to do anything other than the story, because it’s the only place where your progress won’t be hindered by buggy scripts that break quests.

Chronicles of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Clear Sky. Impressions of the game in 2023.

The bugs also apply to our favorite campfire gatherings, when stalkers can’t sit still for 5 minutes, constantly walking around and bumping into each other for no reason.

Using old locations. You will visit almost all the locations of the original, from the Border to Amber. And they have hardly changed. Some places are less developed, but the landscape and the approximate location of the main places are the same. You’ll even go down to the Agroprom Research Institute and find Sagittarius’ cache, only this time it won’t be atmospheric or scary at all, because the player has already been there, and not so long ago. It’s a very strange decision to transfer almost all the locations of the original to a game released only a year after Shadow of Chernobyl, which had several endings, so players played it repeatedly.

An example of some locations on the Border and behind the bridge. They’re less fucked up, and the free stalkers have their own base, but it doesn’t change anything globally.

It was nice to see Sidorovich or Professor Sakharov again, but we saw these characters only a year ago, and if you decide to play the series in a row, it’s literally yesterday. The player doesn’t feel like they’ve seen an old friend they’ve missed, there are simply no emotions because too little time has passed between games. The worst part of this situation is that you spend about half of the game in the locations from Shadow of Chernobyl. Of the new areas, you are allowed to fully explore only two: Swamps and Red Forest. Then the next big disadvantage of the game begins.

Chronicles of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Clear Sky. Impressions of the game in 2023.

The zone has a positive effect on the body! Otherwise, I don’t know how to explain the fact that Sydorovych will look younger in a year.

The game is constantly driving you somewhere. In Shadow of Chernobyl, there were two merchants who gave out most of the main tasks – Sydorovych and Barman. You could complete these tasks right away, or you could do them a hundred hours later. No one shouted, “Marked, go down to the next lab immediately, otherwise it’s the end of everything!” You chose the moment when you should complete the story quests.

In this regard, Clear Sky resembles an evil boss who demands that you do your job even faster. In the story, Scar is chasing Sagittarius to prevent him from entering the center of the Zone. Because of this, as soon as you complete the storyline task on the Border, you are informed that the Sagittarius is already at the Dump. At the Junkyard, you learn that you need to run to the Dark Valley, then to Amber.

That is, there is no place you keep coming back to, as was the case with the 100 X-ray bar, only a chase. This process continues to the bridge to Limansk, which has been captured by bandits. You are cut off from access to the previous locations and Lebedev gives you the task of finding a forester who can help you get into the city. This is the second opportunity, besides the prologue in the Swamps, to simply wander around the location without the constant need to run somewhere.

Chronicles of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Clear Sky. Impressions of the game in 2023.

The forester is the most charismatic character in the game.

Chronicles of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Clear Sky. Impressions of the game in 2023.

I’m looking for a place where the Muscovites dug in so that the whole group could laugh.

Then you knock off the bridge and Clear Sky waits for you to agree to go on with them. I was very surprised that they gave me time to prepare for the final part of the game, and not immediately forced me to go with them. They also paid me fifty thousand hryvnias, but you can only collect this money in the Swamps, so I had to walk back across the map. With this money, I bought the best armor in the game, the Exoskeleton, and decided that I was ready to punch Sagittarius in the face.

Chronicles of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Clear Sky. Impressions of the game in 2023.

The armor is cool, but don’t expect to feel like a Terminator, you’ll just be killed a little slower.

I didn’t like the final part of the game. In Shadow of Chernobyl, it was not very cool that such a large and interesting location as Pripyat is literally run through by the player and is just a scenery. But it was perceived better because the pace of the game changed for the first time, you understood why you were not given the opportunity to rest, because that’s how the developers imagined the epic ending.

Besides, all the places before Pripyat were original and there was plenty to explore. “Clear Sky” is constantly pushing the player to the ending, and it almost entirely consists of locations from the previous game. The swamps and the Red Forest are atmospheric, but they are just beautiful areas, while the final part of the game consists of full-fledged cities.

So when you just run through Lymansk, you feel a bit irritated because it’s the first original city location in the game. Its story sounds interesting, but the developers decided that it would be better to turn Limansk into a healthy corridor where you shoot Monolith fighters. Call of Duty 4 had a mission in Chernobyl, but the entire series of games there is a corridor shooter, and S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is an open-world shooter, which, in my opinion, GSC studio ignored in the final. The developers were definitely not inspired by that game when they came up with all this.

Chronicles of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Clear Sky. Impressions of the game in 2023.

The beautiful location of Lymanske has been turned into a corridor with constant shooting.

So, I think that the developers at GSC were in a hurry to release the game. They didn’t make enough really good innovations and didn’t work well with the shortcomings of the original. Nevertheless, even after so many complaints about the project, Clear Sky is worth playing at least once. The game is a bit disappointing compared to Shadow of Chernobyl, but it still remains a good shooter.

For me personally, it was nice to dive into the game again to take screenshots for this article. Perhaps it will be better for you if you play it after Shadow of Chernobyl and Call of Pripyat in about six months, or maybe even a year: you won’t be annoyed by the repetition of locations, and the old characters will really cause some nostalgia. But this is really the worst part of the trilogy, which, due to its dubious quality, has made it difficult to market the next game, The Call of Pripyat, the best Stalker.

If this article seemed too critical, then expect much more compliments in the next one, because The Call of Pripyat definitely deserves it!