STALKER - Clear Sky: Punishing Difficulty?

If you played the first game then play CS then you really won't see it that way. The thing the game punishes is stupidity in the early stages. As in the first game you begin with the lowest quality weapons and armour so taking on a group of mutants or human enemies alone is, frankly, going to get you killed as will blundering aimlessly through the wilderness at night into pockets of radiation.

The Swamp area you begin the game in really should be treated as a tutorial. You won't be treated to scripted events here, but you're not asked to do anything difficult alone anyway while securing the area against some renegades. You learn what the faction wars willl entail and the kind objectives you'll be given should you join in.

All that said, I have been killed many times. My own fault every time too. Generally not paying attention to the fact I'm irradiated or bleeding and slowly dying. I also died plenty in a game called Gothic 2. Why the comparison? Simple, at the start of the game it's your character that is useless not you as the player. Don't go to areas you can't survive in! Once you get a suit with good protection against the Zone itself you can happily explore some inhospitable areas filled with anomolies to get some artifacts, which brings me to my next point:

Artifacts - Now that they're invisible and show up only when you get close enough to it with a detector they can be difficult to actually pick up even though they are simple enough to detect. Anomalies seem to react to them as they would any other object, animal or person so when you see or hear them going off but there are no enemies around you can be pretty certain there's an artifact being thrown around in there somewhere. You can even see them, or rather their trail, shooting up in the air. This is what makes them difficult to get since they aren't just near anomalies but are in groups of them.

So far I'm having a lot of fun with this game. It's not without fault, what ever is? The game has CTD about 4 times during 7 hours or so of gameplay, but they happened near the start and I think my graphics settings contributed to that. Since then I've had the occasional crash, I can't drag bodies around anymore as any time I try it crashes which is weird since I could do it fine when I first installed and played the game. Also the game lags in certain areas, Garbage in particular has hitching while running along. I'd usually put things like that down to lack of memory but bringing down the console in-game shows that only 1.5GB of the 3GB I have is being used. Some more optimisation is required for this game despite the patch that is already out.

The patch sorts out many issues including a certain mugging that happens. You no longer lose all your cash, but part of it, and you have the opportunity to get your stuff back so that's a non-issue now. One thing that bugs me though is when storing items in a stash you have to drag them from your backpack to the stash. Fine for single items such as guns but you try dragging across 900 rounds of ammo and it only moves a handful of bullets each time. It should be simple double click to move items like it is in every other inventory screen in the game such as when trading. A minor annoyance but a time consuming one.

This thing is getting long now and I'm no kind of writer so I'll just close by saying that while this game will have a steep learning curve to new players, it is easy to get interested in. If that interest helps push you further into the game you'll soon realise that with your new, upgraded guns and armour, you're hardly ever dying and you're taking people out much easier than your stalker brethren and it is they who are dropping like flies while you stand firm, rewarded for your hard work. It needs another patch though, so if you can wait to buy this then do so otherwise just don't be surprised when you have issues, I hear it's especially problematic on Vista 64.

UPDATE: New patch available, v1.5.04 is out with a hell of a lot of fixes including being able to move ammo to stash with double click, and a stamina bar is now on the HUD. The patch isn't compatable with save games so it looks like I'm starting from scratch.... again....