E3 2008: S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky
Tucked away in a back corner on the show floor here at E3 is a booth not a whole lot of people are probably going to find. Deep Silver’s booth, crowded near the back of the room with the rest of the smaller developers, is easy to miss when Ubisoft, Microsoft and EA are a stone’s throw away, but I must say, the trip to their booth was one of my most memorable thus far. You might not know who Deep Silver is – and that’s completely understandable. They’re newly independent in America. However, you probably know the major game their working on: S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky.
Clear Sky is a prequel to S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl and begins with largely the same premise: you’re an amnesiac who survives the disaster and you’ve been taken in by a band of survivors struggling to get by. Not very much of the plot was revealed to me as I watched the developer play, but NPC interaction is still an integral part of moving the plot forward. Talking with NPC characters and choosing which side you will take amongst the two major groups fighting for control of the territory is a huge part of the gameplay.
What I found most interesting about Clear Sky is the persistent world elements. Imagine a game without triggers or scripting, where AI-driven characters behave largely like human characters, operating with their own agendas independently of you. That’s what Clear Sky is hoping to do. The developers showed me bands of soldiers leaving encampments, trying to take new territory while my character was busy on another mission on the other side of the map. It was very impressive and I’m excited to see how it will all play out in the final version.
I also found myself pretty amazed with the size of the levels – which a developer told me were “perhaps the largest levels in the gaming world.” Levels were rendered with more than 6,000,000 polygons – up from the 2.5 million that built Shadow of Chernobyl. The attention to graphical detail is amazing. The levels are full of rusted out trains, dilapidated buildings, all with a unique Eastern European feel. Character models looked absolutely gorgeous and I also appreciated the random weather system. Sometimes it was raining, sometimes they skies were clear blue with few clouds. The developers told me that they wanted to focus as much as possible on making the game feel real – “no fantasy,” as they put it. Despite the fantastic creatures, the game world felt real.
As far as improvements over the previous game, the biggest is a new artifact finder that will hopefully make it easier for players to find artifacts. Held in your characters left hand, using the artifact finder makes finding the rare objects you must collect easier, but it also leaves you at a disadvantage since you’re only armed with your pistol. The developers also added five new weapons, but exact information was unavailable.
Clear Sky looks promising. Honestly, it looks like what Shadow of Chernobyl wanted to be but wasn’t. It seems that technology has caught up with the developer’s ambitions and they’re finally able to release the game that they wanted to make the first time around. While my glimpse of Clear Sky was mostly superficial, I did get a demonstration of the fast-paced combat as well and I think this game has a lot of potential. It might need a little work on some bugs, as the game crashed during my demonstration and did seem to slow down once or twice, but I am confident from my meeting that these issues will be worked out before the release copy hits store shelves at the end of August in the US and Europe.