Steam have a rather timely offer given my last post on STALKER 2, buy both STALKER Shadow of Chernobyl (SoC) and Call of Pripyat (CoP) for £6.24 !! Interestingly the offer doesn’t include Clear Sky but that is another story ;-)
This is a real bargain and a perfect opportunity to experience these fantastic games, so go and grab your copies.
Remember, to get the most out of Shadow of Chernobyl get the STALKER Complete fan made spruce up mods.
STALKER 2 in the works, STALKER 2 in the works, STALKER 2 in the works. … (calmly reclining) and I’m mildly excited about this. :-) Not a huge amount is known about the follow-up to the first trilogy of STALKER games yet, the original press release was somewhat short on details. However, we do know that the same studio (GSC) are already working on it and it might use the Crysis engine.
I found the original trilogy to be somewhat of a flawed gem – breathtakingly exciting, compellingly authentic and very engrossing; but sadly each title lacked a certain ‘something’ that ended up detracting from the experience. Luckily a number of talented community members have released various spruce up mods which (especially in the case of Shadow of Chernobyl) really make the games feel MUCH more complete and enjoyable, greatly enhancing what is already a phenomial gaming experience.
If you’ve not played a STALKER game before I can’t recommend enough grabbing a copy of Shadow of Chernobyl (£9.99 currently on Steam) along with the STALKER Complete 2009 fan made spruce up mod and Call of Pripyat (currently £19.99 on Steam or £14.99 if you own either Shadow of Chernobyl (SoC) or Clear Sky). Somewhere between these great titles is pure gaming gold, I really hope GSC find it for STALKER 2. Roll on 2012!
Yes, it is another post about Stalker: Clear Sky but I have been (and continue to be) so impressed with the quality of the dynamic lighting that I want to share some screen shots I have taken whilst playing. Real time lighting and graphical effects really add a whole new level of immersion to this game, days are bright with sun rays bursting through the trees and nights are so dark that it genuinely influences the player’s tactics.
In the first two images, you can see the shadows cast by the tower creeping along the ground as the sun sets in the distance, followed shortly afterwards by night descending.
Shortly after that, it becomes so dark that navigation without the assistance of your PDA and torch / NVGs becomes difficult. This still, ink black night really enhances the atmosphere of the game leaving the player feeling, at times, quite alone and isolated.
The in-game ‘night’ lasts between an hour to two hours of real time and when the sun rises the entire landscape is literally transformed. In the screen shots below, you can see art work on the wall of the Duty base near Agroprom with the shadows of the trees slowly moving across as the sun rises higher (all updated in real time by the engine).
Although the basic environmental lighting is simply stunning, the range of weather the game simulates is also fantastic, from cold wet downpours to fantastic thunderstorms (which no single screen shot could do justice to.)
I also want to share some screen shots of some of the graphical effects when you come across various types of anomalies. In the tunnels underneath Agroprom, the player has to carefully traverse a winding tunnel filled with jets of flame. In the second screenshot, the player is affected by a burst from the Brain Scorcher outside Yantar.
I am the first one to point out that graphics are not the be all and end all when it comes to gaming, however when a game relies so heavily on the atmosphere it creates as part of it’s story telling machinery it would be unfair not to give them due scritiny (particularly when they are this beautiful.) More screenshots can be found on my Xfire page and more will be added as I play the game.
Yahtzee, the comic genius / professional troll, weighs in on Stalker: Clear Sky in his newest video. Not usually known for praise, it was interesting to see what he made of Stalker: Clear Sky and it turns out his feels about the game mirror what I wrote a few days ago. For those of you unaware of Mr Y’s work, he is the chap behind the hilarious and satirical ‘Zero Punctuation’ video reviews over at escapistmagazine.com and I highly recommend checking them out!
In other related news I am still playing Clear Sky whenever I get the chance and despite being a few more hours into the game (and having lost my shiny rifles to a bunch of bandits *mutter mutter*) I am still really enjoying the game. When I finish it I will write a proper follow up.
Today I got my grubby mits on a copy of Stalker: Clear Sky and showing an uncharacteristic amount of self restraint, didn’t rush home to play it immediately. When I did fire it up I was initially left with mixed feelings. However, I have now played about three hours on the hardest difficulty setting and thus far quite enjoyed the experience.
Clear Sky is a prequel to Shadow of Chernobyl, set in a larger Zone around the NPP. There is a fair amount of new content and a lot of the original terrain has been rejigged which adds greatly to the excitement. You wake up as an anonymous loner who has *just* survived a massive blow out which cooked the other members of your party. The similarity to the original title ends there though, and players are immediately put to work as a member of the Clear Sky faction – a group of scientists who are studying the Zone. The game starts quickly, throwing the player into the nearby swamp and introducing them to a lot of the ‘strategy’ concepts early on.
Do not get too excited about the strategy side of things – I was of the mistaken impression that it would involve a game play cross between the original Stalker and a Battlefield style with resources and areas of influence. Unfortunately it is a lot more basic than that and really just expands the completely superfluous Stalker ranking system of the original game. To those of you wondering what I am talking about.. you have made my point for me. The feature was completely superfluous and merely tracked the player’s progress through the game based on how many people they had killed. Fast forward 18 months and Clear Sky expands this concept by formalising the factions in the PDA and providing nifty bars showing faction influence, disposition to the player and ‘resources.’ Any hope of any deep strategy is wiped out here as the stats can so far simply be interpreted by: powerful faction – lots of pointless side quests, otherwise ignore. The side quests are the biggest disappointment thus far for me as they seems to be generated from the template : “Go 5 to 10 mins out of your way and kill something” which gets very old very quickly. Scripted side quests are however interesting and having met a deserting Russian Army driver who promptly tried to double cross me I am cautiously optimistic about the rest of the game. Let this be a warning to you – don’t trust people you meet hiding under a bridge. :p
Despite the use of the original locations, models and textures Clear Sky is a very different game. The story is just as engaging as the original, if not more so, as it makes full use of the fact it is a prequel to interweave some of the key characters from Shadow of Chernobyl into the plot. Who knows, maybe even Strelok will make an appearance later? The engine has been greatly upgraded and now includes a lot of beautiful weather and lighting effects coupled with a day night transition system which turn a game already dripping in atmosphere into something almost surreal in places. The atmosphere is largely thanks to the authenticity of having a development team from the Ukraine. The moody, functional architecture from a post Soviet era comes accross naturally and is sufficiently alien to many Western players to really add intrigue to this already very different world. Greatly improved textures and sounds coupled with the graphical enhancements and interesting developments to the AI really make the game stand out for me, and although it will never have the same level of graphical polish as something like Call of Duty 4, there have been moments already which have left me in awe. Sadly players who played the original will be frustrated that some of glitches still present in Clear Sky. Randomly disappearing NPCs, occasional clipping bugs, annoying side quest spawning (and timing) all remain, although many bugs have been fixed.
Bugs not-with-standing, I have only played this game for a very short duration and even by my overly critical standards the game is, so far, highly enjoyable and definitely worth buying. I will write more when I have had a chance to get deeper into the Zone.
It has an official release date (hopefully concrete), but not a huge amount is definatively known about S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Clear Sky – the official prequel to the amazing STALKER: Shadow of Chernobyl. I have not written about either of these games before, which is surprising given the amount of time I spent playing both single and multiplayer STALKER.
Shadow of Chernobyl was a masterpiece of visceral entertainment, made all the more authentic by it’s Ukrainian development team. Their efforts in representing the lost Soviet city of Prypet, which stands largely intact to this day, along with the areas surrounding the Chernobyl NPP like the Red Forrest are astonishing and deserving of praise. The only real drawback to the game was the overall lack of polish, particularly with the mission scripting which could be a bit hit and miss.
The lack of any online cheat protection and clearly designed multiplayer modes really disadvantaged the online experience. I have played many hours on some of the large maps enjoying the mixture between fast paced battles in Agropom as well as some of the other maps where slow methodical stalking was the best strategy. But in the end I stopped playing do to the imbalanced nature of the action.
It was with great excitement that read a number of months ago about the planned prequel that has been in development, practically since the release of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Shadow of Chernobyl. For those of you not keenly following the game release sites, the name of this prequel is Clear Sky and it is set in a time before the (fictional) second disaster at Chernobyl. What was it that a wise man once said? To have one containment breach is a tragedy, to have second seems like carelessness?
Rather than unravelling the master quest by searching for the identity of this mysterious Strelok character, instead, you play a free agent in “The Zone” tasked with assassinating Strelok. He really appears to be persona non grata doesn’t he? This is only a small part of the game with the player becoming inextricably embroiled in a multi faction conflict in the zone. What worries me a little is the number of factions rumoured to be in game : NINE! Bandits, Duty, Freedom, Clear Sky, Mercenaries, Internal Troops (Military), Scientists, and Lone Stalkers and the player can choose to align themselves with any of them (although presumably only one at a time). Whilst having multiple factions is a good thing, it promotes diversity and gives a potentially huge degree of replay-ability, with so many factions it is very difficult to make them sufficiently unique and appealing. Especially with the degree of overlap in their motivations and objectives as judged by Stalker Shadow of Chernobyl.
The X-ray engine has received an upgrade to version 1.5 which will include Direct X 10 support as well a variety of particle, textural and AI upgrades. I found a video a few days ago showing the weather system in action. It looks very impressive, from oil black nights to realistic weather effects and shadows. I am very much looking forward to this, and to exploring the expanded / tweaked zone, so what awaits you Stalker, in the zone that changed?
UPDATE: According to wikipedia, the E3 demo was leaked to a variety of torrent sites today. I can only hope this does not impact on the work being done getting the final build ready for the August release date.
I was having a long overdue clear-out of my cupboard and I found a few interesting things I have managed to accumulate over the last few years. The one bit that peaked my interest the most was the box for Red Alert: Counterstrike. This was the first (and worst) expansion pack for Command and Conquer Red Alert, still inside the box was the manual and the coded communication. For those of you who do not remember (or never played this game) to the right is a picture of one side of this coded communication.
The encoding was very simple, it was Morse code, if you deciphered it, you would be told how to access the built in (and secret) hidden ant missions which were not alluded to in the actual game. It got me thinking, when was the last time gamers were really challenged with puzzles in mainstream games? RPGs in general almost always feature quite unique and challenging puzzles. The n64 versions of the Legend of Zelda series of games had some of the more varied and fun puzzles but there are many more examples of such games. This is a genre that has Incorporated RPG elements as one of its key gameplay points. How many new RPGs actually utilise puzzles to challenge the player? Most newer RPGs seem to believe NPC or item hunting around the game ‘world’ map to be the height of puzzle solving, whilst this can be fun, it does not even remotely compare to RPGs of old.
Lets take a look at the main genres in PC gaming and see how they are (or are not) innovating.
Real Time Strategy games in general have no puzzle solving within the gameplay. That does not mean they are brainless mass-mindless-click games however, more modern RTS games like Company of Heros or Supreme Commander do require the player to carefully think through their next move rather than rely on tank rush tactics of old. Games like Company of Heros have value added features which require the player to complete each mission whilst meeting some modest requirement (e.g. no less than 5 tank losses or inflict 300 casualties) but these only serve to give the games some limited replay factor, they do not encourage the player to think much. The unfortunate downside to many of the more complex RTS games is they suffer greatly from their own complexity. This is most obvious in Supreme Commander where the great requirement for micromanagement seriously detracts from the fun gameplay.
First Person Shooter games are some of the worst culprits when it comes to innovation. More and more game companies believe that the answer to their next shooter is to build a new engine and rehash gameplay from previous titles. Whilst in a lot of cases produces some excellent games (Crysis, Call of Duty 4, Bioshock etc) in terms of innovating or bringing something new and challenging to the genre, they tend to fall flat. There are a few notable exceptions thankfully and by a strange coincidence they mostly appear to use the early ID engines or Id tech 4 engine. It all started with Quake back in 1997, a (for then) stunning true 3D game which became the most touted reason to buy a (or upgrade your) computer that year for gamers. What it did well is, apart from being an ego shooter, there were secrets which were challenging to find as well as a number of func_triggers that either had to be shot (or touched by the player) in order to allow them to progress in the game. This along with the introduction of pseudo physics gave players a new dimension to think in when playing FPS games and was in stark contrast to pseudo 3D games like the original Doom series.
Doom 3 on the other hand was a different story, featuring a (then) revolutionary FPS engine, it sought not only to stun gamers, but also to add a little bit of uniqueness to the genre. It was a lot of fun to play but in a lot of ways it’s desire to innovate fell short of the mark. Whilst obtaining UAC PDAs was a new take and added to the immersion in the UAC universe (hunting for codes to Supply cabinets was interesting) it didn’t really present any new challenges to the seasoned FPS player.
Prey, a game based on the Doom 3 engine on the other hand had an excellent concept – one of spirituality. Unfortunately this game seemed to have dropped out of the lime light fairly soon after it’s release which is a shame, but it presented a Doom-esque game whilst presenting a fair few challenges. The protagonist is an American Indian who has the ability to move through some objects / force fields with his spirit, which, the player can swap into and then back to his physical form. This coupled with the physics defying walkways gave the game a fairly unique feel seperating it from the realms of the generic Doom shooter clone.
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is also worth mentioning here because, whilst it does not have any puzzle solving quests in the traditional sense, the game itself can be thought of as an FPS game crossed with a RPG Mystery. It is by no means the first game to have alternative endings and although all seven of them can be broken down into two categories, there was something very fun about unravelling the mystery. It takes effort to go after the side quests in order to achieve this and it is very easy to by pass altogether. This is an example of an FPS story told well, it is a story that unfolds very slowly based on player effort and interpretation. Other games tend to just unravel their stories based on the player’s progression which is by no means as effective (although F.E.A.R is an except to that.) S.T.A.L.K.E.R. could have done so much more though, for example introducing PDA style journals inside their existing system to add atmosphere. The existing system of, you kill someone/find a body and automatically download the information (including stash locations) is a bit too automated. Something like this has to be carefully implemented in order to add to the game rather than give the player reams of pointless prose which they (mostly) will skip like the copious books in Morrowind and Oblivion. A good example of where this journalised PDA system could have been put to good use would be in the X18 lab (With the poltergeist) with all the keypad locked doors. I would have loved to read a paragraph from the dead scientist’s PDA rather than just hearing a brief voice clip telling me the code.
Of course now we come to Portal. The reason behind Portal’s phenomenal success (it was initially viewed as a fun side-mod to Episode 2 by Valve) was that is was completely different. In a way, it was more of a tech demo with a story than a game in itself, but look at the critical response it had from users and reviewers. If nothing else, the amount of fun and enjoyment Portal gave to a wide gaming community speaks volumes for the need for more puzzle elements in modern games.
I wanted to talk about RPG games as well as some other genres, but I can not really find any examples which add greatly add to this discussion. I will however make them the focus of a future post on this topic.
A puzzle does not have to be a scrambled message on an extra bit of paper shipped with the game, it could be far more subtle, it could be a geometric puzzle (wonderful examples in Zelda, Ocarina of Time), it could be a story driven puzzle which gives secondary story arcs (like STALKER) or event a RPG style event driven puzzle. The point I am labouring to make is that there are a huge variety of ways games puzzled and challenged us before graphics became the driving force behind game development. I just hope we will start to see some mainstream games which present more of a fulfilling challenge than we have seen in the last few years.