Death of the Critic

The Backlog – S.T.A.L.K.E.R. : Clear Sky

Written by: Tom Blaich


I have a confession to make. Like many of you reading this, I have a list of games that I’ve been meaning play for years. I have way too many games on Steam, and a stack of cases sitting next to my TV. Close to five hundred games now. Maybe more. It makes me feel guilty. I haven’t touched 90% of them in one way or another. I need to fix that. So this week, I dug deep into my
backlog and pulled out a game. I want to play all of them; I’ve just never had the chance. Now’s the time.

There always been a big deal made out of hard games. To play and beat one was to somehow prove that you are better than more “normal” players, who somehow couldn’t handle the difficulty. The oft derided “casual” gamers speak to this phenomenon. Every time that someone picks up a copy of
Dark Souls, a forum user somewhere tells you to “git gud”. But often the games that we idolize for their difficulty really aren’t that hard. S.T.A.L.K.E.R is.


S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is very hard, in a way that makes the whole world feel threatening and inhospitable. It ties into the themes of the story instead of just being something for a player to brag about. You are a Stalker, new to the game near the radioactive Chernobyl, you must journey to the center of the anomaly to find artifacts items for research, while at the same time battling mercenaries, raiders, and monsters that do their best to try to kill you. The world feels like a more inhospitable Fallout, radioactive and dingy, building a sense of tension as you travel through it.

There are factions, sidequests, hidden secrets to find, and plenty of loot. But there are also a few small areas that will almost immediately kill you without warning if you take a wrong step, and capable enemies litter the environment, just waiting to put a bullet into your back. The world does not welcome you or hold your hand along the way. Once you leave the first area you can go anywhere you want, no matter how dangerous, and there are plenty of dangerous areas littering the landscape. It almost actively pushes you away instead of pandering to you to try to draw you in, but there is a certain pleasure in conquering the aggressive world that kept me driving forward.

It feels like trial and error sometimes, and I would frequently ask myself if I was even having fun. I think that I did, but I’m not quite sure. I wanted to prove to myself that I could face the world and not be scared off, but the general unhelpfulness of the game did nothing to assist me in my quest. It feel s like the type of game you almost need a guide to play, but you also get the feeling that the guide itself would ruin the experience. In the drab world of
Clear Sky, eking out an existence is commendable.


Something pushes you to keep playing, to keep struggling, because you want to fight through the world, past that next ambush, or loot that military base crawling with soldiers. It is like the feeling of fighting a boss in
Dark Souls, over and over again. And at some point, you’ll hit your limit, or at least I did. The point where the game breaks you, rage quitting for the last time. It is a conflicting feeling to leave a game with. It isn’t sour, but it isn’t exactly posit8ive either. Much like the game it lies somewhere in between. Are the controls muddy on purpose? Are the graphics dull on purpose? Does it feel unfair on purpose? I don’t know, and I’m not entirely convinced that they do either.



Tom has been writing about media since he was a senior in high school. He likes long walks on the beach, dark liquor, and when characters reload guns in action movies.

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