Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker, DS - £9.43

Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker, DS - £9.43 delivered

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Gears of War 2, Xbox 360 - £28.43

Gears of War 2, Xbox 360 - £28.43 delivered

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Thanks to John for the tip.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Clear Sky, PC - Review

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Clear Sky, PC - £15.89 delivered

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Review by Rook

Making your way through the driving rain, the remnants of the abandoned town of Limansk stretches out ahead. Somewhere over the other side is the reactor core, the heart of the zone. Shuttered windows, and nailed up doors leave only the streets which look oh so very open. With the warning of an ambush ahead fresh in mind I find myself pressing up against the few ruined cars that have long since been abandoned. A cursory sweep with binoculars doesn't give anything away, but a moment later lightning baths the fronts of the buildings and in a window, for a brief second, a black silhouette is outlined in cold white light. Raising the scope of the silenced rifle, the figure remains a shadow in a patch of gloom, but it's enough. Raising the sights just a little to factor in the bullet drop, the trigger is pulled and the inevitable happens: "This is XRay Engine crash reporting client. To help the development process, please Submit Bug or save report and email it manually".

And it's gone. All the atmosphere, all the tension is converted into petty annoyance. I should be enjoying this game, but it feels as though someone is having fun with a bizarre metagame. Instead of probing for anomalies, your hunting for crash bugs. Which scripted event will trigger it next? The game's story (very much a rehash of the first game) is quickly replaced by trips to the forums, the discovery of an [Unofficial Fix] thread a greater prize than any artefact. Minor bugs abound, the Directx10 graphics corrupt in the rain, the AI occasionally decides not to initialise on loading, the quick save feature doesn't work etc. But these are simply part and parcel of a game, the slight quirks are almost more annoying. It's not that the AI can throw grenades further than Olympians could dream, it's not that they do this with pinpoint accuracy, without being able to see . It's that they do all this without any possible knowledge of where you are.

Getting away from all that, Clear Sky manages to deliver on so much of what was promised with the original Stalker, it's a living breathing world. The fire fights remain amongst the best that any game offers, brutal and unrelenting. Standing out in the open is a sure fire way of needing to hit the reload key, but hunker down in cover and soon you'll be pinned down and surrounded. The faction wars add in friendly squads, and the storyline is often best left forgotten as you join in their patrols. Small skirmishes soon give way to fully fledged battles for territory. Grenades, tracers and screams fill the air, and then as quickly as it starts it dies out again, and the scavenging can begin. The scripted events can be more hit and miss, having played through 8/10ths of the game without limits, it feels odd to be pinned down by a single sniper that can't be killed despite repeated headshots. At other times it's pitch perfect. Making your way through the distorted swirls of radiation pockets and gravity anomalies you swear you can almost see something move ahead. It's not long before the nervous friendly AI notice the same thing and then open fire predator style. By the time you make it to your destination, the rest of the squad lie torn apart, dotted along the route.

As a game it manages to be both beautiful and ugly at the same time. Much like the real 'zone', it's a world you'd hate to visit, but could stare endlessly at pictures of long since forgotten play parks, the abandoned flats and houses slowly being reclaimed by nature, or just the ever changing (and rarely clear) sky. Catch a zone at the wrong time of day then a simple zombie duck hunt turns into another gaming session abandoned until daylight returns both in the real world and in the game world. The voice acting, whilst not brilliant is amiable enough, the minimalist sound track adding just enough to keep things going with the real stars being the guttural sounds, the footsteps, the creaking, or the moans that leave you feeling not quite as alone as you'd like to be.

In the end, I have the feeling that Clear Sky will depend more on the player than anything else. It's a game that won't tell you when you've made a mistake, but just leave you with that sinking feeling halfway through a zone when you realise you really should have bought the more expensive suit of armour, or that might be another, less dangerous way around. It often offers just enough of a hint of what you should be doing, but similarly leaves enough doubt that the less intrepid might miss the cues. Yes, artefacts are hard and dangerous to find, but you're a stalker, it's worth the risk. Yes, bad things happen in the zone, but you're a stalker, you're prepared for them. Yes, scraping together a living in the zone is tough, but you're a stalker, it's what you do.

In the end saying that Stalker epitomises everything in PC gaming is as much of a low blow as it is a compliment. As a game though, it very much takes the highs with the lows. On the one hand it offers something so unique and so hardcore that it'll never appear in this form on a console. On the other, you are paying to beta test a game that may never be finished. GSC Game World could have won a lot of praise by following the path of CD-Project and re-releasing the original game patched up to how they intended. In the end they cashed out with another unfinished product.

Rating – Pineapple (http://xkcd.com/388/)

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Clear Sky, PC - £15.89 delivered

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Sonic Chronicles - The Dark Brotherhood, DS - £17.03 delivered

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Perfect timing for anyone interested in the sequel, that's on the way.