S.T.A.L.K.E.R Clear Sky Tips
S.T.A.L.K.E.R Clear Sky is a brutally difficult first person shooter from GSC Game World where you play in a rather open environment and can do a lot of things in the order you choose. This non-linearity combined with the toughness of some of the firefights can leave you in a really bad way (more than once I was stuck with a quicksave where I had only few rounds of ammo, no medkits or bandages, and my character was bleeding out), so use these tips to get an edge that will last you through to the game's conclusion.
What I didn't realize when I first started playing that the way to success in Clear Sky isn't necessarily finishing objectives or following the story, but making money and putting it towards better loot. Finishing main story objectives rarely gets you the good stuff, but the side missions are great sources of cash. During the early game, money should be your primary goal; if so, you'll be able to do much better once you do start working on the main story.
Later in the game, moving loot around is kind of a pain in the butt, but early on it's easier. The first level, the swamp, has several "guide" characters (marked in areas on the map once you clear out spots in the swamps) to instantly take you back to the Clear Sky base - just load up on anything that's worth money, get a guide to take you back for free, and dump it all off at the trader. Then just have the guide take you back to where you were. It only gets tougher to cart loot back and forth between the front lines and traders after the swamp level, so take advantage of it while it's good.
The way to make many of the game's weapons and armor good rather than mediocre is by upgrading them at the engineers that are in several of the game's levels. Use these guys to repair your stuff (it's expensive but worth it once you make an investment in upgrades for your gear) and also install vital upgrades that allow you to put a scope on a gun or add that little bit of extra weight capacity to your armor. And tossing a scope on that rifle of yours will allow you to take on camps of enemies with much less risk. One easy start is in the cabin of the engineer in the Clear Sky base - see that scope on the vice in the back of the room? Now go under the cabin and and jump repeatedly while mashing your use (by default it's F) key and you'll actually be able to grab it through the floor. You can grab one of the SMGs in the room, too. Once you grab some of the guns from the military in the Cordon (more on that later), you can equip the scope on one of them for some precise shots in single-shot mode.
Clear Sky is a different game from what a player of the original S.T.A.L.K.E.R might remember. Here, you'll never really wipe out a faction even if you take over their base (Freedom vs. Duty is the biggest example of this), and you'll find an ebb and flow of factions taking over spots and you can help them out when nearby. Learning how to take best advantage of this is important - even if you weren't actually close by when your buddies took over a spot from the Bandits or another faction, drop by and you'll find the enemy corpses lying there ready for you to loot. If you wait too long, then often you'll only see their guns lying around, which can still be a good source of income. Overall, you'll have the choice between siding with the Diggers or with the Bandits, and I recommend the latter since they have more to offer once you get friendly with them than the Diggers. You'll also get to choose between Freedom or Duty, which is a close one and each has its merits so that's up to you.
In Clear Sky you'll have to have your detector out to even be able to see artifacts, much less pick them up. Traders won't be selling them or giving you quests to get them, so the ones you do get should be a big deal. The first thing is this: when you see a bunch of anomalies or a visibly dangerous area full of radiation or psi activity, your reaction should not be to avoid it entirely. It should be to quicksave, pull out your detector, and dive in to find an artifact. You'll know pretty quickly if one is there, and once you get to the point where you can get the detector that's worth 1500RU, spend the money to make it easier to get what you want and get out. Either way, an artifact is always worth using up a few medkits, because even if you can't use it, it's worth quite a bit to a trader.
There are at least six artifacts placed throughout the Swamps, although it will take you quite a bit of searching to find them all. If you need help, head ot the Clear Sky base and check out the Swamps map in the room next to Lebedev's. It'll have anomaly areas circled with a thin line. There's also one more which is particularly tough to find, but this video should help.
Clear Sky has that same ridiculously bad weapon accuracy that plagued the original S.T.A.L.K.E.R. I've no idea why they continued this crappy trend, but what it means to you is that even a nice rifle with a scope that you've got leveled at your enemy correctly is going to fire out in a very large, random cone so that you'll miss far more often than not. Of course, bullets are also not instant-hit weapons and the bullets do actually drop based on the speed they travel (and you can upgrade some guns to increase that speed), so you'll not only need to lead your shots but also account for gravity. Unfortunately, you also need to account for the game's arbitrary difficult that's been added, unless you install a mod to fix it - which I do recommend just to save yourself the aggravation of emptying a full clip, with a gun like the AC96/2 set to single shot and its scope perfectly leveled on the guy 500 feet away, and having not a single round actually hit.
Many of the installations you'll attack will include the help of a few NPCs. Sure, they kind of suck and are horrible at staying behind cover (and will often push you right out from behind your own cover), but they're often worth it just so that the enemy will shoot at them instead of you. In the meantime, you find the best place to drop some precise shots and rack up some kills. You might even let the firefight go on a bit longer so that as your buddies get killed, you can run over to their bodies after the fighting dies down and loot them too. Just try not to let the "Task failed" message pop up if you're on a side mission, since even if you kill the enemy afterwards, you don't get the reward - and the rewards for doing these is often much better than the profits from the sale of the gear that's dropping.
When you enter the Cordon the first time, you'll find yourself staring down a nasty machine gun nest. You can turn around, go back to the Swamps, then up north to the other Cordon entrance which has just opened, or use your sprint and head forward and then to the left (mashing first aid kits as you go) to survive the MG. After you've gotten a foothold in the Cordon, you can then pay a visit down to that military area to clean up and get about 5000RU worth of loot every time you kill off the troops there, and it's a short jog up to Sidorovich to sell the gear.
Just head around to the left as you approach to avoid the MG, get to the wall, and start picking off troops one at a time as you round the corner to their main street. Be aware that if you leave and come back, all the troops will respawn, so grab everything before you walk off and be prepared to start another fight if you return for more loot farming.
When you're in zones like the Cordon, Dark Valley, Garbage or Agroprom, you'll find that you often get called to help out a friendly faction. In most cases you should drop what you're doing and go, because you wind up with an easy fight and some good money waiting for you at that faction's base as a reward. It's also better than trying to take on a whole camp of enemies entirely on your own.
First aid kits are pretty expensive if you're forced to buy them, so try and use them sparingly. The best way I've found to do that is to take advantage of your character's natural ability to regenerate health - if you're low on health but no one is shooting you, just quicksave it and keep on going rather than using a kit. Even if you find yourself in a nasty pocket of radiation, use some vodka or antirad drugs and just continue on your merry way unless something requires you to actually have high health.
Here and there you'll find these storage boxes that for the most part don't have any loot in them. They're often placed in convenient spots and you can use them to store things you want to keep but don't necessarily need right now. For example, if you're in the Cordon taking on the military at the south of the zone and taking your loot up to the trader Sidorovich, then you can use the box in his room to temporarily put away the antirad drugs, your extra first aid kits and bandages, extra ammo, and any weapons you want to keep but don't need at the moment. Just remember where you stored the stuff if you do, since it can be easy to lose track of where you put specific items.
As you pick up artifacts and balance out the radiation they give off with others that reduce it, remember to switch them out based on what you need. I like having the SEVA suit, sold in Agroprom and possibly other areas, since it provides the maximum protection from anomalies, but it only has two artifact slots. You can upgrade it to add three more, though, and by the last couple of levels of the game the artifacts you find will make the upgrades very much worth the trouble. You'll have artifacts that increase your regeneration of both health and stamina, add 10 or 20kg each to your weight capacity (great for making sure you have a gun that can fire every type of ammo in the game), and automatically heal your bleeding so you're not constantly juggling bandages. As long as you balance out the radiation givers with the radiation reducers and don't mind jumping into anomalies to find the good artifacts, you'll find them to be an important part of your arsenal.
I found this to be one of the most frustrating parts of Clear Sky: the last trader you will see is probably in Agroprom at the Duty base. From there you head to Yantar, Red Forest, and on, and in none of the zones from Yantar on is there a single trader. If you're still looking to finish a couple of upgrades and it's time to go to Yantar, you might delay the story stuff and get your gear squared away before you go. The last Engineer you'll have access to for repairing your stuff is in Red Forest (he's a story NPC so just pay attention and look for the "Upgrade" button at the bottom of the dialog window) so keep that in mind as well. He can only repair, though, so your upgrades will need to come from the engineers in previous zones.
Clear Sky is full of little side areas that the developers have added where you'll find great rewards but also get put in great peril. One semi-secret area in a mine in Red Forest was particularly brutal, where the player must drop down, survive four anomalies that throw stuff at you - like a ghost - and hit a side room filled with storm anomalies in order to get a grenade launcher and a particularly powerful artifact. Then to get out, you had to get back across this area and take out the four object-throwing anomalies with some pretty precise fire just to escape. It took me well over an hour to do it right since my suit was completely broken and I had no protection from the damage down there, but the reward was pretty damn good. It's your choice to jump into these areas, but make sure to create an extra savegame before you do in case you accidentally quicksave in an unwinnable situation.