I decided to play Stalker Call of Pripyat immediately after finishing Clear Sky. I was a little hesitant wondering if I'd be stalkered out, but I enjoyed it immensely and was sorry when it was all done. When I'm left with the feeling of not knowing what game I want to install next, that's always a good indication of what I felt about the game I just played. If you're new to the Stalker series, you will not be familiar with some of the things mentioned in this review. Although all three games in the series are stand alone, I would highly recommend you play at least one of the previous games first so that you understand some of the history of what is known as the zone. There are many references made to the events of the previous games.
Call of Pripyat is the latest in this series and takes place in a future time and a different part of the zone to the previous two. The map is confined to three large areas instead of several smaller ones. The zone has changed dramatically by this time and anomalies are confined to particular places. Also, most of the factions have reached a tentative peace. This changes the intent of gameplay a fair bit as you won't be fighting humans nearly as much as you will be killing mutants. The concentration of the main mission centres on discovery and detection, and even hunting artifacts has become more about raising money than about protection.
You play the character Major Detgyarev, an agent of the USS (Ukrainian Special Services) who has been sent into the zone to investigate the crashes of several military helicopters. You take on the disguise of a Stalker as the army is still not in favor with anyone. Your main mission is to discover what happened to these, but as a Stalker you will need to fend for yourself in the way of finding food and raising money for weapons, armor and upgrades. You can do this by hunting and selling artifacts and taking on side jobs for other people. Along the way, you will find clues about your main mission and learn more about the zone.
The game allows you to stay neutral when the rare fight erupts between factions, but this will curtail what you can do, so on these occasions you should pick a side. You also need to decide to whom you will sell certain information as these decisions will somewhat effect the course of the game.
Initially, ammo and usable weapons for free are not nearly as plentiful as in Clear Sky, although food and money is and so you will probably buy more of the things you need. Neither is trading with others as bountiful. Call of Pripyat is different in that it doesn't allow you to talk and trade with the majority, but mainly confines you to the leader of the squads. Also, the sleeping bag has been done away with in favor of designated sleeping areas. Weapon upgrades are the same as in Clear Sky being done by technicians who need certain tools, which you must find first. Although the upgrades are fairly obvious, I came away not really knowing the difference between suits and weapons of equal upgrade. I feel this could be improved upon thus making the attainment of particular items more satisfying.
At the writing of this, the Complete mod by Pavel for Call of Pripyat had not been released so I was playing the original release. (These Stalker mods update the graphics and fix certain bugs, but don't have a great effect on the gameplay and story. As such, they are highly recommended and I used the Clear Sky one.) The environments in these games are highly detailed and as such require long loading times. This can cause lagging problems on many systems. This can be somewhat helped by adjusting many of the graphical elements. In my case, it was never completely cured, but I was still able to reasonably play the game. These in-game changes will, of course, effect how the game looks, but not to the extent of ruining it. You just won't be able to run it at peak.
I feel I should touch on the type of games these are. Although Stalker fans already know what they're all about, newcomers should be aware that these are not run and gun games. Much of the play has elements of an RPG (role playing game) and involves hunting and searching for things as opposed to combat. Even the fighting isn't really hard for the most part, although I think the first one, Shadow of Chernobyl, was more of a challenge in this regard. Some people find this boring, so you should be aware. On the other hand, many people love these games.
All in all, my conclusion is that all three Stalker games are worth playing, which can't be said about a lot of serial games. They continue to enjoy a high popularity and the
developers are working on Stalker 2, due to be released in 2012. Each game has it's unique perspective according to the condition of the zone as it continues to develop and change over time.