There's no doubt about it. 2008 is the year of the free-form shooter, with Far Cry 2 and GSC Game World's Clear Sky leading the charge.
A prequel to Shadow of Chernobyl, Clear Sky begins in radioactive bogs and progresses over a mix of terrain either entirely new or cleverly remodelled from the original.
The game not only includes STALKER features first coded way back in 2003 (and then cruelly excised), but brings an entirely new dynamic to the wastes.
"Once you decide to go join your chosen faction, you'll open up lots of new gameplay possibilities," explains GSC frontman
Oleg Yavorsky. "Each faction has a main base where a number of characters are encountered, such as clan leader, trader, mechanic. Each faction possesses unique information, missions, weapons, equipment, upgrades and the like."
And so the A-life brains within each gang of gasmask-wearing miscreants will wage endless war over territory, resources and scientific outposts. The more of these your faction is able to capture, the more grunts you'll be able to enlist and the better the tech you'll have access to.
Importantly, if you want to screw your lot over then there's nothing stopping you. "No-one can stop you sending your faction to hell," nods Oleg. "This is the Ukraine - for the right amount of dosh you can do anything!"
One of the main things GSC are drizzling into the game code at the moment, though, is improved combat AI - improving your foe's know-how when it comes to taking cover, the ability to carry pistols and equipment in separate hands, and a far greater capacity for flushing you out of cover with grenades.
And, of course those interface improvements the first game begged for, plus a revamped weapon system and far more refined techniques of artefact search, retrieval and application.
Major time is also being spent on polishing all-new locations such as the Red Forest (seen here for the first time in return for a plug for Yavorsky's Ukrainian death metal band Firelake) and the lost city of Limansk.
"Limansk was a sealed-off scientific town, where secret government programs were developed," explains our man Oleg. "It's fully autonomous and somewhere in it there's an extensive network of underground laboratories."
What's more it's something of an Exclusion Zone hot potato since recent fallout has rendered it a path to the reactor - making it a hub of conflict between the prime rivals that are the Freedom and Duty factions.
Add to this an increase of danger, scorched earth and oddly truncated greenery in existing areas and Clear Sky could take the dark horse that was STALKER and make something even more fascinating.