Clear guns have had an easier time with customs and as such they have been more commonly seen by the general public in Canada for years.
One of the most common newb threads is often something as follows:
"I saw a clear gun at BLANK for only X dollars- is it any good"
Historically the answer to this question has been NO. Most if not all clear air soft weapons are substandard in almost every way (often labeled as 'Soft Air' but known in airsoft as clearsoft). The three biggest shortcomings can be summed up as follows:
many of the early clear plastics were made of a plastic that was far more brittle than modern abs plastics. This wasnt only true for airsoft but was common with plastics and resins in general for the plastic industry- if you wanted solid the clear plastic needed to be thicker and there was no room in clearsoft guns for thicker plastic.
many of the early clearsoft weapons had fps (feet per second) ratings that were very slow. In order to combat this slowness many clearsoft weapons are only able to fire a .12gram BB*. In general anything under 200fps is useless even in CQB (Close Quarters Battles) and often you will hear it is only good for 'backyard battles' or 'basement battles'.
*These lightweight BBs are generally considered to be good for engagements maxing out at 20 feet and most airsoft players wont go below a .2gram BB. They are much harder to feel when hit and the wind carries them like mad.
Everything breaks- everything. When an airsoft gun breaks a player often has the option of ordering replacement parts. If the gun is not performing well you can always upgrade the parts. Much like the RC industry a sub-industry of parts suppliers serves the airsoft community and as such each AEG (auto electric gun) is much like an investment as, if cared for, they can last many many years. Most clearsoft are NOT compatible with airsoft- when it breaks you go and buy a new one.
There are now some exceptions to the Clear gun rule. Within the last year there has been an increased focus by various manufacturers and remanufacturers on taking 'good' airsoft guns and giving them a clear receiver (the main shell or housing of the airsoft gun).
Most of the first 'good' airsoft guns where hybrids of partially clear parts combined with poor quality cloned parts that were compatible with proper airsoft guns. Although these guns still suffered from being made of low quality plastics and subpar fps ratings they had the advantage of being repaired and upgraded. Since most clearsoft guns found their way through customs these guns began to show up in various sporting goods stores and paintball stores.
In general the Aftermath Kraken was the 'best' of this generation of clear guns in that in addition to being a Ver3 mechbox TM clone that could be repaired, upgraded or replaced, it boasted a high fps of 380fps with .2g BBs. Of the first gen guns it is the only one 'worth' getting as a project gun or starter gun if you have someone local who can teach you basic repair issues. However many Aftermath products suffer from quality control issues due to using CYMA clone mechboxs and in general even the Kraken needed to have preventative maintenance performed on it before use.
Other less useful but upgradable or partially upgradable guns of this generation are the Aftermath Broxa (TM clone MP5), Crosman Pulse R72 (TM clone G3SAS). Both of these guns are underpowered and require upgrades unless used for CQB. The worst of this category only makes the grade as it has a compatible Ver2 mechbox and is common in Walmarts- the DPMS AR17/AR15 variant AEG. It had a decent fps and a Ver2 mechbox but that was about it for the good points and I would avoid ever getting one (even as a project or loaner gun).
The next generation of clear AEGs was markedly better- in general they still had poor construction issues due to the clear plastic parts but most now had higher fps and were at least partially compatible with proper AEGs. Aftermath Broxa, Crosman Pulse R76, Tactical Force TF 16 (Well M4), are all guns of this generation of clearsoft- typically they are slighlty better than the first generation guns but still suffer from quality and construction issues.
The next and current wave of 'clear' AEGs is the Canadian series of airsoft guns that are generally exact versions of the proper airsoft guns with only one part of the receiver being clear (generally the lower receiver). G&G and ICS are currently leading this marketing trend where quality airsoft guns are available to the general public.
However there are still semi-clear guns of lesser clone qaulity being produced- such as Cyberguns Sig 552. Though the quality of clones has generally improved there are still too many horror stories to say that you get what you pay for. Someone may get a gun that works fine out of the box for 50k BBs and the guy next to him has his gun crap out on the first BB fired. Though more recent these are still essentially Gen 2 clearsoft in that they suffer from quality and construction issues. In general they will require upgrades or repairs.
Please add any info I may have missed as Zone 69 has. This thread wont stop clear gun questions of course (nor should it as 'CANsoft' is here now and looks to do well) but it should still be able to provide newbs with a place to start....
I have owned or my brother has owned most of the above mentioned clear guns so try to state fact more than opinion