SoC - "Zone of Alienation" Mod Review
- Here is a long-waited review for a mod for STALKER: Shadow Of Chernobyl - Zone of Alienation. It is a compilation of great mods stacked into one huge mod - ZoA. It has mods like AMK, DoF, Absolute Textures, etc and everything is fixed and refurbished. Let's see how it all went. Hang onto your butt, FatalFunnel, it's gonna be a fun review.
- First things first. If you have a Steam or a patched version of SoC, then you'll have to downgrade your game to v.10004 which takes a lot of fiddle-diddling and it will be a bit difficult, but after it is done, you load your game to a nice-looking load-screen with the vanilla menu music. Menu looks nice!
- The game still has the same storyline with a few exceptions. The introduction bit with Sidorovich was cropped to be more practical, which was great. The first thing you notice after talking to Sidorovich are the magnificent, beautiful graphics. Absolute + DoF really is an amazing combination. I've played SoC through 7 times, each time I've used different mods. With ZoA, the graphics blew my mind away. SoC has never seen graphics that beautiful. They were amazing. Everything looked so realistic and nice. HUD has also been completely removed, which induces atmosphere and puts your STALKER skills to a test. You'll have to remember how many shots you make and where you are. The only other HUD element you get besides the weapon is the dosimeters meter. At first, it was annoying, but throughout the game, you'd get used to it. Skies were good-looking and so were the blowouts. Nights were made really dark - pitch-black. Sometimes you couldn't even see the moon or the stars. The darkness can be frightful and annoying, but I believe that darker nights aren't necessarily a bad thing, since nights are usually pitch-black and as the mod heads towards making the game more realistic, then the darkness was necessary. New textures looked really beautiful. REALLY beautiful. Gun textures looked metallic and smooth. Nature textures looked like they were hand-picked from Ukraine and face textures actually looked human. ZoA also made blowouts shorter, which is in my opinion great. Animations were also great, for example the way you knife boxes and the way people move have been changed to be more realistic.
- Sounds in the game have also been completely revamped. Mutants, weapons, NPC-s, atmosphere sounds - everything was changed to be better. Weapons sounded very powerful and realistic. If you saw a battle happening, you'd often lose yourself watching and hearing that powerful battle. The sounds of mutants had been made scarier and by scary, I mean you'd jump and get scared really easily at Lab X16.
- Let's talk about some of the new features. The biggest new feature that you'll notice very soon in the game is the new ammo and magazine system. Instead of just hoarding bullets and reloading every time you shoot 1-3 bullets, you now have to load specific magazines for specific weapons with ammo and then inserting the magazine into the weapon. This feature confuses beginners to ZoA, but the more you progress into the game, the more you start to get the hang of it. The way you loaded magazines might've been a bit confusing and not understandable, though. You have to put the magazine onto your belt, equip the binoculars, equip the inventory and then the magazine will load. Couldn't you just click "Reload" on your magazine? New items were also added, like new weapons, new artifacts and medical equipment. New weapons were all seen before in previous mods. (Saiga, AK 74, shotguns). All the weapons (including the new weapons) were optimized to be more powerful and realistic and they really did feel like you were shooting a real gun. Recoil and accuracy was also realistic. New medical items confused me, though. There was ethanol, medical sutures, lots of different patches, other liquids and so on. Their description was a little complex, but nothing too horrible. New artifacts were cool-looking, but really rare and maybe overpowered. You could create these artifacts yourself thanks to ZoA, but it took a long time to gather the materials and you had to wait long. Even then there was a possibility that the materials can degrade. I loved the radio transmission feature that was also added. You can listen to other stalkers noticing enemies on different areas, talking about the weather, throwing jokes and sadly even death notices of poor stalkers. The signals can also create a very creepy atmosphere if a stalker says that they've noticed a bloodsucker in the area you are in and a second after, that stalker dies the reason being a bloodsucker. (That happened with me). I also liked that enemies can also bleed now. I was confused after I shot a bandit twice and he'd limp around and collapse, but then I realized, that he was just bleeding to death. However, you can now also bleed to death very quickly. VERY quickly. Even bleeding artifacts can be useless now. One thing I hated what the game added - electro Chimeras. Yes. You heard it - ELECTRO CHIMERAS. They are normal Chimeras with one exception - they are also electrified. If you shoot it at a close distance, you get a lethal electric shock, so the only way to kill it, is by sniping it and knowing how fast Chimeras can move, you sure need a steady aim, but most of the times, electro Chimera jumps at you out of nowhere.
- Now lets talk about ZoA even deeper. ZoA is known to be the one of the hardcore mods for SoC and I agree with the people who think so. ZoA can be really difficult at certain times (X10, CNPP, etc). That first bandit battle at the car park in Cordon was a pain in the ass. You didn't even know what to do, since you were still in shock about the whole magazine system and the difficulty at first, but trust me. You might start out as a small frightened mouse who doesn't know what dangers are lurking behind the next corner, but after you have made it to Garbage, the unawareness starts to disappear and you start to cope with ZoA. You might even start to feel like Rambo or John McClane at certain times.
- On the technical side of ZoA, the loadtimes were good. AI was smart and refined. Enemies acted like they knew the Zone and their strategies. No grenadespamming and wallhacking. New dialogue and radio speech had problems, though. Parts of them were untranslated and still in Russian/Ukrainian and some had general punctuation problems, but no big problems. Mutants were optimized very well. The only mutants to hide from with this mod are Electro Chimeras and dogs. Dogs were really hard to kill and with a pack, they could kill you in a split-second. On the buggy side, I have to say that there was a bug, where sometimes the loaded magazines weighed more and after reloading a save, they'd weigh less. You could also crash the game, by loading certain magazines. Sadly, for me, the game crashes right before seeing the Doctor, so I never actually finished this mod to the very end. There were invisible fields of psi-radiation floating around. Annoying, if you don't know its there and can kill you in two seconds. Depth of field also bugs out sometimes. It was also a bit odd that mutants can heal downed mutants. Strange sight indeed.
- Atmospherically, the game was creepy. Nights were very scary and so were all the labs. There wasn't a scarier feeling than a bloodsucker chasing you, while you are running towards the lab exit without any ammo. You wouldn't want to go out after the sunset with ZoA, you really wouldn't. Random battles also happened in the Zone more often. You'd see dogs fighting boars, bandits fighting the military and all sorts of great random events occuring.
- In conclusion, I have to say that I am impressed. I expected another boring challenge in the old Zone, but no. I got a whole new challenge. New features were really great and graphics looked amazing. The mod shocked me and confused me at first. You really start out dazzled and brainwashed, but end up being the Ukrainian Rambo of the Zone of Alienation. I loved the mod and I believe that hardcore stalkers should try this mod at least once or twice.
- 9.5 / 10 - A ground-breaking and awesome mod that every stalker fan should play through at least once. You will learn that the Zone of Alienation is not that alienated...
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