Mod of the Week: Autumn Aurora 2, for STALKER: Shadow of Chernobyl
Ah, Autumn. It’s a time for brisk walks through the woods with crunchy, colorful leaves underfoot. A time for taking deep lungfuls of crisp, fresh air. A time for stuffing diet sausages into your mouth while firing panicky rounds from an inaccurate pistol as irradiated dogs leap and snarl from the thick undergrowth. A time for the Autumn Aurora 2 mod, for STALKER: Shadow of Chernobyl.
While it adds a number of new features and elements, Autumn Aurora also serves as compilation mod, so it adds a bunch of stuff that's appeared elsewhere. Add that to the fact that It’s been ages since I’ve played any "vanilla" version of the Stalker games, and having used various mods over the years like Complete, LURK, the Zone Reclamation Project, Oblivion Lost, Misery, and others, I have completely lost track of what was included in the original games, which mods add which weapons, animations, sounds, textures, features, bug fixes, and so on. In other words, some of the following may seem a bit familiar if you've already spent some time in modded versions of Shadow of Chernobyl or the other Stalker games.
First things first, though: the Autumn look. It’s nice, though subtle. The Zone feels considerably more Autumn-like, with some orange, red, and amber shades and tones, though it preserves the bleak and hopeless nature of the Zone from the original game. The mod adds some new tree, grass, and plant models, textures, and colors, using an edited version of the Absolute Nature pack. There are some revised weather effects, and new sounds -- again, nothing that's going to hit you over the head or radically change the feel of the game, but you'll definitely notice improvements over the original and changes from some of the other mod packages out there.
A number of tweaks from the mod serve to retrofit Shadow of Chernobyl with elements from Call of Pripyat. Artifacts aren't just bumping along on the ground, completely visible, as they used to be. You'll need a detector to even know they're nearby, and they'll remain invisible until you're within very close range (similar to artifacts in CoP). This is a great addition, because artifact hunting is not only fun, but such sought-after relics should be a little harder to come by than just spotting and collecting them like Pac-Man dots. There are three different detectors available in the game, from the barely-functional Echo to the much more precise Bear.
Keeping your gear in workable order is important, as anyone who has had a misfire during a frantic bandit encounter can tell you. In addition to paying vendors to fix your guns, there are weapon repair kits you can carry around with you, and they're actually fairly common in the world as loot (I found three of them within a few hours of play). There are also repair kits for keeping your armor in good shape, though they seem to be much harder to come by, as I only spotted one during my time with the mod.
Medkits, when used, don’t instantly heal and aren’t instantly consumed. While you’re using one, you won’t be able to fire a weapon, so you’ll have to hole up in some cover for a few long seconds as you listen to the sounds of first-aid being applied. What’s more, your health won’t instantly spring up, but ever-so-slowly climb back to normal. And, you can’t just pop open three medkits at once: while the effects of one are underway, you can’t use another until the first has finished.
There are spots to sleep, giving you the option to crank the clock ahead, if you're looking to run some daytime excursions and avoid the pitch blackness of night (I think this was part of vanilla Call of Pripyat). There is also a requirement to eat, and it’s pretty well balanced: I never felt like I was constantly having to stuff food in my craw, but it happened often enough that I’d always remember to bring food along on expeditions.
Add in an extremely minimal HUD, a few new weapons, and a smooth, bug-free experience, and you've got a nice mod for rediscovering the dark and spooky embrace of Shadow of Chernobyl. It doesn’t feel like a major departure or complete overhaul, and doesn’t transform the game into anything we haven’t seen before, but it adds some subtle changes and plenty of enjoyable features. If you're looking for a break from a mod you've been using for a while, or looking to mod Shadow of Chernobyl for the first time, this is a good place to start.
Installation: It’s a hefty 4 gig download from Moddb, but it’s got its own installer, so there’s no manually mucking around with a bunch of folders and files. One note: if you play Stalker via Steam, there may be a conflict with the Steam overlay. This FAQ will explain how to void it by disabling the Steam overlay if you experience any start-up crashes.