I'm a huge fan of Stalker: Shadow of Chernobyl. I've played through it countless times but I have never done so with one of the full game overhaul mods that are out there. So the last time I decided to battle my way through the Zone I thought it was a good time to try a Mod as I did so.
The MOD I decided to use is one called LURK. It's put out by a group of people that post over on 4chan or at least they use to. I'm not sure if they still hang out on that board as I am a little late to the LURK party. I believe this was released in 2009 but it may be a little earlier than that. What I do know is I played the 1.1 release from June of 2010. After the very simple install process I was ready to see the Zone in a whole new way and I am really glad I did.
This Mod doesn't really change any of the core story to Stalker: Shadow of Chernobyl (From here on just called Stalker) but it adds and takes away some things from the core game play. Once you've loaded the game and started you come to a new title screen with the LURK logo and all the usual options except multiplayer, that is gone and really who plays Stalker games for the multiplayer? I've never even tried it let alone spend any time with it. You start the game and see the usual cut scene of you being brought in to Sidorovich then you notice the changes.
All the textures have been changed and they look amazing. All the places in the Zone look like they're suppose to but they all look so much better than the core game does. Lighting effects are improved and really add to the whole atmosphere of this experience. Another thing done to help with immersion is the removal of the HUD. Gone are your life, brain and radiation meters. The mini map is gone as you have to rely on your PDA map to get around. The only thing that remains are some very small words letting you know your weapon stats, Rate of fire, ammo in the magazine and the surplus of ammo left. While knowing your current ammo is important they should of just done away with that and had a completely clean gameplay area. The other thing I really like is the improved weather effects. When it rains in the Zone it pours and when the sun goes down you can't see 5 feet in front of you. There was a time I was waiting for the sun to come up so I decided to run to a Stash right near the Stalker Village in the Cordon. On my way back I was jumped by a couple Boars and I had no idea where they came from and I couldn't see them until they were right on top of me it was really fun. The darkness also makes night missions way more interesting as you are in complete blackness except for a flashlight or the night vision if you've found a suit with it installed. The character models all look great, people and monsters alike all look way better than the core game. It may seem like here I'm just saying, "Hey this looks better, it's great!" But it's true the game flat out looks better and it still run all maxed out no problem on my system.
The overall biggest change to Stalker with LURK installed are the guns. First off the Mod adds a ton of new guns for you to use. While the base game had a good selection it felt a little light as you usually ended up with an AK of some kind and maybe a sniper rifle later in the game. With the weapon selection in this you have way more options. First off I used the AK as soon as I got my hands on one but soon I switched it up and started to play around with what else this offers. Guns behave more like they would in real life, recoil is crazy if you go full auto on a machine gun, the kick will have you looking into the sky and swaying all over the place if you hold down the trigger. When aiming you do not have a completely steady aim, it sways as you look down the sights or through a scope. The Mod creators said this is to add the "human element" to shooting as you will have sway when aiming a real gun and it's a cool addition. The guns in the base Stalker were not the most accurate, you could shoot someone pretty close and still miss completely. This has also been fixed and shooting from the hip works pretty well if you're in a close combat situation even without the crosshair. I was able to shoot people pretty easily from the hip and it best to do this in close quarters then try to iron sight. Near the end of my first playthrough of Stalker I was pretty much only using the G36 and it was the same thing in the Mod. As soon I was able to get one it was all I used until inside the Power Plant when I switched to the FN2000. So in the end I loved all the new guns but I ended up using what I always did and while it felt better to shoot it then in the base game I would of liked to find a new gun to depend on. But that's just me you're mileage with the the guns may change.
The other big change and apparently this is only with later versions of this Mod like the 1.1 I played are with the artifacts. In this Mod they are powerless, they do not give you the stat bonuses like they do in vanilla Stalker. I really, really liked this as you needed your own skill to survive and didn't depend on becoming a power house through the use of Artifacts. Now they're really vendor trash but they are worth a lot so it's still worth it to pick these up and take them back with you to sell. It brings the game more in line with the source material Roadside Picnic as I remember the artifacts not having any powers in the book but people still wanted them. Selling them is great because money has a bigger need in this Mod. You can repair weapons and armor, buy hotel rooms to pass time and all the vendors sell way more stuff then in vanilla.
I did have some problems while playing this but the biggest one was my own fault and I'll save that one for last. As you play the game can hitch up making it seem like it's going to crash. I can best describe this as being like lag in an online game, I'm going to guess it's the mod and the game's engine conflicting or something, I'm not sure but it's not a big deal. Speaking of crashes I did have a few. When I first played Stalker the game crashes twice the whole time through and that was with Windows Vista. This time I'm using Windows 7 and I had maybe about 3 or 4 crashes. Again not a big deal for a Modded game that was released before Vista was a thing but crashes are there so just quick save often.
(Slight Spoilers Ahead)The biggest issue I had was after fighting one of the Controllers. When a Controller attacks you the screen goes fuzzy and your vision goes all double. When this happened in Lab 16 I killed it and started to head back to the Bar. The double vision didn't go away but I figured this was due to the increase of difficulty in LURK, it would take longer for this effect to go away in real life I thought to myself. Well I made it back to Rostok and Duty opened fire. I didn't know why and with the double vision I had a hard time against them. After some research I found a patch for the 1.1 verison of LURK. I had downloaded the whole mod again thinking the patch was included in the zip file but I was wrong. One of the bugs the patch fixes is the endless Controller double vision. I installed the patch and the double vision went away. After that I went back to look at the path from X-16 to Rostok in my double vision daze I had killed some Duty guys, oops!
I mentioned the higher difficulty in the mod and yeah it's there. With all the guns being more accurate the NPCs are better shots and without the minimap to show you where they're all hiding you can get shoot from a good distance so you need to be careful and keep a good lookout. For me it added to the tension of being in the Zone but for some it may be overwhelming. If this sounds like something you may not be into play this at a lower difficulty. I didn't play on Master, I played on Veteran and until I had some good armor I was getting destroyed, with the proper armor and a good understanding of the shooting you can get through this game no problem. I think people play Stalker Mods like this one for the challenge so I'm going to assume anyone reading this isn't afraid of a challenge.
To end this, LURK is a fantastic total conversion of Stalker. Being the first one I've tried I have a lot of fun playing Stalker with this installed. I plan on trying out some of the other Stalker Mods out there namely Oblivion Lost which I've heard a lot of good things about but for now the main way I'll play through Stalker is with LURK installed.
I'm not going to assign a number score to LURK as it's a mod but if you own Stalker: Shadow of Chernobyl download LURK and try it out it's so good and make sure you have the patch.
Link to download LURK 1.1 and the patch.