In Russia...Metro 2033 rides you!
Say hello to Metro 2033, a wild ride that proves not every shooter needs to have a Sergeant McShooty of the 10th Airborne SAS Ranger Division. Seriously though, the first person shooter space is crammed at the moment, there are modern shooters vying for position all the time and most of them are pitched firmly in the Special Operations vein. So it is completely satisfying then to become immersed in a STALKER-esque post apocalyptic shooter that puts the atmosphere back into this kind of game with a bang.
I'm not going to reveal too much about Metro 2033's story, suffice it to say that it's based on a novel by author Dmitry Glukhovsky who worked closely together with 4A Games. In 2013 the world as we knew it was devastated by a massive apocalyptic event, it annihilated virtually all of mankind and blasted the surface into a hostile wasteland. What life remained took refuge in the Moscow underground and lived on. Now it's 2033 and mutants, bandits and much worse roam the surface and the tunnels below. You are Artyom, a remarkable young man who is to play a vital role in things to come. Why and how, I'm not going to say, just enjoy the ride and give the game a chance because whilst the story starts off slowly it kicks into high gear and leaves you breathless.
Also, the game evaluates your actions along the way and the ending changes depending, how it changes, I'm not going to tell you.
Do not expect an open world game when you go into Metro 2033, this is a shooter first and foremost but it's a tightly made 'linear' one at that. Whilst some of the shooter controls feel a little imprecise at times you quickly get to grips with the way things work. Metro constantly challenges you that way, to change your tactics and avoid a guns blazing route. Metro's mechanics are the same as many other shooters, but what sets it apart from the rest are various key elements that make the game far more interesting. Not since BioShock has a shooter been as atmospheric or fun for me.
The need to conserve ammo in Metro 2033 is paramount, this is a Survival Horror shooter and it pushes you into some vicious confrontations with human and mutant alike. You bleed ammo quickly and since most of the rounds you'll be using are basically dirty ammunition, the name given to post-blast ammo, they're cheap to produce and less effective. The military grade rounds can be switched out for the dirty, but they are also your currency in the Metro Stations, without them you can't get the best new toys and you'll be scavenging and fighting to survive a lot harder. There are also people who might ask for a single bullet or two since they're starving, whether you give them a round or not is up to you.
You are rewarded for exploring off the beaten track in this game, but you have to weigh the consequences. There might be a cache of ammo and military grade ammunition, or there might be mutants or worse waiting off in the dark and claustrophobic tunnels. There are also pockets of gas, radiation and the surface is a hostile place where a survival suit and gasmask are required. Again, Metro forces you to think on your feet and heightens the sense of immersion by removing HUD based feedback; everything you get in game is mainly from the character feedback.
You must swap out filters in your gasmask, or you will die. If you get too much damage to your mask, you'll need to find a new one. These elements turn every hostile area and surface encounter into a desperate race for survival. Your watch tracks how many minutes you have left on a particular filter and has a small light meter built in. This meter varies from red to green and shows how visible you are. In some places you can blow out the gas lamps, turn off power boxes and shoot out lights. It's extremely well done and brings to mind some of the early play from the Thief series.
The weapons in Metro 2033 are refreshing as well; these are unique, original hand-made weapons from a post-apocalyptic society where the people have cobbled together their guns from parts left over from other weapons. There are pneumatic based sniper rifles, pistols with rifle stocks and scopes that turn them into deadly long range weapons. The game is extremely true to the source material and delivers a heady chunk of that world right to the player. Don't expect these guns to be highly accurate, just expect them to put bullets in your foes if you're lucky.
Between the friendly and not-so friendly stations there are claustrophobic tunnels and hostile surface expeditions, there are corpses of the dead littered around and spare caches of hidden weapons, there are traps to disarm for the unwary and every step could be your last. The gameplay reflects this and the whole experience is a cinematic one that keeps you on the edge of your seat, constantly checking your in-game watch to see how much time is on your filter, how much light is there and so on. You can use med kits to replenish lost health and even though Artyom's health does come back over time, it regenerates slowly so bigger wounds need a kit or it's dying time.
The game also keeps you immersed with a journal and map; these are physical objects and must be used. You can illuminate the map with a lighter if it's too dark to see. You also have a headlamp that never runs out of juice, but slowly diminishes over time to a low glow. You can recharge this by pumping up a portable recharger for a few seconds. This recharger also helps recharge your night vision goggles, since the lamp can attract the enemies' attention.
Finally, Metro 2033 offers interactive cut-scenes and some simple Quick Time Events to drive the story forwards, none of the QTE's are complex or hard, they spice things up a little and never detract from the game at all. The game uses a fairly forgiving check-point save system.
Metro 2033 is one of the better looking games out there; it has a level of detail for the post-blast world that is excellent. The atmospheric nature of the tunnels and the devastated surface world are brought to light with all the graphical tricks that you'd expect of a big budget title. In short, it's a beautifully atmospheric journey through the darkest places of human imagination, a frighteningly real depiction of a possible future. The game does a fantastic job pulling you in and immersing you, the gasmask cracks start to show when you get too damaged. The edges of the mask frost over and the mask mists up as you explore for prolonged periods of time. All of the visual effects are great, especially when you're in combat and someone shoots out a light, plunging you into a pool of shadow.
The physics system supports numerous objects that can be broken, cover that can be blown apart and people that are thrown around like rag dolls from a huge explosion. It supports hit location damage and so forth. Basically, things react like they should react.
The animations on Metro 2033 are solid, they look realistic and nothing really looks stiff. The mutants that you encounter all have a very distinctive attack pattern and this is beautifully animated. Weapon reloads are excellent and every gun feels unique. Using a med kit, checking your watch, journal and compass are all competently brought to life and again aid in the immersion factor.
The sound in Metro 2033 is excellent; it's atmospheric and extremely well done. There are moments in the tunnels that are reminiscent of the Shalebridge Cradle from the Thief series and they sent a shiver down my spine as I was playing. The dark tunnels are suitably disturbing and the audio brings the whole atmospheric nature of the game to a new level. The surface is incredible with howling winds and a nuclear winter that gusts about. Artyom's breathing in his gasmask is also disturbing since it becomes more laboured as the filter runs down and provides an audio cue to you that you're going to need to either swap out, or find a spare filter - failure to do so can leave you dead in thirty seconds if that. The weapon sounds and the rest of the sound suite are top notch and the whole package is excellent.
Darkly atmospheric, Metro 2033 has an excellent score that evokes the post apocalyptic and bitter fight for survival in a world plunged into a nightmare.
The voice work in Metro 2033 is fairly good, there are a few performances that don't quite gel but the rest of them are pretty solid. The actors all do their parts very well. The script is fairly decent too, it does a good job of remaining fairly focussed and the story-driven feel is heightened by characters that are competently written. My firm favourite so far is definitely a man known as Khan, and that's all I will say.
None...none at all, this is a tight single player experience and definitely produces just that.
Metro 2033 doesn't break new ground, it certainly might not feel like an A-list title to a lot of people but I've seen worse games get top marks from the gaming press. Metro 2033 doesn't really innovate but what it does do is provide masses of atmosphere and immersion, hours of fun and a dark look into the human psyche that you don't often expect from a shooter. Not since Thief the Dark Project has stealth and first person been so well implemented and the gasmask/filter mechanic provides a suitable edge of terror in a world where every step could leave you frozen on the surface or breathing out your last in a mutant ridden tunnel.