The lights are on
Once in a great while, a game comes along that changes how you feel about a genre. Metro 2033 is one such game. For me, the game revived my faith in the FPS genre as a means of successful storytelling, as opposed to the twitch and pop gameplay of the traditional juggernauts of Call of Duty and Halo. Metro 2033 was released in early 2010 Metro 2033 is also unique in that it is a licensed property based off of an award winning book written by Russian author Dmitry Glukhovsky. The rare combination of strong source material and excellent production on the part of 4A Games (which is based in the Ukraine) created the much overlooked Metro 2033.
You will find numerous references to the written version of Metro 2033 throughout the game
The strongest part of the game is undeniably the atmosphere Metro 2033 evokes. You might have played various games set in a post apocalyptic scenario before (games like Fallout and Borderlands come to mind), but none of those games have ever really felt like people were actually living in those situations. Fallout 3 probably came the closest to presenting a realistic approach to a bombed out planet Earth. Metro 2033 leaves them all in the dust right from the beginning. Walking around Moscow’s subway system decades after the war which destroyed humanity you will see families squabbling, children drawing on the floors or walls, faded pictures and posters, radios playing music livestock in pens, beggars, etc. In short, it feels close to what the aftermath of nuclear Armageddon would be like. Enemy soldiers talk, banter, and even tell stories before they become aware of your presence. Metro 2033 is gritty and dark. It truly conveys the sense that humanity is on the verge of dying out and makes you wonder if that is really a bad thing given what humans have done to the world.
The following are examples of environments that look lived in
The atmosphere in Metro 2033 is helped in large part by the graphical presentation which is fairly impressive for a game that was released almost two years ago. The lighting effects are especially nice. There were several moments where I stopped to admire the lighting, most memorably when the light given off by a dead soldier’s headlamp was shining on a nearby wall and the play of shadows across as the fallen soldier’s companions passed his corpse trying to search me out. Unfortunately, animations are not as polished as they could be. This is not to say that they are bad, but they are at times decidedly unnerving. The eyes especially have an eerie, dead-ish look to them that persisted throughout the game. Sometimes animations would not run properly, for example there was a time when one of my companions died in a scripted sequence, but he continued to blink (with his eyes closed) which soiled the moment for me.
The eyes... THE EYES!!!!
Another laudable aspect of Metro 2033 is the gameplay. You might think that with games such as Borderlands and Fallout 3 on the market that developer 4A Games would take a page out of those respective books. Refreshingly, that is not the case. Metro 2033 is best described as a taut survival FPS. Ammo is everything in the dark tunnels of the metro. It is surprisingly easy to find yourself without ammo to fire and if you are not careful you will find yourself down to only your knife and wits. There are many different types of ammo, the most important of which is military grade ammo. It functions as a currency with which you can buy armor, new weapons, more normal ammo, health kits, etc. Additionally, military grade ammo can be used in your guns as a powerful last resort. There is a great variety of weapons available in-game. You have the traditional pistols, automatics, and shotguns as well as more exotic pneumatic, crossbow, and sniping weapons. Every weapon can be upgraded in stores with scopes, silencers, barrel enhancements, and better stocks to improve their functions. The gunplay is satisfying and has a very visceral feel with blood splashing the screen if you are close to your adversaries. Enemy types are mixed up nicely between humans equipped with different weapons and various monster types some of which are genuinely terrifying (i.e. librarians).
One of the best parts about the gameplay was that it left you free to decide how you wanted to tackle some of the larger scenarios, which was unexpected given that Metro 2033 largely takes place in confined subway tunnels. You can go in guns blazing and emerge victorious. However, it is usually more beneficial to use stealth and try to slip past undetected and save your ammo. Stealth is as simple as keeping to the darkness and moving slowly and silently. A light on your watch indicates how visible you are to potential hostiles. Broken glass, hanging cans, tripwire pipe bombs, various traps litter levels that alert enemies to your presence or end your life. To avoid being seen you can shoot out light bulbs and lamps to ensure darkness and make yourself harder to detect (a feature I found myself wishing more games had).
The music and sound design is worth mentioning briefly. It provides the game with an appropriate desperate and gritty soundscape that exudes moodiness. Occasionally you come across radios that play national anthems or chill guitar music. Guns make appropriate gun noises. Enemies scream angrily at you from behind cover. Monsters snarl and knives grate on metal. Towns are full of ambient talking and you can hear different conversations carried on all around you. Going into the overworld of a gas-filled tunnel also has a unique sound effect: breathing. In these sections you must wear a gasmask and the sound of your breathing and the muffled outside noise that these masks creates can get unnerving and add a nice layer of tension. It is quite impressive.
The story follows protagonist Artyom as he makes a daring journey through the subway system battling factions of Nazis and remnants of the Red Army as well as mutated monsters. He is set off to bring a message to the community of Polis requesting aid against an oncoming force of creatures referred to as “the dark ones.” There are actually two different ending depending on different decisions you make throughout the game. Artyom is a very contemplative main character and his narration runs through the entirety of Metro 2033 and manages to bring up a number of philosophical questions to chew on as you play that range from the right to live, right to kill, the nature of war, etc. The game is divided into seven different chapters with various breaks within each chapter during which loading takes place concealed beneath Artyom’s Russian accented narration.
There are a fair amount of bugs in Metro 2033. For starters, keys sometimes get stuck in an active position and you will find yourself constantly moving forward or sideways. At other times you can become the victim of a poorly timed auto-save and get stuck against a particularly hard group of enemies with little or no ammo. In one frustrating instance, the game locked me out of combat options while I was in the middle of battling monsters. Also, some scripted events are contingent on an AI companion being in the right spot and your companion will be stuck elsewhere. Overall, while these were very annoying, they didn’t occur with enough frequency or negative consequences to really detract from my gaming experience.
In closing, Metro 2033 is a great game. In fact, it might be a contender in my list of top ten favorite games of all time. I enjoy games with limited inventory systems and varying enemy types that also let you use other means to pass by enemies other than yelling loud and charging in all guns blazing. I don’t doubt that in the coming months more players will check out 4A’s work with the upcoming Metro: Last Light due to be released in 2012. Hopefully the extra attention will give Metro 2033 a bit more of a chance to shine. Metro 2033 is currently available on Xbox 360 and Windows.
Concept: Artyom struggles to save the humanity after nuclear holocaust
Art Design: Looks great even a couple years later
Sound: Moody and dark like the rest of the game
Playability: Having to make every bullet count makes every gunfight tense
Replay Value: Medium
Is It Fun?: Yes
Recommended For: People looking for a refreshing FPS experience
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