“Going Underground, Where The Soviets Play And The Mutants Start To Pound” – Metro 2033 Review

METRO 2033 (2010) – 4A GAMES

In their final days before bankruptcy, THQ were giving away free codes for this game
In their final days before bankruptcy, THQ were giving away free codes for this game

First person shooters are ten to a penny these days, so in order to standout each one has to have its own little quirks: Battlefield has destructible environments, Halo has space combat and Call Of Duty has dogs – you get the picture. Metro 2033 took a different approach and crafted an FPS around a book, written by Dmitry Glukhovsky in 2005. The result is a shooter with more atmosphere and a deeper involvement in plot than most other titles on the market, albeit one crippled by its gameplay mechanics.

Metro 2033 is set in a world where Russia has been ravaged by nuclear warfare, and the remnants of humanity have taken to the underground Metro stations to survive. Life in the tunnels is hard, with different factions of Soviets and neo-Nazi’s engaging in squabbles over supplies whilst also fighting off the Dark Ones, mutated beasts that roam the overworld. You take the role of Arytom, a 20 year old soldier who travels to Polis to get support for his station which is threatened by the Dark Ones. Along the way, he meets characters that form an integral part of the books, as well as fighting off against members of both political factions and the mutants in Moscow.

Metro 2033’s biggest strength comes from the decision to focus on the grim atmosphere of apocalyptic Russia. In the brief moments that you spend in civilised locations, the feeling of hopelessness among the residents is beautifully captured. Children wail as their mothers try to console them, soldiers talk bitterly over lost comrades and narrow escapes from monsters, and the passageways are cramped and narrow. The entire world below ground is dark and dingy, requiring you to have a flashlight on at almost all times which runs the risk of alerting enemies. When going above ground, the air is so toxic that you need a gas mask on at all times, and as the filters begin to wear out Arytom’s breathing becomes more ragged and the inside of the mask begins to cloud up, exposing the cracks and scratches in the plastic. There is no traditional heads-up display that one might find in the likes of Battlefield or COD; instead Ayrtom must rely on a watch to tell how much time he has left before his filters run out, and by looking at the bullets left in his gun to see how much ammunition he has left to expend (the design of the machine guns in particular is quite inspired for this purpose). Metro 2033 does a damn good job of trying to place you within the nuclear hell.

Metro 2033 always seems to be on the verge of being scary...but never quite fulfills the ambition
Metro 2033 always seems to be on the verge of being scary…but never quite fulfills the ambition

Unfortunately, a lot of 4A Games efforts to create the atmosphere is then undone by shoddy gameplay. It’s not all a disaster; in fact there are a few features I really quite like. The best mechanic is the use of bullets – ammo is scarce in the Metro, and the decision therefore comes down to either using standard ammo or military grade rounds, which can be looted off bodies of be found hidden in the world. Military grade rounds are more powerful, but they also act as a form of currency for upgrading tools and buying weapons in the Metro. So, use them to stay alive in the short term or risk death for more powerful equipment down the line? The (difficult) choice is yours to make. I am also a fan of the menu interface – with no HUD to display objectives, Arytom whips out a clipboard and a lighter to tell him what to do, complete with a compass that shows the way. The compass needle sometimes gets very confused when different levels of a building are involved, but at least it’s better than a giveaway map.

Outside of this, Metro 2033 is often a very frustrating game to play. At several points the game forces you into stealth sections, which are made almost impossible by the AI. Even if you are completely hidden and take out a man silently (you have throwing knives and silencers for this job), sometimes an entire group of enemies will become automatically tuned to your presence and whereabouts, leading to a massive shootout were you become outnumbered and suffer a quick death. It soon becomes second nature to just ignore being Solid Snake and go in all guns blazing, which stands against the general atmosphere of the game. Fighting the Dark Ones is more satisfying, but it soon devolves into defending a position from waves of enemies and turret sections are made awkward by jerky analogue controls. The most annoying part of the gameplay for me is that Metro 2033 doesn’t capitalise on its few great moments. One of the earlier sections, ‘Ghosts’, sees you wandering around the Metro tunnels with Khan avoiding the mysterious anomalies that haunt the underground. It’s creepy as hell and makes you paranoid to keep the lights on for the rest of the game – but the enemies never turn up again. It’s a wasted opportunity, and the game never really scares you again all the way up to its conclusion which is poor form for a survival horror title.

The game is also hampered a bit at times by its questionable presentation. The post-apocalyptic setting is a good excuse to get the most basic colours on the scale into full time work, meaning the tunnels are a sea of browns and murky greens. For once, this isn’t a bad thing; the Metro and crumbling overworld are actually quite well designed considering the narrative, and the blurring of the world through a gas mask is a nice touch, but it’s not exactly mind-blowing. Character models are jerky and poorly lip synced to the dialogue, while the Dark Ones look like waxwork figures. The voice work ranges from acceptable to mediocre as men with fake Russian accents call you a ‘bitch’. You get the feeling that the game was developed on quite a small budget, which is a shame because the core idea deserves more.

In conclusion, Metro 2033 offers 8 to 10 hours of something a bit different from the usual FPS fare, an interesting narrative in need of a bit of refinement. It’s worth giving it a shot to indulge in environment for at least a short while, and if you persevere through to the end it puts you in a good position to pay through the recently released sequel Metro: Last Light.

6 out of 10

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