When was the last time that you put a halt to your everyday activities to simply enjoy the sun on your face or breathing fresh air? Such indulgences may not be available in a not-so-distant future, as the premise of Metro 2033 states.
Metro 2033 is a First Person Shooter / Survival Horror game based on a novel with the same name written by Russian author Dmitry Glukhovsky. It was developed by 4A Games and is distributed by Deep Silver. 4A Games is an independent game development studio from Malta that has brought us Metro 2033 and a sequel called Metro: Last Light. Deep Silver is best known for the Dead Island series and the Saints Row series. The game was developed using 4A Games’ proprietary 4A engine and features Nvidia PhysX and PathEngine.
Twenty something years ago the Earth was ravaged by nuclear warfare. The survivors from the Russian capital took to the deserted Moscow Metro underground railway system to ensure their survival. Factions were formed, battles were fought over the scarce resources and living space and now the Metro inhabitants live in frail and relative peace. Such peace could end in any moment as the factions known as “The Reds” and “The Fascists” resume their war and mutants from the outside born from the radioactive contamination push their way into the Metro. There are plenty of other human factions, of which “Rangers” are the most relevant to the plot. Rangers are a sort of “knight-errants” in this noxious, post-apocalyptic world. Unlike other factions, Rangers refrain from participating in conflicts among humans and work hard to ensure the continuing survival of the human race.
In Metro 2033 you take the role of Artyom. Artyom is a young man living in the Exhibition Station of the Moscow Metro. He was born a few years prior to the nuclear holocaust and has lived most of his life in the Metro tunnels, raised by a man named Alex. Artyom has grown fond of Alex and cares for him as if he were his father. Alex had seen the world before its destruction and Artyom cherishes Alex’s mementos from his past travels. Artyom wants to become a Ranger and see the world (or whatever remains of it) but Alex wants him to work in Exhibition Station, away from (mostly) all the dangers that this new post-apocalyptic world has to offer. Their quiet lives will change when they receive a visit from Alex’s longtime friend Hunter, a Ranger. Hunter and his fellow Rangers have been investigating a new threat, far more dangerous than warfare, brigands or the ubiquitous mutants they’re used to see. Artyom and Hunter embark on a mission to unravel this great threat to the haven they live in. Artyom is a silent protagonist, much like Claude Speed from GTA III and Gordon Freeman from the Half-Life series and the story is told through NPC dialogue and Artyom’s journal entries, which are read in loading screens.
Recently in the industry “Press F to feel”, overly extensive cinematics and QTEs have been becoming the norm. It is quite refreshing to have a game that allows to jump right into the story and not treat us gamers as if we were an obstacle in the developer’s storytelling. However, not everything is a bed of roses for Metro 2033’s plot and storyline. A world where conflicting extreme ideologies such as German Nazism and Soviet Communism have been embraced and perhaps taken out of context by the survivors of a nuclear holocaust is a strong and compelling idea, but it’s never explored at more than a superficial level. As such, an attractive premise with a solid plot that could have been overly engaging ends up being merely functional. Throughout the game’s linear story, you’ll encounter various metro stations, which have formed their own communities and ideals. You can listen to the huge amount of conversations that NPCs engage in, perfectly shaping this miserable world. The Metro stations really feel like they’re full with life, although it’s life that’s despairingly hanging on by a very thin thread. Few games get you so immersed into their fictional worlds as flawlessly as Metro 2033 does.
When it comes to playability, Artyom’s adventure will not be an easy one for any player. Metro 2033 is a FPS but relies heavily on its classic survival horror elements. That means the ammo, health and other resources are very scarce. Even in the least challenging difficulty settings, the players will have to rely on stealth and their wits to make it through map sections and take down any enemies they may find. Ammunition, like stated before, is scarce and the player will have to pick his fights carefully in order to save enough ammo to get to the next section. Each kind of enemy tend to have their own strengths and very few weaknesses, and the player is going to have to study those very well. Any encounter can kill Artyom, thus making the combat sequences and their preparation very tense.
There are balance issues with Artyom’s and his enemies’ health. It takes nearly two magazines of 5.45 mm “dirty” rounds to kill a human enemy at relatively close range, but Artyom can’t take less than half than that because otherwise he’ll be dead. In the game jargon “dirty” rounds are bullets which were manufactured after the nuclear holocaust in the metro using substandard procedures and materials. Headshots against enemies are rarely rewarded with an instant kill. Most enemies choose to wear helmets, so it takes nearly three headshots to kill them. Sniping is pretty useless because when you finally get to kill an enemy, the whole enemy party is on alert and you’ll likely be mowed down by gunfire.
Metro 2033 attempts to create a cat-and-mouse combat situation but it doesn’t succeed at all. You can shoot lightbulbs to create darkness and you can choose alternative paths to try to outmaneuver your enemies, and you certainly want to avoid stepping broken glass or rudimentary alarm systems to close up and kill stealthly. Woefully, the enemy AI is ill equipped to handle this. Enemies almost always see you, despite being in a totally dark place, and any attempts at outmaneuvering usually end up with the enemies spotting you regardless of your position.
The aforementioned issues make it seem like 4A cheated in order to make the game more tense. Metro 2033 didn’t need to cheat with its damage ratios and AI in order to make the game more tense. Artyom’s health is very low and he is almost always outnumbered and outgunned. If he is shot, it always reduces him to a very small fraction of life, which can take up to thirty seconds to heal, unless you have a rare medikit and are willing to spend it. The game does not want you to get shot, and if you do, death is most likely to follow. Fans of more traditional “run & gun” FPS will likely be confused by Metro 2033’s action and pacing.
Regarding ammo, every bullet is worth its weight in gold. This is represented by the “military grade” bullets you can find lying around throughout the game. Military grade ammo is way deadlier than regular, “dirty rounds” ammo, and they’re highly valued because of it. As such, military bullets have become the currency of the Metro, and if you choose to use them in combat, you’re effectively shooting away your precious money at enemies. Without your military grade bullets, you can’t buy any supplies or weapon upgrades.
Luckily, there’s almost always just enough “dirty rounds” ammunition to finish the job if you loot enough. Dead enemies usually have all kinds of bullets stashed in their pockets, and there are various caches scatterd around most levels. The satisfying loot-grabbing of a roleplaying game or the Borderlands series is evoked in Metro 2033’s gameplay, except unlike an in a RPG or a Borderlands game, you’re not getting ultra cool gear that might boost your stats or look awesome. Everything you loot is vital to Artyom’s survival.
You have enough resources to survive, but *just* enough. The feeling of “staying alive” diffuses through the entire game experience and it all adds to the marvelous atmosphere that 4A Games set up. Either if you’re fighting the Red Army or mutant wolves, this is an intense and horrific game. You always feel that you’re only one mis step away from death, and even early shootouts against common brigands can take a very long and stressing time to win as you constantly try to get the upper hand against an battle hardened enemy.
Even though the graphics are dated for today’s standards, the game still looks pretty awesome and has aged well. It’s in the design department where this game’s visuals really shine. The overall aesthetics reminds us of similarly themed post-apocalyptic games Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas, though Metro 2033 is considerably darker and edgier. Enemies are well designed overall, the many kinds of mutants and humans of different factions are perfectly distinguishable from each other. Levels are somewhat linear, while they still allow room for some exploration, it’s pretty much “get from A to B” all the time. The English dub is nothing short of excellent, complete with Russian accents and so are the sound effects. Man, those mutant roars and groans are scary. The music is distinctive and adds well to the scary post-apocalyptic atmosphere. Two endings and a lot of achievements add to this game’s replayability.
I recommend this game to all gamers who enjoy singleplayer survival horror and post-apocalyptic games but *only* if you’re willing yourself to let this game batter you into submission. Metro 2033 wants to be played in a certain way and it will beat the crap out of you and steal your lunch money if you fail to comply. If you do comply, however, you will get completely lost in the magnificent atmosphere and rendition of the post-apocayptic underground Moscow, resulting in a very satisfactory gaming experience.