Ah, Halloween, a time of candy, costumes, and scares. Kids running around at night seeking to fill up goody bags with treats that would give grown ups major tooth problems. Adults scrambling to buy goodies for the mob of kids that will show up at their doors. It’s hard to imagine what modern society would be like without Halloween, almost like an empty wasteland! In fact, the Ukrainian development studio 4A Games must have thought of this scenario, as they surely created Metro 2033 to showcase a world where Halloween doesn’t exist anymore (among other things, like civilization in general, I suppose).
In truth though, Metro 2033 has absolutely nothing to do with Halloween. Metro 2033 is actually a first person shooter with quite a number of survival horror elements. For some people, survival horrors may count as Halloween-related content, so it may actually fit. Based off a Russian novel of the same name, Metro 2033 is set in a world where all the bombs have been dropped, and the surface is pretty damned irradiated, where you can’t even walk on the surface without a gas mask. Rather than stay on the surface, run out of air filters, and die, everyone decided to move underground and inhabit the tunnels. Oh yeah, and it takes place in the year 2033. So there, now you know why it’s called Metro 2033.
You play as Artyom, a young man who was born before the bomb drop, but only just before, so he wouldn’t remember anything. He likes famous landmarks from around the world, and narrating short summaries with a very dry tone of voice. Sort of like Gordon Freeman, Artyom has almost no other characterization otherwise. Like Half-Life 2, Metro 2033 is a first person shooter where the point of view never leaves Artyom (except for a tiny amount of awkward out-of-body cutscenes). In fact, “Metro 2033 is a Ukrainian Half-Life 2″ is a pretty apt comparison.
Metro 2033, as such, is a pretty linear game. In fact, it was so linear, that I was always surprised when the game had any degree of nonlinearity. If you don’t like linear games in the slightest, then you’re probably going to hate this game. In fact, if you’re a fan of S.T.A.L.K.E.R., I wouldn’t be surprised if you hate this game, as well. Beyond this, the basic gameplay is fortunately works pretty well. Shooting guns works as it should, as do the guns themselves (though certain guns aren’t very balanced). Essentially, Metro 2033′s framework is pretty solid.
On top of the game’s basic framework are a multitude of unique aspects and ideas. As mentioned, Metro 2033 is also a survival horror game, and it does a pretty good job, at that. Metro 2033 is a very atmospheric game. Almost every aspect of the game was designed around the atmosphere, it seems. Metro 2033′s atmosphere is not typical horror, but actual survival (in addition to horror). It may seem like a very odd choice for a game as linear as Metro 2033, but it works out pretty well. Metro 2033 isn’t a game about just getting through fights; having to ration supplies for potentially difficult encounters in the future is always a pressing concern. This strain on supplies thus makes it important to scavenge everything you can.
Admittedly, there is a lot of ammo lying around, but that’s because you have to use a lot of it. This may seem counterintuitive for a game that seemingly focuses on survival so much (and also makes combat pretty jarring), but in place is a very interesting ammo system. The normal ammo you see lying around everywhere are very low quality, rounds made after the bombs fell. They lack the punch of ammunition from the old world, and will not kill things easily. You can find military-grade 5.56 mm rounds, rounds made before the bombs fell, and they work very well, giving you a supreme advantage. However, there’s an interesting catch when it comes to this military-grade ammunition. First, these 5.56 mm rounds are pretty rare. Second, these rounds are used as currency in the metro. As you might imagine, Metro 2033 presents an interesting conundrum. At any point, would you keep using dirty rounds to save rounds for something at the next station, or do you want to “shoot money” and kill things faster than usual?
In practice, I don’t think this conundrum was realized as well as it could’ve been. I rarely found myself using these rounds. I found the dirty rounds sufficient throughout the entire game (though I almost ran out near the end), and I’ve only ever bought 2 or 3 things (mainly because almost everything you can buy can be found throughout the game). By the end, I winded up with a stockpile of military-grade ammunition. I probably could have used military rounds more often, as I mentioned how jarring it could be to get into firefights where it takes an entire clip to kill someone, but there never was a need to use them. I suppose the urge to use those 5.56 mm rounds becomes much greater on higher difficulty levels, but to me, the ammunition system is a very great idea that falls flat on its face.
Fortunately, other aspects of the game are much more sound. Metro lacks any form of a HUD, save for a small ammo count pop up when you switch to a weapon. Using the gas mask (for when you go into dangerous areas of the Metro) requires a constant supply of air filters, which forces you to not dawdle. Said gas mask, by the way, can be damaged, and if it gets too damaged, it will start to leak. Rather than checking a menu or screen for objectives, Artyom writes everything on a memo pad, which is another item you can interact with (along with a lighter in case it’s too dark to read the memo pad). Your helmet contains a flashlight, but the flashlight’s intensity varies, and can be powered up with a mechanical device (you’re gonna want to keep your flashlight fully charged, as the tunnels can get pretty dark).
These all add to the experience. And I’ve got to say, they work out very well. Some of my favorite parts of the game are the ones where you’re going down the tunnels, which downright feel very dark and uninviting. I imagine going down the tunnels in Metro feels like how it would be to go down the tunnels in the real Moscow metro system, despite all the monstrosities and stuff in Metro 2033. In Metro, I constantly have the feeling that I’m all alone in the tunnels, which makes me feel quite lonely. Granted, there are other human beings in the game, and you do interact with them quite often (though I certainly don’t think anyone you meet in this game is memorable). However, the feeling of loneliness makes these people you can interact with all the more precious, which makes the experience pretty personal.
One element I didn’t have the opportunity to talk about was stealth. At certain points, you have the option of either blasting your way through an entire base, or sneaking around them. Blasting works fine (though dirty rounds makes this activity very drawn out), and while stealth works for the most part, the AI is really weird. At times, enemies can be very blind, and not even see you when you’re five feet away, but when other times, they can see you from 100 feet away. And when they even catch a glimpse at you, suddenly every enemy in the vicinity will know where you are. It’s like the AI forgot the “searching” phase (though I suppose that’s better than “Must’ve been the wind” or something), which can make stealth a lot more tedious than it should be.
The game’s main plot, however, is a little weak, though it is clear that effort was actually put into it. As Artyom, you learn of the existence of beings called Dark Ones that threaten the safety of your station. Tasked with discovering the nature of these creatures and dealing with them, Artyom sets out on a journey down the tunnels to another station, where others may help him out. The plot is pretty fine. The scope is a little small for a shooter, but it works out well in Metro (at least until it rapidly increases in scale near the end). The plot itself isn’t exactly the most compelling or complex plot, and you can get by with literally the information told to you at the very beginning. I thought the climax and endings were a little on the weak side, as well. I know Metro 2033 isn’t like most shooters, so it’s not supposed to just build up the fanciest set pieces, but the game ends pretty anticlimactically. There are two endings, the default bad ending, and the hidden good ending, which requires you to jump through quite a few hoops to get. Hoops that are also almost entirely invisible, if I may add. The endings are both very short, and though they aren’t exactly “push button, receive ending”, there isn’t much resolution, and instead merely a setup for the sequel.
One additional aspect of the plot that I found very jarring was Artyom’s short journal entries. Now, I’m not talking about what Artyom writes on his memo pads, I’m talking about the narration found on loading screens between sections of the game. Throughout the actual gameplay, we get a very Freeman-like character, who never speaks, and is a completely reactionary individual. However, the narrative bits paint a different picture. We see an Artyom here who actually knows how to talk, and talks quite a bit (though in the dryest-tone possible). This is quite at odds with what’s presented during the actual game. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say Artyom is a mute, and all we’re getting in-between sections is his thoughts. The effect becomes very jarring when Artyom tells us he’s feeling something, when it’s very likely possible the player isn’t feeling the same thing. Honestly, they should’ve either made him talk the entire time (though I think a chatterbox Artyom wouldn’t be very interesting) or have him not talk at all. Currently, this half-and-half approach does not work.
If there’s one area Metro 2033 can show off in, it’s graphics. Metro 2033 is a very beautiful game, and looks very, very good. Textures, models, animations, particles, and lighting are all superb, and really help bring out the atmosphere of the game. However, Metro 2033 is somewhat poorly optimized, as some of the more advanced options are very taxing on PCs without necessarily enhancing the experience. Nevertheless, even without the DX11 features enabled, the game still looks wonderful and can run at a pretty decent framerate easily. Sound was pretty decent, on the other hand. The music was quite unique, using primarily a guitar for the melodies. However, I don’t recall music really enhancing or the experience, nor do I remember it detracting from it. I do remember some of the songs, but I didn’t find them very memorable when I was playing through the game, and I certainly don’t think so now. The voice acting is a little funky, as everyone speaks English with heavy Russian accents, and it can get a little comical. That being said, characters carry themselves pretty well, and the voice acting is generally pretty solid.
Overall, Metro 2033 is a first person shooter/survival with excellent atmosphere. It also has some very nice ideas, but the implementation of the game’s ammo idea was lacking. You’re never required to make the hard choice of having to shoot money or not, but using dirty rounds will make the game tedious at times, but not challenging. Enemy AI is really wonky, which makes stealth annoying, the story needs some work, and the Artyom narration idea should be scrapped. However, every other idea is implemented well, representing the game’s atmosphere almost flawlessly. Though Metro 2033 needs some more work (and a few trips back to the drawing board), Metro 2033′s heart is something that’s designed and implemented so well, that it defines the game, despite all my criticisms.
–Many unique ideas implemented well
–The ammo system
–Main plot’s a little weak
–The secret ending is very obscure and hard to reach without prior knowledge
–No memorable characters
–Music isn’t memorable
Developer: 4A Games
Available on: PC
Genre: First person shooter, survival horror
Release date: March 16, 2010
As an aside, I hope everyone enjoys their Halloween, and I hope all of our readers in Northeastern U.S. stay safe!