What is it with Russia that every single game set in the country has to be apocalyptic and post-nuclear war themed? I guess if anything good had to come from the disaster at Chernobyl it would have to be the abundance of awesome writing material that has spawned movies, novels and games galore.
Metro 2033 is based around writings from Russian author, Dmitry Glukhovski and takes place in Moscow following a nuclear holocaust. The desolate human survivors have taken refuge underground, constructing and residing in a network of tunnels that use subway stations and air-raid bunkers as hubs, known as “metros”. The nuclear madness has turned the outside surface world into a scorched and crumbling winter wasteland and, of course, has also resulted in numerous mutations amongst its former inhabitants. The combination of radioactive air, freezing conditions and hideous mutant creatures makes taking a stroll outside of the tunnels almost suicidal.
At this stage a lot of people will be reminded of FallOut 3. Granted, the visuals are similar with bleak and brilliantly depressing surrounds. But the gameplay manages to make Metro 2033 more in line with a traditional shooter and has a more “arcade” feel to it than FallOut 3. This is partly because the storyline in Metro 2033 is a linear one. There isn’t the sandbox flow of S.TA.L.K.E.R or the epic free-roaming feel of FallOut 3 here. But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Instead the action and storyline in Metro 2033 is intense and involving.
A cleverly designed, almost seamless heads-up display combined with flowing cutscenes gives Metro 2033 a cinematic feel from start to finish. It differs from your typical first person shooters by throwing in plenty of non-combat sequences and an emphasis on exploring and talking to characters along the way. As you wander through the murky tunnels you’ll come across fellow survivors chatting, trading and drinking themselves into a slow slumber. Kids are playing with rusty toy trucks on the dirty ground, drunken soldiers play guitars and manky looking prostitutes do the rounds. The depressing and creepy atmosphere is perfectly recreated with a level of detail that few games have bothered to capture.
As mentioned, the outside world is hostile and unfortunately you’ll often find yourself moving around on the surface often in order to achieve your objectives. When doing so, you’ll need a gas mask to survive the poisonous environment and although finding one is relatively simple, keeping it stocked with air filters can be a primary concern. The gas mask also gives the game an awkward claustrophobic feeling, perfectly mimicking the real-life thing from breathing sounds, fogged-up glass and even cracks that can appear. Considering you need to have your wits about you watching out for mutant killers, just moving around with the mask on can test your nerves. Your breathing also becomes less steady as your air filters run down (indicated beautifully by a timer on your wrist that you need to check) and gives Metro 2033 a heart-pounding survival feel. At times you feel so vulnerable you will feel the need to go into stealth mode in order to avoid any conflict.
This whole “alive-by-the-skin-of-your-teeth” vibe is carried across to a shortage of health packs and ammunition as well. Following the nuclear war, ammunition has become an actual form of currency amongst the survivors and is categorised into “dirty” or homemade bullets and “pristine” or military grade bullets. Of course the later is best for taking out mutant nasties but can also be essential for trading for air filters or med-kits. The “dirty” ammunition is less effective and inaccurate – but more readily available. Despite it being like moola you’ll still need the better “clean” ammo later in the game when you’ll come across different enemies including flying muties and wall-crawling nasties that can require a real pounding before going down. On top of the deformed monsters, not all of the human survivors opted to remain in the tunnels either and on the surface you’ll come across bandits who are clever, well armed and have a habit of leaving deadly booby traps in buildings. Trip wires and alarm bells on strings will keep you constantly on your toes as you sneak from one area to the next.
The weapons are fairly standard but well balanced throughout Metro 2033. They include a revolver, shotguns, machine guns, sniper rifles, grenades and even satisfyingly fun throwing knives. Although the combat in the game is well thought out, it was slightly unusual just how much punishment some of the enemies take before actually dying. Even low-armoured humans needed three shotgun blasts to the chest or multiple headshots. It gets worse when up against the bigger mutants and with limited ammunition supplies can be a nightmare. Especially considering that the mutants tend to sprint around hunched over on almost all fours making them almost impossible to hit. PC gamers will appreciate the accuracy of having a keyboard and mouse setup, but with enough care and practice a similar effect can be achieved on the 360 console with the standard controllers. Be prepared for a steep learning curve, however.
The end result is surprising. Metro 2033 came out of nowhere and lacked the marketing hype of games like BioShock 2 and Fallout 3, yet proved itself to be a good contender, sitting neatly between the two in terms of gameplay. The game also adds in a pinch of supernatural horror that reminded me strongly of the brilliant F.E.A.R titles. Metro 2033 is on par in the graphics department, creating a truly immersive and bleak world that no one wants to be in.
The soundtrack suits the mood perfectly and the voice acting is almost flawless. The solid, but slightly frustrating shooter mechanics, combined with pseudo-RPG elements works well and the game packs plenty of surprises into a well-crafted storyline.
If post-nuclear apocalyptic thrillers are your thing, then Metro 2033 should be on your “must buy” list.