Review: Metro 2033

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I have made my love for the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. games well known, with the excellent atmosphere of the post-apocalyptic setting augmented by the open-world design and the feeling that the world doesn’t exist solely because you are there. Some members of the original developer have formed 4A games and look to forge their own franchise in a post-apocalyptic world with a decidedly Russian feel. So how did they do? Read on and find out!

Metro 2033 is based on the novel of the same name by Russian Dimitry Glukhovsky, and you play as a young man named Artyom. Artyom was born on the surface mere days before nuclear war made it uninhabitable and forced survivors underground, and as such the Moscow underground is the only home he has ever known. Groups of survivors formed up and became units that search for food and resources, and often run into conflicts with other groups of underground-dwellers. There are over-sized rats and ghastly supernatural ‘Dark Ones’ and other perils in the dark and … well, dark world of the underground. It is a harsh life filled with hardship and conflict, but it is about to get even worse!

Suddenly Artyom needs to leave his home and join up in the Resistance and fight against the growing threat of mutants, meaning you are working alongside allies and adversaries alike. While doing this you discover that you have a special resistance to the influence of the Dark Ones, making you even more important.

There were a couple of things the developers did to make things feel more realistic. First, you need to wear a gas mask in order to survive when you venture above ground. But it isn’t magical – it has a limited filtering capacity and can only handle so many direct attacks before failing, at which point you need to hurry back to cover. Also, things feel like they have weight. At one point you need to carry a child and you can feel the controls and movement shift and become more difficult similar to how actually having to carry something would affect your movements.

However, the gas mask view is terribly limited and tends to be more annoying than effective. I certainly see what they were trying to do with it, and to an extent it works, but having such a limited view for so long gradually wore on me. Also, the control difficulties when carrying are merely a gimmick to keep you off-balance during a challenging sequence.

You can buy things throughout the game, and interestingly the currency is high-grade ammunition. You can choose to equip the ammo in your weapons, which is more powerful than standard rounds, but doing so is very expensive in terms of limiting your ability to buy new things. But since the extra power can mean the difference between life and death, it is a difficult decision to make!

In terms of technical details, the game looks like it is cut from the same cloth as S.T.A.L.K.E.R., with gritty and realistic settings that make the post-apocalyptic world seem very real. Real-time lighting and dynamic shadows add to an already tense environment, with the cramped living quarters and huddled people adding to the desperate nature of your plight.

The audio is stunning – particularly if you play with headphones! The soundtrack is solid but not overly memorable, but the effects from shooting guns in underground tunnels is simply amazing. Everything you hear as you work through each area is detailed and thoughtfully added to enhance the fear and tension … and it works. There is some audio that is ‘missing’ – the speech of your character. In true Gordan Freeman style you are the silent protagonist powering through the world.

In general, all of this works pretty well, and yet I found the overall experience rather bland and generic. The initial setup is provocative, the graphics lend themselves to a great game world, and yet from there the story just seems to fizzle and you are moving from set piece to set piece with little motivation. Also, Artyom is the typical FPS-cipher, with no personality and no response even though it appears everyone around you is looking for you to say something. The only time you hear him is in the occasional voice-over, which provides the majority of the story progression as well.

The two worst things for me were the dreadful stealth system and the wildly uneven difficulty. At one point you need to sneak past a group of neo-Nazis, and regardless of how well you have done in the past playing games like Thief, the enemies alternate randomly between having super-senses and being brain-dead. Similarly, there are times when you feel a light breeze would take out waves of enemies, and other times they feel like the ‘bullet sponges’ that ruined the end of Far Cry for me.

When I first got Metro 2033 I had a large number of technical issues with the game on my gaming laptop and set it aside for a while. Since then they have patched and updated it numerous times so that when I finally played all the way through I never had a crash or any significant issues with stutter or lag or anything else to detract me from the game.

Metro 2033 presents a compelling scenario, but too often fails to deliver on that promise. With too little variety of weapons, too many gimmicks, an unsatisfying stealth system and uneven difficulty, the game is too often more of a pain than a joy. The upside? It has been featured in a number of Steam sales already, and at some of the prices we’ve seen recently I would recommend Metro 2033 in a heartbeat … just not at full price.

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Pros:
+ Great world view
+ Some fun game mechanics
+ Intriguing setup

Cons:
– Stealth system is lousy
– Uneven difficulty
– Too many gimmicks

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PC, also available on Xbox 360
Publisher: THQ
Developer: 4A Games
Release Date: 3/16/2010
Genre: FPS
ESRB Rating: Mature
Players: 1
Source: Review copy provided by publisher

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About the Author

I have loved technology for as long as I can remember - and have been a computer gamer since the PDP-10! Mobile Technology has played a major role in my life - I have used an electronic companion since the HP95LX more than 20 years ago, and have been a 'Laptop First' person since my Compaq LTE Lite 3/20 and Powerbook 170 back in 1991! As an avid gamer and gadget-junkie I was constantly asked for my opinions on new technology, which led to writing small blurbs ... and eventually becoming a reviewer many years ago. My family is my biggest priority in life, and they alternate between loving and tolerating my gaming and gadget hobbies ... but ultimately benefits from the addition of technology to our lives!