Best selling games these days aren’t often made from companies outside of the UK, USA or Japan, so when news of a title from Eastern Europe shows up interest is bound to start flowing, even more so when it’s a companies first title. While Metro 2033 may be 4A Games’ first title, they aren’t exactly strangers to videogames, as the company was founded by people who split off from GSC Game World (the team behind S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Shadow of Chernobyl).
When Metro 2033 showed up on my doorstep I had no knowledge of what I was about to experience. I knew Wugga had found sections “claustrophobic” thanks to a hands-on in Auckland and that the ButtonMasher community was getting excited about it, but that’s all. Upon loading up the game I was met with thick Russian accents, atmospheric tunnels and an uncertainty about how good this title was going to be.
The game doesn’t beat around the bush and before any title screen appears you find out who you’ll be playing as throughout the journey through Russia’s Metro system and why mankind (at least in Russia) has been banished to live underground. Great war, nuclear explosions and mutants give us the post-apocalyptic Russia setting that you’ll grow to feel uncomfortable with.
The story seems good enough, and while it won’t win any awards for creativity it sure as heck could have. There’s a lot of things that almost get pulled off extremely well, but for the majority you’ll be left with a sense of longing. Artyom (the Russian you’ll be playing as) takes it upon himself to venture away from his home away from home inside the Metro system to send word of attacks on his small “village”. Armed with some fairly low calibre armoury and a few bullets you really start feeling the need to conserve ammo, use knives, maybe the bunt of your gun and decide whether or not to utilise your shiny bullets to kill off the encroaching mutants or to save them so you can afford (the high quality rounds are also the currency in the Metro) better weapons or more low quality ammo.
This sense of scavenging comes across incredibly well, and when you find dead comrades or fascist German soldiers you’ll find yourself relieved at the amount of ammo they happen to have strapped to them. A quick rummage through their ammo clips will find yourself restocked and hopefully prepared to make it through to the next sub-station. The game is broken up into chapters and sub-chapters with some nice narration to keep your interest through the many load screens (which would have been a problem if I wasn’t being narrated to).
Two of Metro’s shortcomings are found in the story section of the game, and for a game that is entirely a single player story driven experience that isn’t so good. Firstly, you’ll never really form any form of relationship with the many “friends” you meet along the way. Inevitably they will be killed before you get a chance to really care about their death just for you to carry on your journey alone once more; and secondly, the plot never really goes anywhere. There are hints of amazingness that show up whenever Artyom has a “flash” or blackout that insinuates some deep paranormal thing will entwine its way to the very end, and while it does there just isn’t enough explanation about what these “dark ones” are, what they’re trying to achieve, whether they’re actually bad, and why they’re ridiculously easy to beat.
Don’t get me wrong, the mutants strewn through the game aren’t as easy to beat, and the constant and unforgiving rate that they come at you will challenge many even on the normal difficulty. Part of this is due to the rather iffy quality of the controls, as I found most fire fights frustrating and no amount of fiddling with sensitivity in the options seemed to fix this. I could just be ridiculously bad at shooters (shush sockmerchant) but something just didn’t feel right. Shooting isn’t the only thing happening in Metro 2033 so it’s lucky it does everything else so right.
The atmosphere in Metro 2033 is perfect and while the graphics aren’t groundbreaking (on 360 at least) the use of light and sound really help make you feel isolated even when you’re fighting alongside a few others. A gasmask plays a fairly big role in a post-apocalyptic world, and the second you hear poor Artyom clamouring for a breath you’ll know it’s time to don it. In most games this is where the gasmask interaction would end, but the guys from 4A Games really wanted you to feel unsafe at all times. At any time your gasmask can be broken and this shows with the slow onset of cracks in the glass, also the filters used to help cleanse the filthy air from Artyom’s lungs each have a time limit that can be viewed on his watch (viewed by holding down the LB button). While I never ran out of gasmasks or filters in my journey across the Metro, I did have a constant fear that it might happen.
While you’ll never really come across any boss battles there are enough sections of the game that give you climactic moments to remember. I’ll never forget the prostitute in the first sub-station I visited, not really a boss battle, but definitely an interaction that stayed with me the entire game. Then there are the “librarians”; he’s always hated librarians. The game hints at one boss battle, only for it to not eventuate, which left me a little disappointed, but to me that rings true for the story overall.
It might sound like I’ve been quite harsh on Metro 2033 throughout this review, but I really did enjoy the atmosphere that 4A Games handed me. There’s definitely a feeling of isolation and dread that flows through the entire game but in the end the game falls flat due to the story just not getting enough polish. I wanted more surrounding what happens between Artyom and the Dark Ones, and it never eventuated into anything more than a bizarre dream sequence.
For an authentic experience switch the voices over to Russian and chuck the subtitles on, although you might already have these on due to the sometimes hard to understand thick Russian accents. Those looking for a first person adventure that doesn’t feel like every other western FPS, then this is definitely worth a look at, but if you’re already a little underwhelmed by the slew of great shooters out there, this one might not be for you.