Set in a post-apocalyptic world, Metro 2033 centres around the surviving remains of Moscow's society, harbouring in the tunnels and subways under the city. Based on Dmitry Glukhovsky's book of the same title, you play Artyom, a happy go lucky (ish) chap who inhabits this dystopian setting.
At first glance Metro 2033 might look like a first person shooter, but it soon becomes apparent that it spreads itself across a number of genres, touching on survival horror, adding a touch of stealth, sprinkling a little of that FEAR feeling into the mix. Metro 2033 doesn't just pitch you against your fellow man, it also sees you fight off a number of mutant beasts and takes you through a range of psychological experiences, never short on surprises.
Set mostly underground, the gameplay can be a little linear: you follow tunnels or routes through complexes, never really getting the freedom to roam. There are options open to you however, and digging around you'll find some alternative routes and approaches to different levels. It might be that you die trying too many times and attempt something different. Keep your eyes and ears open, because the clues are weaved into the very fabric of the game.
The environment of Metro 2033 poses plenty of challenges. Outside you need to wear a gas mask (and some points in the tunnels too) so you need to make sure you have spare filters. You'll encounter radioactive mushrooms, drifting mists will obscure your vision, your mask gets condensation, your peripheral vision will go fuzzy when you need to change the filter, all adding to the essential atmosphere in which the game thrives.
It won’t knock your socks off visually. The character models are interesting but can be a little robotic in cutscenes and you'll find some blocky nasties and rough edges, but it never really seems to matter. But there are some beautiful moments in the hallucinations you'll experience and some of the drifting mists are really well done.
From a sound point of view it borrows heavily from the horror genre, you'll hear animal noises, the distant sound of gunfire and the groaning and creaking of the tunnels. The comedic propaganda of the Nazis blaring out in the middle of a pitched battle will raise a chuckle, and the singing of your comrades may well stirrup a love of the Motherland in you. The accents might be a bit dodgy, but the sentiment seems authentic enough.
But Metro 2033 is really about your equipment, the key to your survival. Your mask needs to be kept safe, with filters. Your torch needs power and you have a handpump to recharge it - so too do your night vision goggles, once you find them. Then you have your weapons and ammunition, the only real currency of this tortured world. You'll need as much ammo as you can get and you'll need to pick it up as you find it, frisking corpses, checking corners, or buying it off the markets.
The weapons offer the familiar AK-47 "Kalash" and a range of pistols, shotguns, knives and grenades. When you come across a new weapon, you swap it out for one you have. You might like the Tihar, a pneumatic ball bearing gun, but you'll find shotgun ammo more plentiful. Decisions need to be made about what you carry and you'll often start a section of the game and then realise that you'd do better with something else. Too late, you just have to get on with it.
Your compass will show you which direction you need to be heading in, but it is well worth exploring as there are plenty of caches hiding around the place for you to seek out. The watch cleverly shows the real time, how long you have left on your filter and a traffic light style stealth meter. If it is green you are well hidden, if it is red, you can be easily spotted. It draws stealth into the frame where you might not have considered it. If you keep failing a level, try the opposite. Stop shooting, turn the lights off, go slow and try not to disturb any of the homemade alerts littered about the place. Metro 2033 doesn’t present you with puzzles as such, but it should encourage you to think laterally and plan your actions.
There is plenty of action on offer, although this isn't your traditional first person shooter. The shooting aspect is actually pretty poor. Some enemies will take several hits and barely notice: sometimes a shot to the head won't even register, yet many fall with a single thrown knife. The pace is slower than something like Modern Warfare 2, but at times you'll feel right on the edge of survival. This isn't a game for those who just want out and out action.
To keep the story running along the use of mini events and cutscenes is fairly frequent. To begin with the game can feel rather slow and the number of breaks can be a little frustrating. But once you are into some of the longer sections you'll appreciate those breaks, giving you respite from a game that brings with it great intensity.
The use of tunnels means there isn't a great deal of variety visually in the scene settings, but the story and the missions do bring with them a change: working with other survivors and facing different enemies means you don't really get a chance to get bored. The co-op missions ease the claustrophobia going solo, with the occasional vehicle-based level to break things up.
It pulls together into a game that delivers much more in the detail than on face value. There are touches of brilliance in Metro 2033 that many straight shooters don't offer. But there are also frustrations with some of the core elements. We'd have liked the weapons to be a little more definite in their action, not necessarily to make the kills easier, but to give that connect that you ultimately want from the game: this shot is going to have the required action. Metro 2033 won't suit everyone; if you are looking for all guns blazing action, then look elsewhere,
But you can't fault the strength of the storytelling. You'll pick up pieces of information from overheard conversations. Comments that seem like an aside may offer you a great hint. Keep you ears open as much as your eyes, and Metro 2033 will reward you richly.
We love the little details in Metro 2033 and ultimately, that is what will keep us coming back for more.