Review: Metro 2033

FEAR THE FUTURE

Developer: 4A Games
Genre: Sci-Fi First Person Shooter / Survival Horror
Platform: Xbox 360
Release Date: March 16, 2010
Compatability: 4MB Mininum Space | HDTV 480p / 720p / 1080i
Rating: 8.1

It’s no secret that games in post-apocalyptic or wasteland settings are becoming more and more common in today’s market. Of course, the big names in this genre are Fallout 3 and Borderlands, both games that mastered the feel of a dead landscape and the lawless, fragmented societies within, but Metro 2033 is a game that takes a different approach.

Based on the novel of the same name by Dmitri Glukhovsky, it shows a ‘what-if’ world in which the Cold War took a considerably worse path than it did in reality, and Russia (and, presumably, the rest of the world) has been devastated by nuclear weapons. With the surface proving uninhabitable from a nuclear winter and radiation, the citizens have taken refuge in the endless, winding tunnels of Lenin’s metro system. Apart from the occasional skirmish with the hideously mutated creatures known as Nosalises, it has proven a fairly reliable safe haven, until now. A new, mysterious species, known as the Dark Ones, has been said to be wiping out survivors by the dozen, without so much as touching them. You play as a soon-to-be Ranger, Artyom, who must go on a quest both to save his home station and find out more about this threat.

Get ready for a scare.

Metro 2033 is, at its bare roots, a simple first-person shooter. You are led along a very linear path, usually with few objectives other than ‘shoot the enemies in your way’. However, it’s really the feel of the environment around you that brings the game alive, and distinctly away from its peers. There is nowhere near as much light-heartedness as there is in, say Fallout 3 – this is humanity desperately holding onto the last threads of survival. As you walk through makeshift markets in stations, you will hear mothers screaming for someone to help their dying child, beggars asking for food, people heating tinned food over lit fires. Go to a weapon shop, as you will find at most stations you pass through, and the guns on offer will mostly be improvised firearms made of mere scrap. This allows for some particularly inventive weapons, such as the Tihar, a long barreled rifle that fires metal ball-bearings. Of course these guns don’t come for free, and 4A Games have made quite an original take on game currency. Instead of conventional coins or notes, people now deal in Military Grade 5.45mm Assault Rifle bullets. Of course, these bullets are still bullets, and you can choose to use them in your gun for a little extra power, instead of the standard home-made ammunition. It’s small and simple inputs like this that keep you feeling like a wanderer in this ruined world, something you’ll certainly be feeling when you’re looting frozen corpses for that extra clip to last you to the next station.

You may notice that the game seems to be a matter of simply fighting your way from one station to the next. Unfortunately it is the nature of the beast that while the novel can describe the innermost feelings of the protagonist and make the journey as much of a personal one as it is heroic, the game itself can feel a little shallow. The narrative aspect does tend to fall short overall; while Artyom says a few lines describing the current situation in the loading screen before the next level begins, it’s very easy to lose sight of what exactly you are doing. Characters are all clad in the same armour and have very similar, monotonous voices and there were plenty of times I had forgotten who had told me to go where and do what. This is a big shame, as while on face value the story is an odyssey of one man saving his loved ones, the deeper meaning of the tale – selflessness, bravery and sacrifice for society’s greater good – is suggested in the most subtle of places, and it is usually very hard to see. Personally, it took another playthrough for this to truly twig, and to get a better understanding of the events.

Metro 2033's visuals may disappoint when traveling to the surface.

What I found rather hit-and-miss about Metro 2033 is the overall polish. 4A created a whole new engine for the game, and it’s a mixture of good and bad. For example, metro tunnels look photo-realistically dark and damp, and muzzle flashes of rifles and revolvers burst the shadows into life. The game’s audio mixes superbly with the subterranean visuals – the ominous silence is broken by the drip of a broken water main and a scuttle of a rat whilst trekking down the line, only for a sudden screech of a mutant to echo down the line to warn of an oncoming attack. The suspense built in sections like these is unforgettable; however it’s a different matter when Artyom travels to the surface. These mini-missions are fairly few and far between, but trudging through snow-laden Moscow ruins is much less breathtaking than I had hoped. Don’t expect a repeat of stepping out of the sewers in Oblivion, or out of the Vault in Fallout 3 – Moscow might not look pretty today but in Metro 2033 it looks truly dreadful. Plain textures, no awe-inspiring views of devastation, and an irritating sound-sample of howling wind on constant repeat made me want to get back underground as soon as possible, rather than further explore the remains of a once-great city. Also, when speaking to characters it’s all too easy to notice a lack of decent work put into faces. There is only one face model for children and women, which is VERY blatant, and faces tend to stay completely emotionless when talking, rendering many desperate cries for help and grand speeches powerless.

It would be wrong to say that Metro 2033 does a lot new, being a game of a genre that’s becoming overused, and in a setting seen before. That said, while its aesthetic and story-based faults are certainly distracting, its highs are very impressive indeed. This 12-hour journey through humanity’s last refuge is definitely one to take for first-person shooter fans who are prepared for a scare or two.

Reviewed by failboatskipper – August 22, 2010

Graphics
This is a very mixed bag; tunnels and stations look brilliantly murky, and the use of fire and flashes contrasts this well. However, Moscow’s surface and characters’ faces could have done with a lot more work.
 
Sound
Apart from poor-sounding gusts of wind and some wooden voice acting, the use of sound for suspense is great in the tunnels, and does most of the work for building atmosphere.
 
Fun
The game probably won’t have you coming back for more than two playthroughs, but it’s a world that feels so real and so convincing that many of its problems are easily overlooked once it gets going.
 
Final Score

 

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