Two genres that don’t normally mix together have finally come into contact with each other in THQ’s latest effort. Metro 2033 is a pretty standard FPS game that blends a unique setting with survival horror aspects to create an experience certainly feels fresh. Developer 4A Games has crafted a world that is not only believable, but also extremely fun to explore the lore behind. Unfortunately a few hiccups along the way mar an otherwise incredible journey; still if you have the patience to endure its faults, Metro 2033 is one of the more immersive and innovative titles to come along this generation.
The story is based off a novel by Russian author Dmitry Glukhovsky. The post-apocalyptic setting lends itself well to the game. The premise is that the Russians have been forced to live underground after a nuclear explosion that destroyed the surface. They now live in metro tunnels and inhabit bases that used to be train stations. Using the old tracks as transport they also sometimes head to the surface to search for supplies, but in doing so they are required to wear masks and protective gear to endure the harsh weather and dangerous atmosphere. There are also enemies lurking both above and below ground that people have come to call “The Dark Ones”.
The main narrative follows Artyom, a young man who sets out on a dangerous journey to deliver a message to one of the neighboring stations. Along the way Artyom begins to learn the secrets about the Dark Ones, and slowly becomes war-hardened as he makes his way through hordes of dangerous creatures, hostile stations and even fascist Nazi camps. The entire game is told from the first-person perspective and it works much like the Half-Life series with solid story-telling and a nearly mute protagonist. You really start to feel like you are in the shoes of Artyom, and thus you slowly begin to feel like you are also in the same situations he find himself in.
This is Metro’s biggest strength, and frankly makes it worth playing through. The immersion within the game is nearly unmatched. Small things such as your watch actually displaying the real time, to the fact that there is nearly a complete lack of any visible hub, really draw you into the experience. You receive a clipboard early on in the game that is used to jot down objectives as well as having a compass on it to keep you going in the right direction. Your flashlight needs to be pumped up manually to shine farther and brighter. It is the smaller details like this that really make you feel like you are Artyom. When the game shines, it truly shines bright, but when it loses its way things become more frustrating than they should be.
For instance there are several areas in the game where stealth is an option. The ideas are sound as bandits have placed antiquated traps to catch intruders such as trip wires attached to dynamite and even tin cans hanging by strings from the ceiling, anything that will make noise. The problem is when you are noticed there is no going back. Enemies simply know exactly where you are as soon as one of them sees you. For those of us who are not inclined in the stealth genre this can get frustrating. These levels can be played through from an action perspective, but the mediocre shooting mechanics really make firefights more of a chore than anything else.
What is the biggest shame is that none of these segments really fit well into the overall atmosphere. My favorite parts of the game were dealing with the Dark Ones and travelling down tunnels hearing the distinct cries from the creatures and for the first time in a long time, feeling genuinely on edge about what was around the next corner. These were the moments that kept me coming back to the game over and over again. It almost feels like the developers were trying to appeal to multiple audiences with some segments of the game. Unfortunately the intense shooting segments wound up being my most exasperating sections to go through, and often times I almost gave up when I came across them.
I really cannot stress enough how much of a rollercoaster playing through this game really was. There were moments where I was in complete awe at some of the things the game threw at me. Sequences that resemble dreams and hallucinations are done so well it is uncanny, while other areas downright made me want to throw the game out a window. It almost felt like I was playing two different games. The best example I can give are a level called Library, where you are trying to find a hidden passage and the compass is telling you to go one way, when the actual way you need to go is behind you. The other being the ending which was a complete exercise in frustration as I kept falling thanks to distorted vision. These nuances really brought out the shortcomings of the game. However, when the game nailed another segment perfectly all was forgiven. It is also worth mentioning that Metro 2033 is not for the faint of heart. The difficulty of this game is a challenge on easy and downright brutal on hard, so make sure you take note of that before beginning. Thankfully you can change the difficulty at any point during the game.
Visually I love what the developers have done with the game, even if it brings back memories of some other titles. At first it really gave me a Wolfenstein vibe with the bulky character models and shiny textures. However, once you dissect the environments and start seeing all the little details around such as dust floating around in the dynamic lighting, the game really shows how well made it really is. The levels are darkly lit corridors that keep you on your toes at every step, but also manage to somehow feel unique at each turn. The voice acting is hit and miss with some standout performances and some truly terrible ones. The music on the other hand I really enjoyed. The soft and creepy guitar on the title screen reminded me of Silent Hill while the ambience in the tunnels really had me terrified with my headphones blaring.
Metro 2033 is an interesting game to review. On one hand I really loved the atmosphere and story behind the game. The characters were interesting and figuring out the mystery behind the Dark Ones was truly a fantastic experience. Still with so many hiccups in the pacing of the game I found myself just as frustrated at times, not wanting to continue on. If you love the idea of post-apocalyptic worlds with a new spin on the traditional idea I recommend picking this up. If you have the patience to get past the annoying parts this is definitely a diamond in the rough. THQ has been taking chances on some unknown and truly innovative titles lately. Once again they definitely deliver something out of the ordinary.
Review copy provided by publisher.