What’s this? An obscure IP from a relatively unknown studio? From the onset, it’s easy to discount and overlook Metro 2033 in favour of more popular shooter franchises with big budgets behind them, but, in this case, a little perseverance can be truly rewarding. Based on the novel by Russian author Dmitry Glukhovsky (an excellent read by the way) Metro 2033 follows Artyom, a child of the Moscow metro system, raised underground following the nuclear apocalypse that rendered the surface uninhabitable. With his home station threatened by a settlement of mutated monsters, touted by some as the next stage of human evolution, Artyom sets off to raise the alarm and get help.
When you take control of Artyom, you’re thrown into a world that seems impossibly large. Not because of a vast map with an infinite skymap overhead but because of the massive complexity of the subway tunnels that worm their way underneath Moscow. You’re never entirely sure where you’re going, simply pressing on hoping that you won’t get trapped in a tunnel when things go bad. This tension never lets up, made more terrifying by the oppressive stonework that’s almost always right over your head. In the rare moments when you set foot on the surface, the terror is amplified by the sudden explosion of space all around you. In terms of level design, Metro 2033 is a masterpiece of highly contrasting, constantly menacing environments that never let you feel safe.
While the console port was marred by numerous glitches and visual stuttering, on a sufficiently beefy PC, Metro 2033 gives most AAA titles something to sweat about. Character models are detailed, with eerily lifelike eyes and beautiful facial animations. Particle effects blossom and flow all around your field of vision, adding to the stifling, dust-filled atmosphere of the stagnant tunnels. The lighting engine provides a perfect balance of murky gloom and welcome bright havens and it’s easy to get distracted as you cast your flickering torch over the slick, stained walls of Moscow’s historic stations.
While it’s a looker, Metro 2033 isn’t so smart. Enemy AI is frustratingly stupid at times, only mixing it up by deciding to either run at you head on or hide and wait for you to turn a corner and finish the job with a well-aimed shotgun round. Occasionally, the game attempts to compensate for this by throwing ridiculously hardy monsters at you or overwhelming you with near-impossible swarms. It makes for some frustrating moments that, for me, led to long breaks in gameplay as I forced myself to calm down and try again.
When previews first appeared, many got the impression that Metro 2033 would be similar to Fallout but with better shooting. While the shooting is greatly improved, it feels like developers 4A Games could have spent some more time adding greater variety to the available weaponry. Using bullets as both ammo and currency (premium military grade bullets that deal extra damage) is a nice touch, but shopping is never really a priority and, with no upgrades to buy, you’re best off using them when you’re in a tight spot. Similarly, using tech like the torch, map and gas mask are all authentically low-tech but fiddly to utilise correctly.
Thankfully, Gukhovsky’s story triumphs over many of these adversities. Artyom’s plight seems nigh on impossible and the characters he meets along the way make for some compelling distractions from the murky misery of underground life. Metro 2033 deserves recognition for possibly being the first shooter in recent member to not tack on an unnecessary multiplayer component as well. While the two endings and 6 to 8 hour play time make replay value relatively low, it’s a satisfying experience and one that shouldn’t be missed by anyone seeking something a little different from their shooters. Ultimately flawed, Metro 2033 is still worth the effort if it looks the least bit interesting to you.
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