Metro 2033 had always been a title that fascinated me in general, as the post-apocalyptic setting and the Russian feel of the game are just not something you’ll find regularly in games. And recently, user Jinxtah from the Between Life and Games’ forum sang praises for the game, further convincing me to give it a shot soon. Finally, my Easter break (Orthodox Easter was in early May this year) allowed me some free time in my hometown and away from my PS3. I’d already got Metro 2033 from the Humble THQ Bundle a while ago, so it was a matter of downloading and installing it on my computer. Not long after, I was into the world of the Moscow Metro…
Game: Metro 2033
Developer: 4A Games
Platforms: PC, Xbox 360
Original release: 2010
Metro 2033 is based on the novel by Russian author Dmitry Glukhovsky, which, interestingly, was first published on the internet in 2002, chapter by chapter by the author. Only in 2005, after becoming really popular online, was it published as an actual paper book. The game is a first-person shooter, a genre I’m not a particularly huge fan of. But the atmosphere makes it truly one of a kind – the dark, endless tunnels of the Metro are humanity’s last hope, while the surface is a desolate land, where endless nuclear winter and mutants reign, and the air is not breathable. But the hellish post-war creatures do not just stay on the surface, they try to take over the tunnels and destroy the humans. And even in the face of such adversity, humans are not united, there are warring factions and struggle for power among the mere 40,000 survivors living in the Metro. Our hero and his brothers in arms are the only ones who preserve the glimmering hope of our species.
Screenshots in the review have been taken by me during my playthrough. And one important note before I continue – play the game with the Russian voices – I cannot recommend this enough. You can still use English subtitles if you don’t understand the language. The English voices with the thick Russian accent are charming, but… just not the same.
- Amazing atmosphere – certainly one of the best in gaming, period
- Gripping story about humanity’s survival in a post-nuclear war hell
- Realistic characters make the game’s world even more believable
- Solid gameplay encouraging stealth during tougher sequences
- “Ranger Easy” mode makes the difficulty much more realistic
- Gas masks run out of filters easily, and you can only buy filters early in the game
- Outdated checkpoint system may force you to replay some sub-chapters
A CAPTIVATING STORY OF SURVIVAL
The year is 2033. As the world burned in a nuclear war 20 years ago, only about 40,000 citizens of Moscow managed to find salvation into the underground tunnels of the Metro. The protagonist, Artyom, was just a newborn baby back then, and he does not remember what Moscow looked like before the war. All he has are old pictures from before the war, which the citizens of the Metro hold dear. A mysterious ranger called Hunter warns Artyom that his home station, ВДНХ (VDNKh – or “Exhibition” in the English language version), is threatened by the mysterious Dark Ones, and, if he does not come back, Artyom must go to the Polis station to ask for help. Naturally, he does not come back, and Artyom sets off on his journey…
Traversing the dark tunnels of the Metro is incredibly tough, with mutants and hostile humans regularly lurking around the corner, not to mention the necessity to pass through stations controlled by the warring factions – the Reds and the Fourth Reich, as soldiers of both will gladly shoot at you. You’ll have to also come up to the surface occasionally, and there, in desolate Moscow, you always need to wear a gas mask, as you can’t survive more than 15-20 seconds without it. The ultimate goal is saving your station and, maybe, humanity itself, from the threat of the Dark Ones, who attack and kill humans mentally, via hallucinations.
The game’s internal subtitle is the grim “Fear the Future”. It’s interesting that the currency in the Metro are military-grade Kalashnikov/AK bullets, which are much rarer, of much higher quality and thus more valuable than the bullets the Metro citizens create themselves. Interestingly, especially for an FPS, Metro 2033 has two endings, one of them only possible if you have executed certain actions through the course of the game.
HEROES FIGHTING AGAINST ALL ODDS
Artyom is the main protagonist, and, while otherwise an average young man, he has the unique ability to survive the mental attacks of the Dark Ones. And these hallucinations occur to him several times through the game. We barely ever see Artyom’s face, the most prominent moment being in the ending. However, he is the one doing the narrative during the intro and between game chapters. We also get a glimpse at his personality in his room, where there are plenty of postcards from various places in the world. But Artyom is not alone on his journey, various people help him out, making the seemingly impossible situations much more bearable. Among Artyom’s comrades-in-arms are Bourbon, a small-time bandit, Khan, a mysterious soldier with a philosophical outlook on life, who’s also familiar with tunnels where no other people dare go to. There are also Maxim, commander of a squad defending their station against increasingly overwhelming mutant attacks, and, of course, the Sparta rangers Ulman and Pavel, their commander Miller, and the engineer and weapon specialist Vladimir.
Khan is probably the most interesting character in the game. While humanity is fighting for survival, he holds the belief that every creature, even mutants and Dark Ones, has a right to live, and it’s not a person’s place to judge what’s good and what’s evil. He is the figure best fitting the “wise old mentor” stereotype through Artyom’s journey, but even then, there’s only one chapter in which the two are travelling together. Ulman is another character who’s quite memorable, he is constantly making jokes (some of them quite funny), and does not care that his commander Miller is usually annoyed with them. The older, but still sharp-minded Vladimir is another one I really like, his engineering skills are truly invaluable during his team’s mission.
The Metro 2033 characters are very real, very human, they respond as one would expect people to respond to the dangerous situations they are faced with. You can feel their courage in the face of desperation, their fear of the mutants and the Dark Ones, their sorrow for fallen comrades and care for the injured, their despair when they see death is all but certain… Furthermore, the main characters aren’t everything. The citizens of the Metro, as well as the average soldiers from the different stations, also bring a lot of personality to the game. Even the dead bodies you inevitably encounter on your journey tell the story of people’s struggle in this dark age.
QUALITY FPS GAMEPLAY WITH EXTRA QUIRKS
Jinxtah urged me not to play the game on Normal (as I usually do with games), but rather, on the Ranger Easy difficulty (second highest in the game). I refused at first, but he managed to convince me, telling me it did the story much more justice. And it certainly does. Combat is much more realistic (less shots to kill AND be killed), ammo is quite scarce and must not be wasted, there are no crosshairs like in standard shooters, you must look through your weapon’s sights to aim. The difficulty is also quite fair – there are plenty of portions I had to replay many times to pass, but there is always a way to make it, especially with a little thinking as opposed to just going in guns blazing. Stealth is possible during most parts of the game, and the Ranger Easy difficulty urges you quite hard to use stealth, as some sections are nearly impossible otherwise. So I do recommend playing the game on Ranger Easy, I can only imagine it’d be far too easy on Normal.
Metro 2033 is an FPS, but shooting is not always the main part of it, especially in Ranger Easy. Still, the shooting is quite adequate, with the exception of occasional funky hitboxes (there was one occasion I had to replay many times where shooting a soldier in the head didn’t immediately kill him, while shooting his BACKPACK did). The weapons feel quite nice, with the heavier ones being visibly harder to move and aim. You usually aim with the right mouse button, shooting with the left, but there are exceptions, such as the double-barreled shotgun, where each mouse button fires the respective barrel, and thus you can fire two shots at once. Finding cover is quite important in Metro, but the enemies will also make good use of it. The AI is surprisingly good – a lot of the time enemy soldiers won’t just use their superior force to come at you while you’re in a spot giving you tactical advantage – they’ll wait for you to come out and take you out then. It’s interesting that only humans do this – the mutants are quite dumb.
There are plenty of weapons available in the game – knives (both holding and throwing), regular automatic guns, AK-74s (and even an upgraded Kalash 2012 later in the game), shotguns, pneumatic weapons, and dynamite sticks, used as grenades. Each type of gun has its own bullets, and the “currency” exchange rate for each is different. Plenty of guns also have varieties with silencers or laser sights. There are also other useful items in Metro 2033, such as the flashlight, night vision goggles, first aid kits, the gas mask, and Artyom’s unique watch which shows how much time is left before the gas mask stops working. In certain situations through the game, you can also use mounted weapons.
There is no health bar in Metro 2033 – rather, you determine how close you are to your death based on Artyom’s vision. During shootings, the more bloody and pulsating it becomes, the closer to dying you are. When you’re outside without a gas mask, the situation is worse the blurrier and less colourful your vision becomes. I already said that military-grade bullets are used as currency, but they’re also mighty useful in combat. It’s an interesting trade-off the game forces you to make – do you want more money to buy more stuff, or will you use your money to more easily kill your enemies? On the Ranger Easy difficulty, this is a choice you’ll often have to make, as military-grade ammo, like everything else, is more scarce.
One relatively big problem for Metro 2033, especially on a higher difficulty setting, is the gas mask, more particularly the necessity to use disposable filters for it to work. Filters are sold in the first couple of stations Artyom visits, and one naturally expects to find filters in every next station. Unfortunately, that is not the case, and, in the last two-thirds of the game, dead bodies encountered outside are the only source of filters. Furthermore, their filters are partially used, and thus last less than new ones you could buy. So, the player, who will not stock up on a vast amount of filters early in the game when he doesn’t have much money, anyway, will often be found gasping for breath, praying to find an extra filter somewhere. I know this happened to me many times, before Jinxtah let me know of a trick making them last much longer. Other than that, it’s quite neat that the gas mask can be cracked, with every next crack making filters burn faster, before finally it stops working altogether. But you can occasionally find spare gas masks lying around and swap.
There’s one additional peculiarity, and that is the console-style checkpoint system the game uses as opposed to allowing the player to save anywhere like most modern PC games. While checkpoints are encountered often enough and you cannot lose too much progress, sometimes you may cross a checkpoint while in a really bad state, forcing you to restart the whole sub-chapter afterwards. As a whole, the game is split into chapters, and each of them has several sub-chapters, which are selectable from the main menu (once you’ve reached them). Each sub-chapter has several checkpoints.
Overall, Metro 2033 has a highly satisfying gameplay, and you feel in control of everything a lot of the time, despite the fact that you’re often accompanied by fellow soldiers. You’ll often find yourself relying on them in shootings (especially when you’re low on ammo), but they also rely on you to help them. The amount of set pieces in the game isn’t too high, retaining the feeling of control. The “epic” factor of the fights you participate in is appropriate for the setting, and also not too big to the point of exaggeration. Furthermore, you occasionally get the chance to make some personal choices, which will ultimately affect your ability to see an alternative ending.
SIMPLY AMAZING ATMOSPHERE
The one thing that truly sets Metro 2033 apart from the rest is its atmosphere. The dark, body-littered tunnels of the Metro, the nightmarish mutants, the alien-like Dark Ones, the desolate Moscow surface existing in an endless nuclear winter… They create a truly immersive game. There are several incredibly impressive parts, such as Khan’s eerie chapter full of ghosts, anomalies and paranormal events in the dark tunnel, the first Moscow surface chapter which really amazes with how devastated everything is, and the final two chapters which take place in really memorable locations. Words hardly do this game’s atmosphere justice. Still, it’s a shame we don’t get to see famous Moscow sights in the game, no Kremlin, no Red Square… It’s just a desolate city.
The soundtrack of Metro 2033 by Anthesteria is quite cool. While there are no super memorable songs you’d be likely to add to your game music collection, pretty much all the themes further add to the atmosphere – both the scary themes of the tunnels, and the free stations’ more chill tunes. The song I’ve chosen to share with you is one you’ll hear often, as it plays on the title screen. I’d say it captures the mood of humanity in the dark post-nuclear war days quite well.
UNLIKE ANY OTHER GAME
You shoot the enemies, you can use different weapons, you have a general objective at any moment… But that’s where the similarities between Metro 2033 and the regular FPS end. The very essence of Metro 2033 is unlike anything I’ve experienced before. The Russian feel and spirituality alone set it apart from the vast majority of games out there, but the combination with the nuclear winter and the various mutated creatures threatening what little is left of humankind is just amazing. Facing this danger, people are often reduced to the most basic instinct of survival, and yet they still divide and war among themselves on grounds of ideology. In the middle of it all, you are Artyom, and you alone carry your station’s hope…
With Metro: Last Light coming out mere days from now, interest in the franchise will inevitably rise even further. Though the trailer did not impress me much, what with the focus on the Communists and Nazis, I am sure the game will be very well made, like the first one. But much more than the game sequel, I am interested in the Metro 2033 book, and I will read it in the very near future. Because Metro 2033 offers a fascinating point of view, a plausible view on what would become of us if use our nuclear weapons on ourselves. It is a very humanistic experience, one you will not forget a few days after playing, as the case with most modern shooters is.