The last 12 months have been overloaded with first-person shooters (FPS), and at first glance that is probably why Metro 2033felt a little, well, jaded. However, in the wake of countless Calls of Duty, Battlefields, and the niche Borderlands, this game is brave enough to offer up something a little different.
Set in a post-apocalyptic future, Metro 2033is very linear for the most part, with little room for exploration or experimentation. That said, it does have a few tricks up its sleeve to make your experience all the more enjoyable and to raise its head firmly above the bar. Make no mistake, this game does not have the scale or scope of a title like Fallout 3, or shine with the polish of a game like Modern Warfareor Battlefield. It does, however, have a lot of personality.
The game gets off to a fairly slow start, introducing you to the tunnel-living communities of this nightmare future. The narrative has a very typical Russian feeling, a sense of humour and some off-the-wall science-fiction overtones. It is also guided along by some of the most intriguing scripted sequences I have seen in a while, cleverly bringing you to a new section or throwing you into a more challenging situation seamlessly.
During the early stages you get to wander around the titular metro tunnels of your home. While the environment is limited, it does convey a sense of claustrophobia and keeps you on your toes. Graphically the game does a great job and there are some interesting details around the place to poke your nose into. Appreciating these details, I did wonder if the level of interaction has been peeled back; it almost feels that the game started life intending to be a deeper RPG experience like Falloutor Borderlands, then ended up becoming a straightforward shooter.
Get into the story and some of the more innovative aspects of the game come to the fore; for example, the use of ammunition as currency. This makes absolute sense for the setting of the game and it really makes you think twice about spending. It adds extra incentive to the player who likes to loot their way through every level, searching every corner for another couple of shiny shell casings.
The toxicity of your post-apocalyptic environment requires you to carry a gas mask at all times. Using the mask makes the underground sections of the game even more closed in and adds some time-limited urgency to the outdoor levels. The visual effect of the mask is subtle and clever in the way it fogs as you use up another filter, not to mention the panic to find a replacement mask when you are trapped in the open and yours is one more impact away from shattering.
While I hold some concern over the feeling of the ballistics and aiming, this does improve over time when better weapons become available. Also you have to remember that a lot of the technology on offer has been homemade in the tunnels, hence the pneumatic airguns that shoot ball bearings. The user interface is refreshingly bare, with no radars or glowing triangles to follow; just you, lost in the darkness. The only way to remind yourself of your current objectives is to call up your trusty notepad, and if you dare, flick on your lighter to read the notes and check your compass. It’s worth bearing in mind that this is ‘in-game’ and your light will no doubt draw attention to you, so be quick. The weapon models are intricate and well built, and seeing your ammunition or air pressure running low in real time adds to the feeling of being there. The enemies on offer range from human to mutant and they are generally pretty thick-skinned. Unless, of course, you decide to use your shiny military bullets at the expense of being able to shop, in which case they will die a lot quicker.
Also an honourable mention to one of my favourite things about Metro 2033and something that should be legally required in all games: the ability to switch off or shoot out the lights. In the dark of the tunnels it adds strategy to sneaking around and makes you feel even more attached to the environment. Sneaking and flanking the enemy in the darkness can be pulse-pounding fun, especially when low on health, wearing a fogged-up gas mask and running dangerously low on ammunition. Metro 2033is certainly a game where you need to pick your battles, or at least think about how you intend to fight them.
Overall, for a title that was not on my radar I have enjoyed getting to know Metro 2033and would go so far as to be inspired to read the book on the back of playing the game. The developers have obviously poured a lot of time and effort into making this experience fully rounded and faithful, and I salute them for that. They have implemented innovations without making them gimmicky, to deliver a fresh take in a saturated genre. It is also refreshing to play a quality game that does not rely on a bolt-on multiplayer experience to make it marketable. This is a game to play and enjoy on your own at your own pace.
My advice would be to hold judgement for the first hour or so, let Metro 2033grow on you and experience a surprisingly enjoyable single-player shooter.