Gamersyde Review: Metro 2033
Developed by 4A Games, a Ukrainian studio composed of former members of the team responsible for STALKER, Metro 2033 was released last week without the usual buzz that usually accompanies more highly anticipated titles. Adapted from the novel by Dmitri Glukhovsky, the game invites the player to discover the depth of the Muscovite metro system and the many dangers that lurk in the shadows of its tunnels. A nerve-racking experience on many levels as you will see. Videos and full review inside.
It all starts as Artyom, the main character, and another survivor are heading to the surface to get to a mysterious tower. After a few bad encounters that allow the player to learn the controls of the game, they finally get outside in a devastated and irradiated Moscow. There, danger awaits around every single corner so expect no friendly encounters. This short but effective prologue ends when the players and his friends are up against a high number of hostiles, an apparently hopeless situation whose outcome will only be revealed at the end of the game, after the 8-hour-long adventure that will lead Artyom to his fate. You can tell right from the start that 4A Games have done a good job at immersing the player into a credible post-apocalyptic world.
Eight days earlier, Artyom lives a peaceful life in the station that has been his home since the day he was born, a very modest place where a group of survivors have settled to escape an unprecedented nuclear holocaust. This first part of the game is the opportunity to get acquainted with one of the many communities that inhabit the subway and realize how tainted with melancholy these stations are. You will see people minding their own business, talking to each other, listening to music, basically trying to stay alive. There is a true impression of life that is conveyed through such moments, but it goes along with the weight of loneliness and despair that have become part and parcel of the daily routine in the depths of the earth, where the human race is now forced to hide.
In spite of all the claustrophobic environments we cannot help but think of STALKER, especially when walking down a corridor, the strumming of a guitar can suddenly be heard, covering the baby cries in the background or even the moaning of the wounded. Be careful though, do not take Metro 2033 for a kind of tribute to GSC Game World's title. Here, there is no such thing as an open environment where the player is free to wander around. On the contrary, the game is always very linear, keeping that familiar corridor structure, and even though the player will be asked to choose to intervene or simply pass by unnoticed if doing a good deed is not his thing, he will stay on rails from the beginning to the end.
Straightforward in its structure, Metro 2033 still tries to offer as much variety as possible by alternating action-based missions with more atmospheric, or even more stealth-oriented ones at times. Moreover, the player will sometimes be alone, making his own choices, sometimes accompanied by one or several comrades that will be of great help in case of an attack from angry mutants. As a result, it never really feels like doing the same thing over and over again, and though the scripted elements are not as efficient as, say, those of Infinity Ward, it is still a pretty convincing experience. Some missions will be more about the fear and tension brought by loneliness and the gloomy tunnels and some will be more focused on shooting and staying alive. Every time Artyom reaches a new station, there is a nice break from all the exploration and survival and it's also be a good time to upgrade your gear and get some ammo.
You should know that the currency system is based on the trading of military grade ammo that is much more powerful and effective than the home-made ammo you can find in the subway tunnels. You can either choose to use them to kill your enemies or to buy some weapon upgrades, some med kits or oxygen for your gas mask. It's a tough choice sometimes when you find yourself out of ammo and surrounded by enemies. That's why it is worth searching every bit of the environment to find ammunition on dead bodies, so as not to run short at a very bad time. Overall, in normal mode, there is plenty of everything and you should not arrive at some tough spot empty handed. In hard mode though, I can tell you that things get much trickier and more than once have I felt the tension of having to move forward with not much left in the barrel of my gun. For instance, going through the library is one hell of an experience since the librarians are very intolerant when it comes to noise. In such cases, you must learn to run for your life and hope that the beasts will not catch up to you before you are safe. Spooky!
However standard the game may be, it still brings some nice ideas to the player's inventory. Whether it is the torchlight or the night-vision goggles, it is necessary to stop once in a while to recharge them manually. What's more, in the chapters set in open air, you must take good care of your gas mask, as getting hit - or shot - too much will result in breaking it, leaving you with no other choice than to pray that there is a new one waiting for you in the area. You also need to make sure you have enough filters for you gas mask, as it is the only thing that separates you from a quick and painful death. Artyom's heavy breathing will remind you how little oxygen you have left and it all contributes to the heavy atmosphere and the tension that is to be expected in such circumstances.
Another example of this desire to bring new ideas is the chapter in which Artyom runs into a poor boy who needs to be taken back to his mother. The gameplay changes dramatically as your aiming gets even more difficult because of the extra weight you are carrying on your shoulders. 4A Games also added several traps in the environment, with wire triggered grenades, big holes in the ground that can cause a fatal fall or even some swingy spiky traps that Indiana Jones would have enjoyed for sure. It makes every step count, especially in the dark, and being careful should make you live longer.
The visuals are clearly on par with other heavyweights in the genre, in spite of the fact that 4A Games certainly did not have as big a budget as the big blockbusters. The lighting effects are dynamic and they look great, the texture work is more than ok and the character/mutant models and the environments are detailed enough to make the game very immersive. 4A Games also added nice graphical effects like the volumetric smoke, the cracks of the gas mask when it gets damaged or the condensation that appears as the oxygen goes missing, everything is in perfect keeping with the game's world and conveys a very powerful atmosphere.
The shooting itself is more to blame: the different weapons are pretty cool to use but aiming is not always that easy and it can take a whole lot of bullets to take down an enemy sometimes. There are also glitches here and there, either with the world collisions or with the hit detection when you are in "stealth mode" and you want to try a headshot. It is indeed not always an easy task because a single bullet - or throwing knife - can be enough to make a lethal hit, but from time to time, it just does not work and the guard will not be killed, putting him on high alert and ruining all your efforts at sneaking your way through. It is therefore quite irritating to go for the stealth approach, and it will probably have you want to launch your controller into orbit with Spoutnik. In such moments, it leaves you no other choice but to take the Rambo approach, which is no piece of cake if you decide to play the game in hard mode believe me. Make sure you choose the proper equipment at some point if stealth is more your thing. Check-points can also be a problem at times and they can be very few and you can get to one at a very bad time, like say, precisely when a guard spots you. There is no quick save option in the game so you really need to be on your toes if you want to survive.
The AI is not always coherent either, reacting as you would expect in some cases and making no sense at all in others. Overall though, it is not any worse than in most games of the genre. In the last levels of the game, I had a few issues with one of my comrades who would keep dying because he was too slow going through a hostile area. The AI had been programmed to take it slow and be cautious when logic was to run for your life and get to safety as soon as possible. It forces the player to stick with the AI because leaving your man behind will always result in losing him. The problem was that staying alive was much tougher that way, even more with the constant respawn of enemies, and it took me quite a number of game overs to get past it. That being said, playing Metro 2033 is a lot more about having fun than being frustrated and when you get a hang of it, you will see that the game may be a bit challenging and it does make it even more rewarding too.
As I first stated in my introduction, Metro 2033 is a nerve-racking experience. It is far from being perfect but it is very atmospheric and it has a strong narrative background that is worth discovering. Metro 2033 is very reminiscent of games like FEAR, Bioshock, Half Life² - minus the endearing characters -, Fallout, STALKER or even the lesser known Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth and its hardcore stealth sequences, so it should please those of you who like a game with a strong personality and who want a survival game full of good intentions. It will take you between 8 to 10 hours to complete your first playthrough, and though there is no multiplayer, there is still some incentive to play the game a second time to see if you can get the second ending. After all, you don't have to be the same person twice...
About the game
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