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Review: Metro 2033 (PC edition)

review-metro-2033-pc-edition

Review: Metro 2033

Genre: First Person Shooter, Horror

Metro 2033 is not the most noteworthy of titles for a couple of reasons: it’s a very linear game, the FPS engine brings nothing new to the genre, and it’s based off of a Russian novel the likes of which most people in the US haven’t heard of before.

It’s kind of a shame we haven’t then. 4A Games’ effort, despite being uninspired gameplay wise nails down the presentation and the story, producing a moody horror atmosphere in post-apocalyptic Russia that draws players into a true struggle for survival in the frozen wastes and bleak tunnels of what now comprises Russia for the remaining Muscovites.

Following review contains SPOILERS, read at your own risk.

Presentation

Metro 2033 gets fair grades here. The voice acting is a little hit-or-miss, and the cutscenes sometimes aren’t really well-directed or compelling. For example, the cutscene in which the character Artyom finally reaches the Polis station Council, the destination for which he’s been fighting through the entire Metro system for the last half of the game, shows him going into the Council chambers… and then immediately cuts to the outside where another character brings the revelation that the Council has decided to decline sending help to Artyom’s home station. Where’s the compelling narrative? Where’s the scene of the fierce debate between the Council members and Artyom, of his supporters or at least those not willing to let another station go under the waves of mutant attackers? I get to Polis only to be unceremoniously dumped out on my ass to fend for myself? That’s jarringly lame. Fortunately, that might be the only egregious example I can think of.

Otherwise, the artists of the game put good work into the environment, creating both a dark and moody tunnel system of horrors and a wasteland above with such a forlorn winter atmosphere. The work they’ve done is truly excellent. Perhaps not the most unique of settings, but then you’re talking about any urban area torn down by nuclear fire. Voice acting is largely without problem, although whether you like hearing Russian-accented English for the entire game is something you’ll have to figure out beforehand– it’s either that or the authentic Russian. Either way, it’s delivered appropriately, and personally I didn’t think the actors did too badly a job on the Russian accents. Kudos.

Artists and gameplay mechanics also came together here; a lot of the HUD in Metro 2033 is very limited, and is instead expressed through in-game art assets. Gas masks on your face will have a limited time of operation, you can check how much time remains by bringing a watch up to your face and reading it. Your gas mask lenses also reflect the condition of the mask; although not significant to gameplay since the mask will still function as normal, the cracks will obscure your vision somewhat, so you’ll want to have a clean mask. Your journal, which displays your objectives, also include a compass to point you to where you need to go. Thankfully, the designers didn’t deem it a gameplay imperative to make the flashlight and gun separate weapons, so you’ll have a flashlight integrated onto your helmet which only helps the immersion because survivalist common sense seems to have kicked in when it comes to the world of Metro 2033; you would be caught dead with your flashlight not integrated.

Graphics

Metro 2033 handles the action well, while maintaining world detail. Textures come off crisp and clean, very much well kept-up with the rest of the industry at this point. The lighting is also top-notch, creating dynamic shadows that shift with changes in lighting and allowing for the player to create shadows in situations requiring stealth.

Where Metro 2033 really stands out though is in its animations. These are animations the likes of which I’ve only seen in two other FPSes, and those are Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 1 & 2. These are fluid, detailed, and unique in most every situation. Guards will lounge against walls, watching the heavily gated entrances of metro stations until you come along and then the guard team moves to action, opening the gate and manning sandbagged defensive positions and machine gun nests. It drives home the point that these are locations that have sustained multiple attacks and are pushing civil defense as a primary motive.

Gameplay

Unfortunately here, Metro 2033 isn’t the strongest competitor. This game is more or less a rote first-person shooter, somewhat along the lines of Call of Duty and Doom 3. The shadows in this game, while pretty, are about all they are. They are difficult to use in gaining or maintaining stealth, since all the game seems to require before your location is totally revealed is one failed kill attempt with any weapon. Shoot a guy in the wrong part and he screams, still alive, and that alerts everyone else as to EXACTLY WHERE YOU ARE, despite being well-concealed in shadows. Fling a knife past his head instead of into it and much the same thing happens. Jumping from shadow to shadow doesn’t help, and enemies can often spot you even without headlights or night-vision goggles, which breaks the immersion seeing that your opponent apparently has predator-vision bred into their genes. Moreover it’s very difficult, if not impossible, to regain stealth meaning that the first hint enemies get of you, you’ll be in a prolonged firefight for the rest of the level.

Furthermore, this is a graphical as well as a gameplay issue, but collision detection for enemies is a very big issue, given that enemies can clip into walls regularly during combat, a fact that makes engaging the mutants in the game frustrating and almost gamebreaking in close-quarters.

That said, compared to other titles in the post-apocalyptic FPS environment like Fallout 3 or Metro’s  Russian brother the STALKER series, Metro probably has the best precision of the three games, allowing for pinpoint strikes at enemies in any region on the body, displaying that at least the enemy hit zones are well-defined and reliably trigger as opposed to Fallout and STALKER’s sometimes problematic weapon hit issues.

While entirely a linear narrative, Metro 2033 also makes use of an in-game economy system that sustains itself on ammunition. While in the Metro system and occasionally above it, players will find military-grade rounds that are distinguished by the brighter sheen on the brass casings, as well as a brighter icon than the standard rounds found in the Metro system. These military-grade rounds, usually just referred to as bullets, are pre-nuclear fallout relics built from a manufacturing system that no longer exists in Metro 2033, and thus are more powerful than the “dirty rounds” that are made by the people of the Metro. So while you CAN use these bullets, you might want to save them instead to trade for certain items. Or maybe you have all the items you need; now you just need to kill things that much quicker. It’s an interesting mechanic, if just applied within a system that’s rather limited for such a concept. Most of the weapons you’ll ever need in the game can be found on the bodies of men who ventured out into the Metro and never returned, mostly the market system is a way to get an early leg-up on any enemies you might be fighting.

Overall, Metro 2033 is something you might like to play if you’re of a mind to try something novel from Eastern Europe. Other than that, the game smacks of a buggier Far Cry, though with a somewhat tighter narrative.

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