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Metro 2033 is like STALKER's cousin, the hot one yes... yet far from perfect. It is an atmospheric adventure through the dark tomes of the Russian public as they descend into a world of madness caused by the nuclear holocaust on the surface above. This atmospheric thrill ride is extremely intriguing while it lasts, but there are a few glaring technical problems, story elements and odd engine errors that hamper the experience. This game isn't crippled at all by the bugs, but the game experience of this STALKER-esque game can be ruined as the thin white line between the graphical prowess of 4A-games and underdeveloped gameplay are all a blur when you go into this game blind of what the happening of it all is. A heavy weight on systems who want to run this game on high settings, and a descent action game for those who seek to shoot though the cramped corridors of the Russian underground, this game really comes down to what you really are down for in a game... choose one way, story... graphics... or action.
The story takes from the perspective of a Russian soldier of the underground who was born on the surface but was raised in the metro. You wake up in the cold dingy cell in one of the many shantytowns in the underground, forced from bed by a buddy of yours to see the superior. The game doesn't waste time getting you up to speed with the game as right from the get-go you are attacked by these things called the dark ones who in turn look like something out of a Clive Barker comic book, appropriate for the time and setting. Rats, bi-pedal organisms, flying gargoyles, swimming knives, they are all in this game… and yes, they add to the atmosphere. They are probably amongst the creepiest-looking creatures you have probably seen in a while—kind of make Mr. Rogers a pleasant afternoon coffee buddy. This game won’t scare by any detriment but these creatures might just give you a run for you money as the dark ones are one of the many things that make this game so atmospheric. With that being said they are foes to be reckoned with as taking them down is just a pain in the ass, but more on that later. The story can be a bit hard to follow as it feels a bit too jumpy for its own good, and it can be somewhat hard to pay attention as the world around feels too authentic to not see. The flashbacks and weird events within the story don’t help as such events as the flashback, or black hole event somewhere in the middle of the story (you are sucked into a door, black hole was a simile), both events aren’t clearly explained and may require a second play through to understand.
As you descend that tunnel towards your next city, around the bend you hear the commanding thud of the dark ones, the desperate bark of the soldiers who once walked the tunnels before you, the crack of an anomaly that inhabits the train car that you must run through, and the heart beat of the tunnels... the sound of a war being waged three tunnels down the way. What inhabits the tunnel now? Nazi's, Communists, Bandits, Loners, and revolutionists--this game is packed with detail and tells the tale of a society stuck in the underground, underground where control of the public lacks and therefore you have factions with opposing viewpoints warring it out in the tunnel. However this is a two-edged sword as the game doesn't let you see this fight, instead you are forced into a linear path through the games fifteen hour or so story... many of these cool elements are saved through later of the story, so you aren't at liberty to see much of the games cool elements of universe till you reach that point of the story of where it directly affects you.
The immaculate detail of the universe is just stunning as it feels like a real portrayal of society residing in the metros of Moscow with the only means of instinct, the instinct of survival. The inclusion of towns and civilians help promote this in game as they inhabit almost every station you come across. Humans like you or I trying to scrape a living in the slums down under using military grade bullets from the surface as currency. Such an addition is just a treat on its own as it makes the universe come out at you just like that. All towns have that incessant hum that you hear in every small town market. You’d walk down the quiet dingy corridors of the dimly lit metro towns, the sounds of children playing, the conversations of old friends trying to figure out how to get the loot from north of that metro town. The sudden clunk of that nearby drunk on the table down the way in the bar, the guy playing songs on the guitar, almost every nook and cranny of this games universe feels fleshed out in every way, but the problem with such a design as you don't get to talk to many of the people who inhabit this universe which is kind of disappointing. You can over hear their conversations, but you can't talk to them which is kind of a bummer--the only people you can talk to are story NPC's which is an odd design choice, but they were following a book so what could they do...?
The art design of Metro itself is quite beautiful and gripping all the same as the darkly lit tunnels of the Metro just make you jitter in fear as you travel down the tunnel. You can walk down a tunnel and be jolted a little by a rat that scurried right down the tunnel. The lighting really promotes the fear of walking down these tunnels. The shadows cast over the walkway, that nearby group of soldiers, dark ones, or anomaly will almost give off some kind of shadow or light as they ascend down the way. Every time you turn on that flashlight of yours, the light pings off the nearby wall down the way two blocks from where you are alerting the guards. The light makes crawling through the tunnels an absolute delight as you never know what to expect in the up and coming darkness of the Russian metros. You’ll find yourself trekking the land, ignoring the objective at hand trying to pick up as much scrap as you possibly can from the bodies of fallen soldiers, and taking in the sights of the tunnels themselves as they all have that strange aura of realism that sucks in into the world of post-apocalytica. The surface is just as frigid and creepy as ever. The desolate land of Moscow never looked so empty. When you slip on that gas mask and have the frost crawl over your visor, you just get that sense you want from the arid land of Moscow, Russia that you always wanted from such a game. You look up at the sky and see the dead pan gray clouds that ink themselves so meticulously around the bend and into your mind. The nuclear wasteland of the frigid lands of Moscow jumps down at you, right down to the very bone. The frosts bites at you through your gas mask as you trek the land and explore that nearby abandoned house on the hill of frost. Remarkably the art design reflects both well out on the land and inside within the towns of the Metro. This is one of the most accurately depicted post-apocalyptic games developed with such stunning realism that it might get you thinking about it during school or whatever.
The sound design really help bring the story together as it features some tense voice acting and bone-chilling music and ambient tracks that make you shiver at the mere sound. The voice acting helps sell the story, but this isn’t always the case as it can really chisel into your head—this is both a good and bad thing as you keep going through the game. You’ll meet some interesting characters and some really terrible characters, who are only riddles with bad voice acting, the case as with your first partner you get to go to the surface with who just sounds really cocky for his own good—obnoxious if that doesn’t really help. Artyom—the main character—has some really strong voice acting that really deeply roots you to him as he speaks to you about the world around him. Solemn, soft, and naïve in his own way are the best ways to describe him—he is probably one of those characters you could probably connect with in the whole story. The ambient noise of the tunnels comes from hearing the squealing of the dark ones down the tunnel as you walk down with your buddy, the creek of that nearby train crossing over that broken beam, as the lever operated contraption screeches down the way. The cracks of the rifles that sing an offbeat chorus of a dying breed, each of the singers getting cut-off rudely, followed by the yelp of that same singer… the squeak of the dark ones howl down the way, taking place of the chorus. The airy surface noise really helps you connect with the desolate nature of Moscow and really entices you to explore the bend as you ascend into a mad world. You can hear the jiggle of a nearby can trap (rope tied to a series of cans to alert guards), the rustling of papers flying in the distance, and the loud bark of the gargoyle that flies down to eat what it needs. The weapons all sound appropriate and powerful—the bark of a rifle that echoes down the tunnel, or howls of shotguns that shimmer into the distance, warning that gargoyle down the street of your presence. Now if only the sound of the weapons you fired matched their firepower… but more on that in a bit!
Now let’s get to the fun part of the game, the game play itself. The game play is all a linear first person shooter—an interesting one to say the least—and it will make you shiver in terror as you walk through Moscow. The main part of the game is that you are shooting and scavenging all the time, think of it as STALKER with a more linear story structure. Shooting is fun just for the sound, but actually shooting feels a bit too… unsatisfying as the sound doesn’t match the power it exhibits. Take a shotgun for example, I can’t describe it, but when you fire that shotgun, it doesn’t feel as powerful as a shotgun when you take down that dark one, or hell a Nazi/Communist soldier. They pivot back, but don’t seem all that troubled by your feeble attempt to kill them. Try and put that second shell into them, there is a good chance you’ll probably miss, or that you have to reload. Killing them though in the game is a lot harder said than done as they feel as if they soak up more than they should. As they get closer to you sending your screen into a frenzy, you’ll be stuck there loading your shotgun for another shot which may kill your foe, but as you load for another shot his buddy will take his place which can get kind of annoying.
This goes for all guns—the AK-74 just doesn’t feel powerful, and in fully auto it just jumps into the air like a mad bunny. The pistol does a better job, but the game has an odd sense of distance and velocity as you aren’t able to hit much thirty feet ahead. Unless you get an upgraded version of that same gun you have, you aren’t going to be doing much at long range. Scavenging in the game is easy, and tries to promote the sense of survival which works great, but terribly at the same time. Ammo is sparse and you must use it sparingly. There are two types of bullet, military grade and cheap knock-off. Military grade ammunition is strong, but also is the currency of the game, so best to stick with knock-off rounds, but that comes with its good and bad. Good because you save military-grade ammo, bad because it doesn’t stop anything. Like I said, survival is promoted in the game and works to its advantage and disadvantage. Finding ammo is limited when you only use cheap knock-off, but then again if you use Military-grade, you are wasting money on shots that will most likely miss. Other things like medkits and gas mask filters need replacing and constant stock as you will get hurt/suffocate on the surface and tunnels alike. If you don’t keep these things stocked, you won’t survive. It’s not hard though to scavenge these types of things as they are plentiful wherever people are.
The AI is a completely different story on the other hand. While perfectly competent in the techniques to survive a firefight, it’s when you start charging they start to stand around wondering where to go—they might take cover, they might just run away, they might just dive behind you, but then again it’s their unpredictability that makes them exciting (well, somewhat exciting) to fight them. They do use flanking tactics, they do try and flush you out, but it feels all too obvious when they do so (I’m a bit of a stickler so you have to forgive me for this one) because they don’t bother suppressing when they perform the tactic—you can stand up and enjoy your freedom, and witness the grand scheme of them trying to kill you, just watch him run all nice and friendly like to the left and around the bend, only to be met by the empty stare of your rifle, ready to riddle him with bullets (that’s if you can put a few rounds on target, bloody AK-74). However your team members and dark one AI have some issues of their own. Your AI team members aren’t very useful in the grand scheme of things when they are available at your disposal (given to you as partners, they just lead you around). They aren’t crack shots, leading to you getting surrounded by dark ones a lot. There are some odd points where they might just get stuck (this is a random glitch, may not happen to you), and sometimes they might just freeze up, leaving you wondering what to do. The dark ones have some decent tactics as they do rush you in different ways (but in the end it often boils down to surrounding you) but again there may come a point where they may get stuck, stand there, or in some cases just stare at the wall for an impending amount of time (staring contests for all).
The graphics are commendable in almost every way. This is a stunning game to look at both artistically and technically. Almost everything that this game provides shares technical excellence and tactical changes—it also makes for some atmospheric encounters when the event comes about. Technically it features some stunning aesthetics that make you ‘awe’ in shock—the god rays that the spotlight at the end of the tunnel provides, the boiling of that lantern next to that soldier taking that next drag of his cigarette, that radiance of the fire those two civilians sit next to wondering what they might eat, and the shimmer of the light as it swivels from left to right as the citizens of the slum metros past by in the uncaring manner they are used to. The light makes for some intense encounters both in the light and dark. When you flick that flashlight on in the darkness of the tunnels, your heart will pound as you wander aimlessly down the seemingly empty tunnel wondering the path you must take. It is with that sudden thud that you send your flashlight back behind you… only to realize nothing is there. Turn around to the command of a crashing… but again nothing is there—in such encounters, the flashlight helps heighten the tension. The light can also be used to figure out where encampments of soldiers lie about. Take it this way, when you walk down the way into their outpost, if you need to get past them by running and gunning, they usually generally sit around the light—but if you want to be sneaky, you have the option to use the knife and blow out the light…
The characters models are something to mention as they too are quite stunning to look at when you compare them to some games on the market. The many wrinkles on that man’s face as he douses down that next glass of vodka, the glare of that mothers face as she stares down at her daughters, wondering what she wants that pig in the pen, the many satchels tied to the soldier as he prepares himself to go to the surface. There are a lot of great things that I could talk about when I say character model, but one thing I didn’t like was the render of the eye for some characters in the story. Their facial expression matches their mood, but when you stare into their eyes… god it just gives you the shivers as their mint lit eyes just seem a shade to creepy for you to be looking at. The environments you fight in all have their tactical considerations and the aesthetics that compliment them are just stunning. All environments are populated with a thick incense of scavenge—groups of lockers sit across the wall, the light twinkling off their aluminum siding, the radiance of that nearby radioactive pool of something unlikable, the luster of the anomaly as it parades down that tunnel, the lighting pushing its way down past the door into the dimly lit corridor you walk in, the shadows tensing and running past the light in an effort to ready themselves for your arrival. It is with such environments that make traversing the environment so gripping.
The immaculate detail fully compliments your surroundings, friend and foe alike. Every chip, every speck of dirt, every piece of fabric, every massing of rust—everything in this game feels all so meticulously created with stunning precision. The surface of Russia also makes for some stunning set pieces as you go through the lands of Russia wondering where to go—the air thickly dense with an indiscernible sense of danger—everything monotone gray, and the ground radiant with a thick layer of frost that actively covers the walkways. The frosting of your gas mask is commendable and may make you shiver for not replacing that gas mask when you had the chance. When that dark one shot out your gas mask glass, you should have replaced it and with the attention to detail, it can be a nuisance and immersion into the game that you need for the story to jump out at you.
There is one flaw in the engine—as good as it looks, this all comes at the price of heavy horse power. You need a lot of power to run this game at full power, and even then it still requires a little more. Heavy on the use of Nvidia (PhyX heavy when they use smoke and what not), so unless you are just in it for the story, you might consider an upgrade, or just getting it for the 360. Turning down the settings can boost a good frame rate, but it you lose the immersion that is attained better by higher settings, and at low settings many of the settings and the character models sort of grind and grate, chewing up the scenery and making everything unpleasant to look at. With that said, it requires steam to run so you might need to take a look at your choices and ask yourself if you mind it on steam. It does also have some issues with the engine itself as there are some times that it will crash on you due to memory loss of something—there are even points where it just might crash for the sake of crashing, but this happened rarely and shouldn’t get in the way of game play.
While Metro 2033 has its flaws technically and game play wise, it is still a fun adventure that makes a worthwhile trip through the metros of Russia a gripping experience in the grand scheme of things. If you are in the mood for a tense story with a great universe that examines the theory of society in the underground, then give this game a shot if you have an interest, and a strong PC, if not, then go to the 360 and try.