The survival horror genre has started a number of recognizable gameplay traditions. The constant tension, the emphasis on atmosphere, the helplessness of the main character, limited items/ammo — all of these mechanics are among the reasons why survival horror games are so enticing. Metro 2033 is a first-person shooter that borrows heavily from these traditions in order to create an atmospheric experience. Although Metro 2033 is an intriguing journey, I was terribly frustrated by a number of stealth scenarios and technical glitches.
Based on a Russian novel by Dmitry Glukhovsky, Metro 2033 is set in post-apocalyptic Moscow. After nuclear devastation ravaged the earth and skies, the people of Moscow retreated into the sprawling underground Metro system in order to survive, building tattered towns at various stations throughout. The world is populated by mutants, dangerous anomalies and a number of supernatural occurrences. In the midst of this strange setting, players take control of the young Artyom and guide him on his quest to deliver an important message to a neighboring station. He’ll fight a ton of generic enemies in order to get there, with a few surprises along the way.
The atmosphere is the most enjoyable aspect of this title. The gameplay, unfortunately, is the area where Metro 2033 suffers the most. When the game works, it works nicely, but that’s not always the case. The stealth sections, for example, are incredibly frustrating, as the enemies don’t always follow consistent rules. If you miss a passing guard with a silent throwing knife (or perhaps wound them without killing them), every guard in the area is not only immediately alerted, but they also know your exact location. The “gray area,” where the guards are looking for you, doesn’t really exist in this game.
These stealth sections almost ruined Metro 2033 for me, but luckily there are only a few notable ones that need to be overcome. If you can get past these obstacles, the rest of the game will be less frustrating.
Metro 2033 is also a fairly glitchy game, as I found myself getting stuck on fences and walls, as well as fighting an unintentionally invincible enemy that couldn’t be killed. Another unusual glitch is when you try and replace the filter in your gas mask. The animation of swapping filters will play, but the filter is not actually changed.
Other players might be more frustrated with how unfriendly Metro 2033 is for beginners. Although there are plenty of basic gameplay tutorials, there are a number of systems that aren’t explained well. The first time I set foot in a station market and attempted to trade currency, I was totally lost. The developers just don’t give players enough context (whether intentionally or not) and that can be a bother for newcomers.
Metro 2033′s greatest strength, on the other hand, is in its atmosphere and setting. Developer 4A Games has done a fine job creating the world and populating it with interesting sights and sounds. Crawling through dilapidated sewer pipes, riding down eerie train tracks and trudging through the cold wastelands of the surface are all examples of what this game does right. Although the overall atmosphere of Artyom’s journey through the Metro encouraged me to keep playing, the story itself is occasionally clumsy. This is mainly due to the characters, who don’t have particularly strong personalities (besides Bourbon).
At its heart, Metro 2033 is a standard FPS with a few interesting ideas built around it. The gunplay you’ll find in the game is typical fare, as you constantly run and gun, with a few sidesteps in between. Artyom can only carry one gun from each class of firearms (pistol, automatic and heavy), though he can also carry a small assortment of throwing knives and explosives. The unique elements come into play when you examine the gadgets and gizmos outside of Artyom’s basic arsenal. One of his most essential tools is his gas mask, which must be worn on the surface due to the poisonous air. Players must be careful, however, as the gas mask’s filter must be swapped out constantly to keep Artyom’s air pure. And if you make the mistake of wearing the gas mask into battle, there’s a chance it could be damaged and will need replacing.
There are other great touches to the otherwise normal running and gunning, like the universal charger which must be cranked to power Artyom’s headlamp and night vision goggles. Players can also bring up Artyom’s journal mid-exploration, which lists current objectives and also has a built-in compass which points in the direction they need to go. Also charming are the game’s pneumatic weapons, which must be pumped in order to be fired.
All these gameplay mechanics, along with the Russian setting, serve to make Metro 2033′s atmosphere enjoyable. The survival horror elements also work well, forcing players to conserve ammunition and move carefully, building tension while sneaking through environments. But these positives are seriously hampered by the stealth gameplay and technical problems.
The game’s atmosphere and unique design choices will make it a worthwhile experience for some, but Metro 2033 suffers from a number of issues (poor implementation of stealth, recurring glitches, etc.). Fans of post-apocalyptic stories should consider giving this a shot, if they can tolerate the aforementioned setbacks.