Developed by: 4A Games
Published by: THQ, Deep Silver (Metro 2033 Redux)
Game played on: PC
Released on: March 16, 2010, August 26, 2014 (Metro 2033 Redux)
My companion Khan tells me to stop. I obey, after all, he knows this tunnel better than I do. We see a floating ball of electricity go by. Khan says as long as we remain still, it can’t detect us. This is just one of many strange natural phenomenon you will encounter in the world of Metro 2033.
Originally released on March 16, 2010 in North America, Metro 2033 is a post-apocalyptic first person shooter adapted from a Russian post-apocalyptic novel written by author Dmitry Glukhovsky. It takes place in Moscow in the aftermath of a global nuclear war, where the survivors have taken refuge in the underground metro tunnels, with the surface world being in a state of nuclear winter, inhabited by monsters created by the radiation, and the air is impossible to breathe without gas masks. Your playable character is Artyom, just a normal resident of his metro station. The society of the metro comes under siege by a completely new species known as “The Dark Ones”, creatures with psychic powers that leave their victims insane, then dead. Artyom must go on a quest to the station of Polis, where a group of elite soldiers who protect the metro’s citizens known as the Rangers reside to enlist their aid. On his journey, Artyom must face the dangers created by the post nuclear world he lives in, whether it be Nazis or abnormal beings that can only be described as supernatural. I own, but have not read the book in full, so I can’t speak on how faithful the game is to the original source material. Also, I did not play the original Metro 2033, but the remake titled Metro 2033 Redux released for current gen consoles in the Metro Redux pack. It gives the visuals a tremendous update, fixes issues with the stealth and AI, gives you two different modes to play: Spartan and Survival (favoring an action experience and the game’s original survival elements and horror tone respectively), and adds collectible journal entries by Artyom scattered throughout levels. I would consider it the definitive version of the game.
Metro 2033 is the kind of game that is unique, takes risks, that there should be more like, yet is also flawed in key areas that can dampen an otherwise amazing experience. An experience that it owes almost entirely to the game’s utterly superb atmosphere.
Metro 2033 is an atmospheric experience that sucks you in from the beginning, and doesn’t let you go until the very end. The usage of lighting, shadow, and ambient noises made me feel like I was in the tunnels of the metro themselves. The atmosphere isn’t just confined to the underground, as the snow covered, toxic surface of ruined Moscow is just as engrossing. Wind howls and snow blows across the city while flying mutants known as “demons” soar across the sky, picking up any unfortunate scavenger that crosses their path to devour. The setting of ruined Moscow is extremely refreshing, as the Russian architecture gives a foreboding feel I haven’t otherwise felt in a post-apocalyptic story in any medium. The game’s story is one that weaves the other worldly threat of the Dark Ones with a subtle moral ambiguity. Without giving any spoilers, Metro asks you not to make any assumptions about anything, and to come to your own conclusions about your antagonists. Good and evil are no longer cut and dry in the new world. Usually, it is simply people trying to survive long enough that day to make it to the next. This ties into the game’s binary, yet compelling morality system. There are “good” and “bad” choices, but determining which is which is can be a challenge, and both of the game’s endings have an air of doubt and uncertainty lingering in them, never letting you settle on whether the right decision was made. That being said, it is held back at times because some of the “good” choices involve simply stopping and listening to conversations in the game’s hub stations where you can by ammo and other supplies. Given some of the confusing layout of these stations, finding conversations can be tricky, and you’ll likely miss a few. Getting the good ending will probably require a second playthrough, as you’re more likely to get the bad one the first time around.
2033’s human population has created a completely new society underground, with admirable detail given to the activities and lives of its people. Little touches such as a couple arguing and a child pestering his father make all the difference in giving the NPCs of 2033 humanity. This can be seen in your human enemies as well, even the Nazis. While sneaking in the shadows, you will often hear conversations between NPC soldiers, talking about home, family, what they’re going to do for fun, and other topics that will make you think twice about pulling the trigger. An important feature of the new society that pops up both in story and gameplay is the currency system of military grade ammunition. Military ammo is now the commodity used in place of money for the trading of goods, and this will has the potential to put players in interesting situations in their playtime. Do you save your military ammo for later to trade for weapons, air filters, etc., or do you use some of the ammo to inflict extra damage on enemies in place of the less effective metro bullets at the cost of literally throwing your money away?
Resource conservation is an extremely important part of 2033’s gameplay, as supplies are scarce. Players need to conserve their ammo, recharge their flashlight batteries, and watch how many air filters they have for their gas masks and change them when they run out of air. This and the game’s claustrophobic atmosphere make Metro feel a lot like a survival horror game, including confronting humanity’s capacity for cruelty, supernatural locations and visions, and other moments of terror that disempower players rather than make them feel like an all powerful hero. It never becomes unfairly difficult however, because as long as I fired in bursts, and used the appropriate weapon at the appropriate range, I more often than not had enough ammo to survive the next encounter. Another way to conserve your ammo is taking the stealthy approach to human enemies. Crouching and staying away from light sources will ensure the player is hidden as long as enemies weren’t prior made aware of their presence, and Artyom has a tiny bulb on his watch that indicates to the player whether he is visible or not. It can be aggravating however, since the game doesn’t always tell the player whether or not they’re completely visible, or just partially and they still have time to hide. And in order to knock out or kill enemies silently, players need to get up close to enemies, and the game did not always give me the option of knocking them out, forcing me to use my silenced pistol to ruin and otherwise non-lethal stealth run. Also frustrating was the lack of a lean function, which forced me to walk right out of cover in order to see exactly where guards were.
So Metro 2033 is certainly a very good atmospheric game, and it is also (all things considered) a good shooter. Every weapon, from submachine guns to air rifles are designed with insane levels of detail down to the reloading animation and bullet casings. There’s also a fairly detailed customization system, where you can choose whether to put a night vision scope, a red dot sight, a silencer, or an extension barrel on your gun to fit your playstyle. Some attachments and guns are more useful than others however, such as the fact you’ll likely never want to use a submachine gun ever again after picking up an AK-47. Enemies also suffer a bad case of bullet sponge syndrome, where even some unarmored enemies can take a high amount of punishment before dying. It can end up causing you to drop your guard when there’s still one more enemy who isn’t quite dead yet.
The final aspect of Metro that deserves nothing less than unqualified praise is its delicious soundtrack. It can go from goose bump inducing in one moment, then minimalistic the next. A lone guitar being used may seem minimal, but it can make all the difference. Just as important is when the game has the wisdom to not use it, instead letting the environment and ambient noises set the atmosphere.
I played Metro 2033 on Normal difficulty in Survival mode, since the game was always meant as an atmospheric FPS game with horror and survival elements. Normal difficulty was certainly not easy, but towards the later stages of the game I wasn’t too hard pressed for air filters and ammo. This could probably be attributed to the fact this is my second time playing Metro 2033 Redux. First time players should play on Normal, while more experienced players should increase the difficulty to more challenging levels. The game’s framerate ran smoothly with no texture pop in on my laptop, but I did have one crash in my entire playtime. Lastly, there is an option to play the game with English and Russian voice acting. While I personally thought the English voice acting to be competent, I can see it becoming annoying to some other people, so the option for a potentially more authentic experience is there. Be warned however, that some of the background conversations are not subtitled, so you will miss potentially interesting conversations.
So Metro 2033 is a game that doesn’t do everything right, but what it does do right, very few other games do better. I am grateful that it managed to get a sequel, and that the original game was remade to iron out any of the more glaring flaws the original may have had. It can be intimidating at first, but please give this game a chance.