Developer: 4A Games
Released: 19th March 2010
Other Formats: PC
You don't see too many games based on novels lying about the shelves, granted, but 4A Games' first release ponders the question, why not!? Based on the novel of the same name by Dmitry Glukhovsky, Metro 2033 is a prime example of an entirely intriguing concept that can be sufficiently brought into video game form in apt fashion. It makes you wonder, what else lies out there that awaits video game conversion...
Taking place from the perspective of lead character Artyom, 2033 is set in the dark and dank tunnels of post apocalyptic Moscow's metro tunnels after nuclear war obliterated all remaining life on the surface. This is a tale meandering through depression, communism and survivalism of the highest degree, in the drab and grey underbelly of Moscow's subway stations, populated by desecrated and weak survivors. The post apocalyptic setting here, every match for the barren and oppressing DC wastelands witnessed in Bethesda's thrilling Fallout 3. It's something so resonant and involving that the slight lack of visual fidelity fails to mask it, instead, the game's overarching bleakness that wallows in its dark brutality leaps from the screen. The theme resides within every aspect of the game's unique design- of which the developer can take full credit in delivering Glukhovsky's thematic tones- from the drab scapes to the makeshift and almost home-made look and feel of its weaponry, rusting parts and mechanical faults that seem to have been put together through loose, ramshackle components. The dense back story that no doubt is lent a helping hand from the novel, meanwhile, delivers unique and neat ideas of its own- the concept of 'Military Grade' bullets that were made pre-war acting as both currency and more effective rounds of ammo is well implemented (holding down 'RB' swaps bullet type). Equipping your weapon to literally “fire money” is something you'll only have to do maybe once or twice within the relatively short campaign, that can faulter with its severe difficulty spikes.
Whilst it is admirable that 4A Games have tried their hardest in sticking true to the source novel on a number of occasions, through both plotting and pacing, you can't help but find fault in its overly drawn out and linear meanderings through tunnels, with vast stretches of the game becoming tiresome given the developers insistence on 'hand-holding' as fellow characters drawl in pseudo English-Russian accents that are distinctly poor. In tackling such issues, portions of the game do take refuge on the destroyed land of the surface where the gas mask (equipped through holding 'down') is your aid from the toxic gas that poisons the air. Keeping an eye on your gas mask filter levels (where a click of 'LB' results in the character showing his wrist meter) is vitally important if you're to survive, since extended periods of use will blur vision and result in the excellent aural cues of rasping and wheezing, as well as visual screen blotches. Thankfully, replacement filters can be bought in any of Metro's underground markets- in addition to weapon upgrades (a bayonet attachment for example), weaponry, and ammunition (where the aforementioned 'Military Grade' bullets are exchanged for currency).
In fact, the game only really struggles in its combat, where the use of an obtrusive lock-on mechanic fails to help the generally ineffective and poor shooting mechanics. In trying to deal with any of 2033's hideous monstrosities that sap from the filthy surroundings, you'll most probably feel overwhelmed with the attacking ferocity that can come as a result of the combative system that governs play. Not helped along by the often severe lack of ammo, this is where Metro 2033 perhaps fails to shine the brightest.
It's also a shame to see such an interesting story or narrative fall from the developers grasp as they struggle to seep any weight of cinematic ambition from their first-person viewpoint (we only see the lead protagonist in full in the closing scene!) In the plot that stretches from survival to friendship and more supernatural and strange phenomenon in plentiful dreamscapes, it's at a detriment to its whole when the conclusion is this underwhelming, as the amped up progression fizzles and combusts into a overly long, drawn out close.
In weighing up my feelings on Metro, I can't help but applaud the fantastic setting and world that has been expertly constructed, keeping a firm grasp of its thematic bearings whichever way you choose to look. The story could have perhaps been dealt with a little more resolutely in some of its more stretched out scenes, although within its infrastructure are some frankly excellent examples of how to create undying levels of tension, with the thematically resolute tone only helping in such instances. The sequel has just been announced, so if Metro 2034 can refine in the aspects that I believe it should, then 4A ought to have a fantastic shooter on their hands.