Metro 2033 Review
In a gaming generation that's overly concerned with giving players open worlds to explore, sandboxes to experiment in, and opportunities to do pretty much whatever they please, it's becoming increasingly difficult to find titles that forgo freedom in favor of a tightly scripted experience. Because most publishers would rather use anything but the now taboo term "linear" to describe their game, it's refreshing when one goes out of their way to really push the often forgotten appeal of this genre.
Taking a cue from story-driven shooters such as Half Life 2 and BioShock, THQ's Metro 2033 isn't afraid to nudge the player down a specific path and take some control from them in order to tell its tale. Taking place in the titular year, the title finds the few survivors of a nuclear apocalypse living underground in Moscow's vast network of subway tunnels. Based on a popular Russian novel of the same name, the game puts players behind the cross-hairs and muzzle flashes of Artyom, a young protagonist who grew up in this subterranean society. The set-up is appealing and gives way to a combination of stealth moments, frantic fire fights, and plenty of survival horror-like scares. It doesn't always work, but when it does, it'll have you pining for the days when these more scripted cinematic experiences weren't so scarce.
The first-person perspective shooting is pretty standard stuff, but a few interesting elements make it more strategic and anxiety-inducing. For one, ammo is scarce but enemies—both human nut jobs and mutated creatures—are not, so carefully planning your shots before you squeeze the trigger is important. It's also imperative you loot all corpses for resources and hope they were hoarding plenty of bullets before you spilled their brains. Ratcheting this limited ammo element even further is an inspired economy that essentially turns your bullets into money. There's two types of ammo, the good, pre-apocalypse stuff and the crap that was manufactured after the nuclear winter took hold. The good stuff makes for more effective killers, but is also worth more on the black market; so, the difficult decision you're often faced with is whether to shoot the primo projectiles into baddies or save them to buy better gear and weapons. When you're literally shooting your money away, it really makes every bullet count.
Metro 2033 applies some additional pressure by requiring players to wear a gas mask on the surface and in some contaminated underground areas. As with the ammo mechanic, this can make for both tense and strategic moments. The masks use air filters that need replacing every so often, and scrambling to find one just as you're about to gasp your last breath is pretty nerve-racking. Sharp-clawed enemies and even gunfire can also crack the masks, leaving you vulnerable to the poisoned air and forcing you to scramble for a new mask. The few areas that have you actively monitoring both air and ammo consumption are the ones that pack Metro 2033's most adrenaline-spiking thrills.
As much as these tricks add to the overall experience, there are times where their lack of balance and polish shine through. Sometimes ammo and air filters are simply too damn scarce no matter how careful you are, and the bullet-driven economy often exists more as a novelty than a necessity. Still, I enjoyed both these aspects, and can see them adding significantly more to the overall experience in a sequel.
On the audio and visual side, Metro 2033 does a damn good job of selling its scares with its dimly lit subway tunnels and creepy ambient sound effects. Again, its linearity works in its favor, doling out set pieces and scripted events to direct its pace. A no-HUD approach also effectively places you in Artyom's shaking boots; you'll need to look at your watch to check your air supply, and a physical map, similar to the one in Far Cry 2, replaces the usual pause menu navigation system. You'll also have to crank a generator to power your flashlight and occasionally flick a Bic to splash some light across your map.
Metro 2033's story is hit or miss, which is a little disappointing considering it's based on an actual book. There are some cool elements introduced early on, and most of the characters are far more interesting than the drones populating most such games, but these aspects generally take a back seat to the shooting and sneaking. Still, there are some surprising horror and supernatural touches—I won't spoil them for you here—that propel this one past the glut of post-apocalyptic shooters out there.
Metro 2033 lacks some of the polish we're used to seeing in AAA FPS efforts such as Modern Warfare 2. However, considering it pretty much came out of nowhere, it stands as a decent first effort in what I hope will be a continuing franchise. The mix of cinematic scares, scripted story-driven shooting, and interesting tweaks like the ammo economy and gas masks, make a trip to the Moscow Metro well worth it for fans tired of the typical run-and-gun romp.