Despite making use of a run-of-the-mill setting, Metro 2033 is one of the best first-person shooters to come along in years.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: there’s a dystopian society filled with hunters, scavengers and mercenaries. People move through tunnels, because a nuclear holocaust has polluted the surface, making it impossible to go there without a mask and air filters. On top of that, mutants have invaded what once was a lively city, brimming with personality. So? Have you played any games that make use of the aforementioned clichés? Post apocalyptic settings are a dime a dozen. But despite making use of a run-of-the-mill setting, Metro 2033 is one of the best first-person shooters to come along in years.
Metro 2033 is based in an eponymous book written by Russian author Dmitri Glukhovsky. As its name indicates, Metro 2033 is set in the year 2033, two decades after the atomic war, an global incident that turned Earth into a toxic wasteland. The only survivors of this tragedy took shelter in the only place that wasn’t affected by nuclear residues: the train tunnels beneath Moscow. As a consequence, the train stations transformed into improvised towns that offer shelter to the few survivors of the tragic incident. People live in fear of being infected by the poisonous surface or attacked by the dangerous creatures that roam the tunnels. But apart from mutants, there’s a more serious threat: humans. The apocalypse has driven common people to become scavengers and mercenaries. The rules of society have changed and people will commit unspeakable acts just so that they can survive a while longer.
In the game, you assume the role of a 20-year old man called Artyom. Like most people in Moscow, Artyom lives in the Metro system, but he fears that the underground towns might be in grave danger. So the young man embarks on a quest to reach Polis so that he can alert the human station of the imminent threat. Artyom hopes that the people living in Polis will believe what he has to say and that they will help him defend his own station.
Something that immediately stands out about Metro 2033 is its voice acting. The English voice acting is absolutely dreadful and under no circumstances should you play Metro 2033 in its default language (unless you live in Russia.) On the contrary, I’d encourage you to play the game in Russian with English subtitles, since this contributes to the game’s unique atmosphere. Interestingly, not every single line of dialogue appears in the subtitles and this makes the Metro universe more mysterious and intriguing. Since you don’t know all the details about this world, you’ll need to figure out some bits and pieces by yourself and that’s part of what makes this game so gripping.
Luckily, the voice acting isn’t the only aspect that makes Metro 2033 such a unique experience. There are also a couple of unconventional ideas that make the gameplay really immersive. For instance, the game doesn’t have a health bar, so you have to rely on your senses to see your current state of health (blood splatters on the camera and your character’s heart rate increases when he’s about to perish.) To be able to see in the dark, the player needs to rely on a rudimentary flashlight, but this tool needs to be recharged from time to time. What does this mean exactly? You need to pull out your flashlight and manually recharge it with a crank.
Collecting air filters for your mask quickly becomes a common practice. The air in Moscow has been polluted after the nuclear war, so being on the surface requires you to use masks. But masks run on filters that need to be replaced. So you need to manually remove your current filter and exchange it for another one. Furthermore, taking too much damage during combat can break the visor on your mask, forcing you to replace it with a new one. Interestingly, this can be used to your advantage and soon enough, you’ll realize that shooting human enemies in the face can break their masks as well.
Paying attention to your current air supply is a must if you want to survive, so you need to pull out your wristwatch to see your mask’s current air filter. Similarly and if you get lost, you can take out your journal which will indicate what you’re supposed to do next. Attached to the journal, there’s a small compass showing your next destination.
But without a doubt, one of the most creative ideas is that concerning ammunition. In the world of Metro there are two types of ammunition: military-grade ammunition and low-quality ammunition. Although the former is extremely effective and accurate, that type of ammo is so valuable that firing it is like firing money. If you save it though, you can use it as currency to upgrade weapons, buy masks, filters and so on and so forth.
To a certain extent, Metro 2033 has a B-movie quality to it that makes it quite unique. Its setting, tone, voice acting and unconventional mechanics make Metro 2033 stand out in a genre where it’s pretty difficult to stand out. In addition, the game’s dark and tense atmosphere is spot on: the claustrophobic environments, the constant sense of peril and the feeling that you don’t know what’s lurking in the shadows makes Metro 2033 a thrilling and nail-biting experience. But a couple of fresh ideas make Metro 2033 a though-provoking shooter. This is one of the few first-person shooter/survival horror titles that makes you see the post-apocalyptic setting as the bleak and grim place that it really is.
The game’s sense of dreadfulness is reflected in the home stations: you see sick people who suffered the consequences of staying in the surface too long or those adventurers who were attacked by bandits or monsters. And ironically, those calm moments are more terrifying than anything else in the game. Every time you explore a human base, you see the last remnants of a what once was a fruitful society. People dance to cease the pain, they play music to escape from their reality and they tell jokes. Survivors do that because those little moments are all they have left.
But for all its strengths, Metro 2033 isn’t without its problems. First, the game is marred by technical issues, some of which are quite serious. Most bugs aren’t that problematic, but in some rare occasions progress is lost and you have to restart a given mission right from the beginning. Furthermore, some specific mechanics (such as “push a key repeatedly to survive”) are both frustrating and repetitive. Finally, while the game has a variety of weapons, I found myself using the same weapons over and over.
Despite its issues, Metro 2033 is a provocative shooter that makes use of some engrossing ideas. The solid voice acting, unconventional mechanics, meticulously crafted world, gripping narrative and thrilling scripted events make Metro 2033 a post-apocalyptic setting where you’ll want to live. At least for a few hours.