Metro 2033 is the most draining game I have played this generation. Its vision of post-apocalyptic Moscow is so dark, and so hostile, that it engulfs you like a prison. Its difficulty, so brutal and unforgiving, that hours can be spent on sections that other games would let you skip through whilst whistling a merry tune. Despite this, it manages to weave an utterly compelling journey of salvation and survival, as you travel through the shattered underground system in hope of delivering a mankind-saving message to the city of Polis. It seems the Dark Ones are coming, and there's not much you can do about it.
It doesn't take long to work out Metro 2033 is going to be a tough slog. After a brief introduction to the mutants (who've been running Moscow above ground since the blast), you'll begin your trek through the metro system's various stations. You play Artyom, a child of the underground, who suffers from vicious flashbacks of the days he saw the planet breathing happily. An entire generation has been born and raised in the depths of darkness, and tales of the Old World flutter between citizens as if they were prophesying about Heaven and Hell. Unfortunately for them, Hell is closer than they think, as the mutants aren't the only hostile force ready to take over.
Moscow is a broken city, full of human and alien threat.
Communities are full of life and act as a safe haven from danger.
And so, Metro 2033 throws you in at the deep end. The majority of the game is spent traversing through tunnels that crawl with hidden danger. Mutants creep overhead, utilising air vents and holes to form an attack at any second. You're hinted to turn off your headlight, and to move slowly if you're looking to pass unnoticed, but even that doesn't guarantee safe passage through the swarming areas. Once you've been spotted, the Dark Ones lurk round every corner, waiting to strike with a ferocious outburst. To contrast this, you'll often stumble through bustling communities, full of rumour and endless chat that can be overheard if you listen carefully enough.
In the moments you make it above ground, and into the 'Dead City', Metro 2033 reveals a whole new layer of terror. Conditions are freezing, and Artyom must wear a gas mask to filter air into his lungs; every breath bringing a thumping of the heart that follows you throughout the game. On the surface, the Dark Ones should be viewed with greater caution, as seemingly invincible winged-variants dominate the Russian sky that was once filled with air traffic. In these sections, you'll often be forced to enter destroyed buildings in order to locate vital documents, a route through the city, or simply shelter from the incoming threat. Once spotted, the Dark Ones stand on their hind legs and cry out for reinforcements with an ominous growl; one of the game's most prominent signs that it's about to kick off.
It feels like Metro 2033 is constantly preparing players for doom. Every second should be spent scavenging bullets, medical supplies, gas masks and air filters from any possible source. The Metro community use ammo as their currency, so there's a huge difference from finding some rusty old bullets on the floor of the tunnel, compared to investing in some military grade shotgun shells. The latter does greater damage, and should be saved for times of crisis, of which there are many.
Looting a corpse for ammo sums up Metro's barbaric nature, as the resting soul flinches with each interaction. The game poses the question of morality in a world where mercy has long been forgotten. It's mightily easy to back yourself into irreversible corners if you fail to scavenge avidly enough, as running out of bullets, or trying to take on the enemy with a broken gas mask, holds the potential to push you back a few levels if you're not careful. It's unforgiving, but also forces you into adopting a sense of efficiency that most games would overlook for more ammo and obvious success.
The light brings new reason to be wary, as the Dead City awaits your arrival.
The Nazis are back, as Metro mocks the loss of World War II through its loading screens.
By far Metro 2033's biggest problem is that once the firefight begins, all the rules and the subtle nurturing is thrown out the window. The common mutants should be viewed as cannon-fodder, as they approach in gangs and can be taken down with a well-placed shot, or even ripped open with a bayonet. It's once the communist country comes into contact with a rejuvenated fascist state that this title begins to really punish the player.
One scene is memorable for all the wrong reasons, as even on the normal difficulty setting, it'll take the most astute of players many attempts to surpass. As the Nazis move forward in an bid to crush the Russian frontline, you're tasked with passing through the battlefield unnoticed. If you take a good look around, nightvision goggles can be found to aid this task, but even then there's a lot of frustration to get through. Once the human enemies get you in their sights, the gunplay highlights itself as the game's low point. The hit detection makes little sense, as enemies will bow to the pressure of a throwing knife in the knee (which leaves a gaping hole in their flesh), but stand up to a full shotgun blast from close range. Equally baffling, it seems once a human opponent has been shot, they often enter an animation which means they can't be hit again until they've stopped flailing about. Added to this, the bandits and Nazi forces are insanely accurate, and make no qualms about taking you down with grenades, mounted machine guns and even the odd Panzer tank.
It's these moments that make Metro 2033 unfair on the player. We're all for difficult games, but when the battle feels unfinished and flawed, its challenge appears through stupidity rather than intended scope. The title continually flickers between being superbly engrossing and feeling broken, as we can't help but feel 4A Games should have taken more care when testing their creation. The fact that a new control scheme is added via an in-game update before you begin screams that they were still making adjustments late in the day, as Metro feels like it would have benefited from an extra month of playtesting and feedback.
That said, it does manage to create a journey worth embarking on. Your trek through the underground often leaves you isolated and alone, making the experience all the more intense. When help arrives, or you tackle an objective in a group, you can bet your life the title will quickly counteract your feeling of safety in numbers. The latter section of the game starts with six communist fighters working together, and slowly but surely eliminates those who aren't up for the task.
Radiation creaks through your body if you stand close enough, slowly eliminating your health.
Additional firepower doesn't appear often, but should be welcomed with open arms.
Although Metro doesn't frighten with huge jumps, its brilliantly crafted sound design and endless passages of darkness create a suffocating feeling that is hard to shake off. It's relentlessly tiring work, as you're constantly on the lookout for appliances to aid your quest in a location that seeps danger from every pore. You'll continually have to adapt to survive, as the bustling wind of the Dead City provides you with a drunken aim, and at one point, the weight of a child on your shoulders slows your turning movement down to pensioner agility.
METRO 2033 VERDICT
As you transport the aforementioned child to back to his mother, Metro 2033’s horrifying vision begins to take over. The child sees the sky for the first time, claiming he’ll be famous now he’s witnessed the fabled phenomenon. His mother, grateful for his return, offers bullets as a reward. Do you take them, and leave the family unguarded, or do you simply move on without extra aid? The moral choices are minor, but are relevant enough to your personal journey that they have an affect on the game’s ending. There’s no doubt that, whatever the conclusion, Metro 2033 transmits enough struggle to make it a rewarding tale to finish. Despite many glaring flaws, this title provides a sense of impending doom that is thoroughly engrossing from start to finish.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Witnessing the atmospheric, and truly terrifying metro system.