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4A-Games has arrived. After all of the controversy over the game engine with former employees of GSC Game World, Metro 2033 has finally seen the light of day. Being a fan of the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series of games I was very excited to hear that some of the former team members from that franchise were working on a new game. It was also nice to hear that it would also employ a post-apocalyptic setting based off of a Dmitry Glukhovsky novel by the same name.
My intent was to publish this review earlier but I have been immersed in the claustrophobic tunnels that reside below the surface of Moscow. It is a world where nuclear war was a reality and the passengers of the metro system were the ‘lucky’ survivors. The game places you in the role of Artyom, a silent protagonist ah-la Gordon Freeman. You reside in a world where the surface is deadly, the only currency is pre-war bullets, and mankind is still trying to kill itself. There are a few factions that are warring with each other. The communists, the Nazis, and what seems like everyone else. If that wasn’t harsh enough, there are strange creatures that lurk within the old Moscow subway system, just waiting for some unlucky soul to cross their path. Since the game is heavily driven by its story I will try not to touch on it. It is something best experienced without any foreknowledge.
My first reaction to the game was how amazing it looked. I’m running a rather fit system and was able to crank most settings to their highest limit. I was blown away by the quality. Beautiful texture work, particle effects, environmental and lighting effects. I found it hard to play through the game on my first play-through because I wanted to take in every scene and really take my time. The problem there was the fact that the story tries to push you forward a little too quickly. I also noticed I spent a lot of time looking at the ground searching for pre-war bullets, though I didn’t end up spending many of them through the first run.
One aspect I really enjoyed was the very organic feel to the game. The standard HUD is very limited to a view of weapons that is only seen when you scroll through them and a graphical depiction of your ammunition count when needed. Other than that it is completely nonexistent. The health-bar is replaced by a screen distorting red blur and rapid increase in heart rate. When wearing the gas mask you have a wrist watch you can refer to for filter change notifications. Alternatively, you can rely on the labored sound of your breathing and the excessive fogging that occurs on your mask as well. Another thing I learned quickly was the fact that the gas mask can break if you are wounded too often while wearing it, requiring you to loot one in better condition off of a corpse. Medkits are replaced by scarce adrenaline shots which rapidly increase your heart rate and cause the screens brightness to actually fluctuate for a moment. It is a welcomed addition to an already innovative system. Your head lamp and night-vision goggles are both set on limited battery life and require you to pull out a device to replenish the charge. It’s an interesting interaction that requires some preparation so you are not left in the dark at the wrong time.
The environments are another big plus. The game is set in a rendered model of the Moscow Metro system. At times you can also venture to the surface, which is a frozen wasteland riddled with creatures. There are a few elements in the game that pay homage to the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series such as the anomalies that are in the subway tunnels, or the fact that you find frozen stalkers on the surface at one point. The dark is another aspect that you can use to your advantage. Blowing out lamps, shooting out lights, and equipping a stealth suit can allow you to play a silent assassin, stalking the shadows and dropping foes with knives, allowing you to conserve ammunition.
The game is not without its flaws though. There are times when outside that I felt as though I should have been able to go places but was not able to due to invisible walls. The entire game heavily limits where you can go, but that is to be expected. Also, some of the weapons are not as effective as they should be. I should not have to spend six shotgun shells on a soldier that is standing in front of me. Balancing like that can be extremely frustrating.
Still, aside from little things like that, this game is quite an accomplishment. This is the kind of storytelling that Modern Warfare 2 could not accomplish; a compelling environment that truly instills a sense of desperation and panic into the player. One thing to remember though, play this game at night. Make sure to have the sound up as loud as your living situation allows, and try to lose yourself in the experience. Perhaps it will eat up as many hours in your life as it has in mine.
-Matthew S. Toth