The depressing and realistic atmosphere of Metro 2033 is the title’s biggest drawing card. It is a world filled with interesting characters, portrayed around the fundamentals of what makes a society function when under turmoil. The after-math of nuclear war has forced humans into the dark and damp metro tunnel systems of Moscow. Our very existence is under threat by the beasts born out of the ashes of nuclear fire, and as we fight for survival under the lingering darkness of the black and red sky, we are constantly being harassed by the same moral decisions that plagued mankind before the war.
The experience that is Metro 2033 is intriguing and long, and while it is not without its problems, it’s a unique take on post-apocalyptic story telling. Unfortunately, the game has too many issues on the gameplay front to propel it into greatness, but its ability to drag you in and push you onward throughout the story is ultimately what makes Metro 2033 a worthwhile experience. While it might feel a little dated in some areas, the combined brilliance of the world with the gloomy and at-times frightening characters has the potential to blind you from its downsides.
And yet, the game’s often-unbearable darkness may be a little too much for some. So much of the environment is plagued by darkness, an attempt to drag us into the sad world that we are now experiencing. While Metro 2033 does a fantastic job of setting a particular tone of death and survival, this is not a world that all gamers will be able to appreciate and want to venture in. The world is not conventionally inviting, although there is something about it that can be appealing. It’s incredibly captivating, and 4A Games’s unique design of this post-apocalyptic world is harrowing and yet surprisingly subtle. You can be walking through the darkest and wettest of tunnels, before you casually stroll into the path of a lamp. Your tension is temporarily cured by the warmth of the light on screen, before you see the dead corpse of a mutated beast on the floor in front of you; the world of Metro 2033 is not quite evil, but it’s definitely not inviting.
Metro 2033’s narrative isn’t the strongest we’ve seen, but its ability to build up tension the further into the game you get must be applauded. The world is used very well to help tell a story, and you’re encouraged to pay attention and eavesdrop on as many conversations as possible to fully understand the point of your mission. The story early on is patchy and nothing is told straight down the line, but the world often leaves little clues to help you on your way. At the end of the day, Metro 2033 offers an interesting story that is told in a unique way. It’s potentially a world you’ll remember for a long time.
Though much of this world is as depressing as you can imagine, there’s the occasional sign of hope in the smallest of forms. These small signs can ultimately determine whether or not you have the passion to play through the entire experience, as their presence reminds you of how precious and beautiful human life and intelligence can be. Even the random sight of a broken bicycle or an old book that is stumped up in a corner has the potential to liven up the experience, and that is a wonderful indication of how memorably dark this dying Moscow can be.
There is a fantastic fusion of light and land in Metro 2033, as they are often combined to make the environment as memorable as it is. Be it for better or worse, 4A Games has focused on creating a world that is incredibly dark for the most part, but there is the occasional burst of light that gives us an opportunity to survey and appreciate the landscape. These moments are yet another distinctive factor of progression through the experience, and the most subtle of things are what have the potential to keep pushing you through the world; at one moment you’ll be wondering how dull and dark everything is, before you’re given a glimpse of hope by a small object or the bright light up ahead. It’s an interesting tactic by the developer, one that actually helps strengthen the world’s presence as a character within the story.
The subway tunnels that the humans call home are actually shared with mutated beasts. As you venture through the dark system, you’ll be able to distinguish the difference between human or mutant occupied tunnels by the dead corpses lying around and the bite marks and dents forced into the metal foundations. There is the occasional system that is empty - the eerie sound of wind whistling in the distance and the thick darkness making you wonder why the space hasn’t been occupied in the first place.
The monsters you encounter are mostly territorial and keep to themselves unless you venture into their space, but there is the large, more aggressive bread of mutated beast that constantly attempts to break into the human compounds of the metro. Your goal throughout the game has you traveling through the underground system to deliver a very important message, so you can imagine how often you’re going to come across these aggressive and horrendously ugly monsters.
The weapon system is very interesting and well integrated, although the actual shooting mechanics leave a lot to be desired. This isn’t a world where you can easily buy up and upgrade to the most powerful of weapons. The human compounds are constantly short on supplies, so currency is important when looking to upgrade your gun. High-caliber military style bullets act as the game’s main currency, but they are incredibly rare and hard to come by. The weapon designs are very interesting, with some great postwar designs that fit the world well. It wouldn’t make sense to have shiny and technologically powerful weapons available, and it’s great to see the advancement of technology after the nuclear war is as weak as the human race is itself.
The shooting mechanics are frustrating and far from accurate. The mutated beasts move incredibly fast, and it’s difficult to determine whether or not you’re actually hitting them. The animations are poor and this only makes the issue worse, as there is minimal (if any at all) blood splatter, often making it seem like you’re just firing bullets into the air at nothing. This is somewhat rectified by the frantic soundtrack and movements of other humans in the area, so there is a strong feeling of fighting for survival, which makes the combat somewhat exciting, but not overly engaging.
You’ll occasionally have to take on human enemies, which offers a nice little twist to the combat. The evolution of human ideals when fighting for survival on the brink of extinction is the inspiration for some human enemies. Most of the time you’ll need to use stealth to get past them, and for the most part, the movements and stealth aspects work well. However, it is slightly inconsistent. You can shine a light or make the smallest of noises and no one will hear you, but then other times enemies will become aware of your presence for no particular reason. Once they do, the game’s unpleasant and incompetent AI is on show, although the tight and dark environments make for some tense and at-time exciting and engaging combat. Funnily enough, you might find human-on-human combat and the stealth aspects to be the better aspects of combat when compared to taking on the mutated beasts.
A vast majority of the action takes place underground, but you can put a gas mask on and head out into the unknown that is the crumbled Moscow. The world is actually quite large, but with a large and brightened area comes the unfortunate highlighting of graphical downsides. While the design of the world is great, textures, character models and animations all look incredibly dated by today’s standards. These problems ultimately don’t hurt the overall grimy and dull look of the world, but they do stand out if you’re paying attention.
The Final Verdict
Metro 2033 is a solid and fascinating adventure. The post-apocalyptic world of Moscow makes for the game’s best aspect, with its riveting characters and interesting execution of a story. The gameplay is a bit of a mixed bag, with average shooting mechanics and inconsistent stealth aspects, although the tense and intimidating environments help make the combat engaging and sometimes deeply enjoyable.
Combat on all fronts is a mixed bag, but it never falls down completely thanks to great use of the world. The game encourages you push onwards if you can look beyond the darkness of the story and environments.
It’s an intriguing world that is propelled by wonderful use of light and darkness. Things can get a little ugly outside, but it’s a large world with plenty of memorable aspects.
An absolutely brilliant Russian-accent voice cast with a nice and fitting ambient soundtrack.
Roughly 10 hours to finish, and you might want to play it again once you figure everything out and know exactly what you’re doing and where to go. No multiplayer, though.
A score between 7.3 and 7.9 means the overall experience is good but may suffer from some medium-to-major problems on the gameplay, value and/or graphical front.