And you thought the New York Subway was bad…
After the Cuban Missile Crisis subsided, Americans all learned one thing: “Duck and Cover” was, in no way, going to protect any of us from a nuclear weapon. Private industry stepped in and created private mini-bomb shelters, but sadly nothing to the extent of the Vaults from Fallout. Russia, on the other hand, was convinced that some cowboy US President was going to nuke us all to oblivion, so they designed their Metro stations to be bomb shelters as well. Cities would have nuclear bomb drills where everyone would run to the nearest Metro station. Schools were organized in case of nuclear attack, with the youngest kids on the lowest floor since they moved the slowest. In an all-out nuclear exchange, it is more likely that residents of Moscow will survive than residents of Los Angeles.
[image1]In Metro 2033, that’s exactly what happened. While the fate of Los Angeles – or the rest of the world for that matter – is unknown, the residents of Moscow might be the last humans on the face of the Earth. Taking their place on top of the food chain are mutated beasts patrolling the wasteland above. You take the role of Artyom, a young man looking at a bleak future living underground. After his mysterious mentor disappears, Artyom sets off on a quest that will redefine humanity’s future.
Based on the eponymous Russian novel, Metro 2033 is a sign of the next step in the game industry for a couple reasons. First, it was conceptualized and designed in Russia, showing gamers that there are other places to develop good games besides the US, Europe, and Japan. Second, the novel it was originally based on was originally a free, online novel. Published for free online in 2002, it became so popular that a printed version was released three years later. Now it has been published in over 20 countries, has its own video game, and the author is in talks for a Hollywood movie. The future is now, my friends, and good stories have new ways of getting out and about.
Speaking of getting around, once out of the safety of his home station, Artyom encounters a world in chaos. Some stations offer friendship, others offer only pain. Money has lost all value in the post-apocalyptic world. Instead, pre-apocalypse ammunition is the primary monetary unit accepted by all stations. Travel between the stations mostly takes place underground, safe from the radiation that covers the surface. However, not all places can be reached by traveling underground and situations will force you to the blasted surface.
The air in Moscow is toxic, requiring the use of the gas mask most of the time. As any soldier can tell you, gas masks are not the most durable things in the world. When a mutant freak is trying to eat your face, it just might get cracked. In addition, the air filters need constant changing due to the high levels of toxicity. Thankfully, nearly every human knows this, so gas masks and filters litter the landscape… mostly on corpses.
[image2]The first person combat in Metro 2033 is tight… literally. Most of your fights are in the dark enclosed spaces of the Metro. Many times, you only have your flashlight to show the way. Unlike Doom 3, however, this future not only has duct tape, but also headlamps. The close surroundings add a high level of desperation to most fights, which is exactly how you should feel against 8 feet-tall mutant freaks.
The level design is dark and tight for another reason beyond just atmosphere: It does a good job disguising the mediocre enemy intelligence. They pause at strange times to bark at you and can miss hitting you from point-blank range. Mutation didn’t do wonders to their thought process, apparently.
There are plenty of weapons to be purchased or bought on your adventure. The inventory system, however, leaves much to be desired. You can only carry one type of each gun “class”. Some of the guns are arbitrarily thrown together, and only through play can you actually figure out which ones you like. You can pick up guns in the field, but you just might swap a better gun for a worse one, unless you can recognize the better weapons by sight.
The sound just might be the most realistic I’ve ever encountered in a video game. It is rare for a sound designer to be willing to create such an unclean cacophony as there is in Metro 2033. Some gamers might make issue with the constant heavy breathing under the gasmask or high pitched ringing from explosives, but when striving for reality, you have to include unpleasant noises as well. I actually had to turn on the subtitles because Russian-accented English heard through a gas mask is, quite rightly, a bit garbled. In the close quarters of the Metro, full conversations actually overlap like they would in real life. Selective hearing doesn’t often play a role in video games, and it truly does add to the overall atmosphere.
[image3]And the atmosphere and storyline is where Metro 2033 truly shines. The dark Metro and bleak surface tell of a world of desperation. Many of the humans, huddled in the dark recesses of their lost civilization, are resigned to the end of humanity. Conversations are depressing, hunger palpable, and the reactions of the characters to their situation is, well, human. As you progress, things get darker and weirder, with shadows and anomalies that are just as dangerous, if not more so, than the mutants.
I’d say more, but when the story is the highlight of the game, spoilers abound. Suffice it to say that if you are a first-person shooter fan who is not sold that multiplayer is the best part of the genre, Metro 2033 was designed for you. With an engrossing story and phenomenal atmosphere, Metro 2033 is a solid entry that surpasses some other recent FPS titles (Wolfenstein comes to mind) in its overall quality.