Not a game for the masses
Don’t make the mistake of thinking this is a shooter; this is a stealthy survival horror game more than anything else. If you’re looking for a run and gun shooter, you better look somewhere else, ‘cause if you play Metro 2033 as such, chances are you’ll run out of ammo way too quickly, die way too many times and eventually end up hating the game. But if on the other hand, you prefer a more careful and patient approach, as well as an incredibly immersive experience played in a first person perspective, then you’re in for one hell of a ride.
Although both the human and the mutant characters’ textures and animations are definitely not the best out there, especially considering today’s standards, truth is, everything else looks and feels very realistic and technically near perfection. Just like in the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series, the whole lighting and overall grim and oppressive atmosphere are the real main characters in this post-nuclear apocalyptic venture. Radiation and mutants alike have forced the Muscovites to move underground into the huge maze of tunnels that compile the city’s metro network, and make it their new home(s). As in most games, the premise is quite simply: you play the role of Artyom, a young man who’s never been outside of his metro station. But then one day, bound to a promise made to a friend in order to try and save their own metro station (aka town), you now have to face an epic journey through the web of murky metro passageways and ultimately, even across the desolate surface — which looks both cold but nostalgic; cruel, yet strangely beautiful in all its quietness and/or dangers.
For the better and for the worse, society underground remains as human-like as it was before the nuclear holocaust: most of the people you see in the game are just normal people, living in community at metro stations and just trying to survive together, as a group; but you do get to meet a handful of more interesting and friendly characters, which you’ll have the chance to help or be helped by. Unfortunately, the metro system is not only made of good decent people. You’ll find a lot of bandits trying to take your goods… and your life. But the greatest human enemies you’ll find are the neo-Nazis — these fascists are quite the trigger-happy goons and they’re out for metro-dominance, and blood. On the other side of the barricade, you have the Communists, who seem to be willing to once again eradicate the Nazi upheaval at all costs. Now, of course that means exploiting the hell out of you and everyone else as expendable means to reach an end. So, if you were looking for potential allies here, forget about it. Finally, there’s really no Capitalism in this new society, ‘cause the pieces of printed paper we call money no longer exist, but you do get the chance to trade and buy ammo and guns at neutral stations — which ultimately you really won’t need to, IF you play the game with a stealthy approach. Lots of people complain about the scarcity of ammo throughout the game but I personally never bought any and finished the whole thing with plenty still left. So again I say this: the fact that the game is in a first person perspective doesn’t automatically make it a shooter, at least not in a traditional sense.
The story is linear, but interesting enough to keep you going, even if it’s not nearly as good or complex as the book it’s based on — I do praise the developers for sticking very close to its essence and for in due course really making a very respectable and honest homage to the source material. The outside sequences in the desolate city of Moscow are especially enticing and incredibly good at recreating the sense of despair and almost of asphyxiation I think one would feel in that situation... and the “little” detail of being able to see your own perspiration occupying the surface of the gas mask’s glass as you breathe and the air filters slowly consume themselves as you go, making it a whole lot harder to see what’s ahead of you (just as in real life), only add to the overall immersion in this grim bleak world. Also a noteworthy mention to the library level, which, if played properly, can really be one very intense gaming experience, almost even at a psychological level.
Metro 2033 is a game that focuses almost solely on creating a deep and powerful ambience around the player and for the player, and this ends up producing two very different results: an extreme care and attention for detail in the recreation of this literary universe; but also a surprisingly poor AI, which can sometimes hinder the whole experience. However, do not kid yourself into thinking that the combat sequences are easy because of this — once they’ve seen you, enemies can be quite relentless. This is a hard game with equal difficult combat situations and difficult stealth approaches that SHOULD be used to avoid conflict.