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Metro 2033 Review

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  • X360

The atmospheric world of Metro 2033 is exciting while it lasts, but feels diluted by poor gunplay and monster AI.

Post-apocalyptic, zombie-infested wastelands are slowly becoming the new Normandy of video games. Such is the setup of the underground Moscow depicted in Metro 2033. Metro is the first game from Ukrainian developer 4A Games, a company founded by engineers from the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. team. While at first look you might expect a spiritual sequel to S.T.A.L.K.E.R. (there are even guitar-playing crooners to greet you at the campfire), Metro 2033 is a smaller, more focused game. It shares more in common with recent scripted shooters from the West than anything that's recently come out of the Eastern Bloc.

Who doesn't love a man in a gas mask? 
You begin Metro 2033 as Artyom, a subterranean dweller of one of the underground towns that's cropped up beneath Moscow since an unknown nuclear event happened years ago. After volunteering to help a seasoned soldier known as "Hunter," you learn of an impending attack by a flood of Dark Ones--the mysterious paranormals of the underground. Soon you're on your way to battling Dark Ones, bandits, and Nazis (yeah, those guys are somehow still around) and generally raising hell on your way to stop the flood. It may sound like a familiar story, but Metro 2033 does quite well by keeping the threat level high and the lights off through most of your journey. It's a dark game in both senses of the word and avoids a lot of the happy cliches you might expect in this genre.

The story is told in a linear fashion that has Artyom (who weirdly only speaks through narrated loading screens) moving from town to town trying to find someone who understands the Dark Ones' threat and is willing to help out. Around half of the missions have you moving along your journey with whatever friendly soldiers happen across your path, though often you'll get separated and have to go through the cramped tunnels alone. It's in these moments that Metro 2033 successfully embraces its survival horror side with some keep-the-light-on stumbling that feels similar to the better parts of Doom 3. That's not to say that this is strictly a monster-closet scarefest, though, as Metro features quite a few clever puzzles and stealth elements. Be aware, though, if you aren't a fan of horror games, Metro 2033 likely isn't your game. Its HUD-free interface and visceral audio effects keep you focused on the action enough that you'll quickly learn to read Artyom's breathing patterns as a sign of trouble.

The well-done audio and lighting play a part in Metro 2033's stealth mechanics as well, which allow you to avoid detection and silently kill troops by keeping to the shadows or turning off the various lanterns that litter certain stealth-friendly levels. Unfortunately, while the sneaky parts of the game certainly work, it's not always consistent. I often found myself giving up on them entirely in favor of hunkering down and letting the enemies come to me. The stealth bits generally aren't up to the same standards as some of the better sneaker-shooter games (Deus Ex, Thief) and you might find yourself similarly frustrated with portions of the game.

 You'll be able to restock in many of the towns you come across.
As you make your way through Moscow you'll collect unique gear, weapons, and ammo that can be bought and sold at shops. The main currency of Metro is--wait for it--bullets. Pristine bullets to be specific. You'll find cartridges of the stuff on dead bodies and on shelves, which you can either decide to use in your weapon for more stopping power or trade in later for a higher quantity of rusty bullets. While this sounds great in terms of story (after all, what's more important to dudes that do a lot of shooting than bullets), in practice Metro 2033 is very stingy with the ammo. I found myself out of bullets quite early in the game and never really recovered from that mishap. This was complicated even further when I encountered a technical hiccup with the save-game system that prevented additional attempts to play through early levels from sticking to my save.

Pristine bullets will also buy you new weapons, which are split between revolvers, shotguns, assault rifles, knives, and grenades. You can only hold one gun of any one type at a time, and most guns come in silent, scoped, or stopping power varieties. It's usually good to keep one of each type around, as most of the guns in Metro 2033 are ineffective at range. Actually, most of the guns don't carry much of a kick unless you specifically go for stealth or a headshot. With long weapon reload times that give Cryostasis a run for its money you'll find yourself doing a lot of running while you're reloading, which wouldn't be so bad, except that Metro 2033 features a lot of tight corridors without a lot of places to hide. In general, the weapons accurately fit the theme of the game, as you wouldn't expect to find a perfectly maintained AK-47 in the sewer muck that infests this version of Moscow.

The best gear in Metro 2033 is the gear worn on your head. You'll very quickly learn that you won't last long in the irradiated above-ground sequences without equipping a gas mask and will die just as quickly without night-vision goggles when underground. While your night-vision will drain its battery and need to be recharged, your gas mask (with replaceable filters) will take damage separate from your health. Take too much trauma and your mask will not only visibly scar but could crack, in which case you have all of 15 or so seconds to find a new one. While under the mask, the entire soundscape of Metro 2033 changes considerably. The voice of the comrade on your right is now coming in through your radio and all the echos of this watery world undergo a Barry White bass overdrive. In general, both effects are pulled off very well and really increase the believability of this scary, unhealthy place.

The Dark Ones serve as the main bad guys of Metro 2033.
Also unhealthy are the mutants, paranormals, and bandits that make up the majority of enemies in the game. Mutants come in few a varieties: small rats, big rats, and flying rats. All of them share some occasionally embarrassing animation and AI. Usually, the mutants prefer to simply jump straight at you from ten feet away. This makes some of the combat in Metro 2033 fairly simplistic. A couple of sidesteps and the occasional quick time event (there is only one kind) and you're usually fine. Unfortunately, most of the game is fought in hallways so you don't have much room to move. The human enemies are a bit more fun and will take cover, flank you, and generally behave as you'd expect. Those fights, especially those when you're outnumbered, are actually quite challenging and you'll find yourself needing to strategically think about your fights without going in guns-blazing.

It's worth nothing that Metro 2033 is a single-player only affair and clocks in at around eight hours. So it's a pretty quick ride. There's very little reason to replay it unless you plan on going for many of the game's level-specific achievements. Technically the game does well enough on the 360, but in very specific lighting situations it's prone to framerate issues. Like other games that originate from Eastern Europe, the overall visual quality see-saws between stunning and silly on a texture-by-texture basis, but the audio, effects, and lighting are the clear winners here.

Metro 2033 successfully constructs a believable world that delivers a setting and story that get past the core annoyances of its gameplay. When you first watch steam escape from creaky 10-ton doors as they open to reveal the sprawling, murky madness of underground Moscow, you might be able to forgive the goofy monsters, too. Metro 2033 is best for experienced gamers already familiar with the trappings of the modern shooter who are OK with playing a roughly made game that still manages to deliver a unique experience. Dave Snider on Google+
64 Comments
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Posted by dbz1995

I thought Dave was enjoying the hell outta Metro 2033. Ah well. Still a reasonable score.

Edited by Torben

Hey Dave! Nice review, but where is your totally awesome 3 star pic duder?

Posted by ParanoidFreak

I really expected this to be better, at least a 4 out of 5. This is a letdown.

Posted by CitizenKane

Yes, another Dave review!

Posted by MattBodega

I think it says a lot about the current state of video games when I read, 

 "Post-apocalyptic, zombie-infested wastelands are slowly becoming the new Normandy of video games. "  

and immediately thought of the OTHER Normandy
 
You know... I can deal with a Broken Russian game. I enjoyed my time with STALKER enough that I was sucked in by the good and could ignore the broken/terrible aspects, if only to get more of that sweet sweet atmosphere. 
Posted by Atomasist

Good review.

Posted by Jeffsekai

At lest he reviewed it. Unlike SOME SITE.

Posted by Milkman

I have heard that the game is a lot better on PC.

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Posted by Meltac

Still waiting for my copy to arrive, but from all the reviews I've read, it sounds like an awesome game.

Posted by Nasar7

Good review, although continued use of the outdated term "Eastern Bloc" is a bit silly.

Posted by artofwar420

@dbz1995: I dunno, it read to me as if he still did, but with caveats. I think I'm gonna enjoy this game too.

Edited by NoDeath
@MattBodega said:

" I think it says a lot about the current state of video games when I read, 

 "Post-apocalyptic, zombie-infested wastelands are slowly becoming the new  Normandy of video games. "  

and immediately thought of the OTHER Normandy.
You are not the only one, my friend.
 
I'm really interested in this game despite never really being able to get into stalker. I think I'll probably pick it up when it eventually goes on sale on steam. It also happens to be among the group of games that has region specific pricing on steam and is therefore $80 US here. ugh.
Posted by RandomInternetUser

 BASS OVERDRIVE (This is how I read Barry White Bass Overdrive at first)
Good review Dave!
Posted by Tirrandir

I am mighty curious why this wasn't on PC, since it's obvious that was the lead platform and by everyone's account is way better on that platform.  
 
Oh well.  I'll still likely pick it up during a Steam sale someday.  Seems perfect for that.

Posted by wrecks

Wonder if it woulda been notched up a star if he could have played it on the PC. We will never know.

Posted by Binman88

Interesting to hear your take on it. I personally rank it among the likes of Deus Ex, the Thief series, the Half Life series and Cryostasis as one of the best PC games I've played. It's atmosphere and gameplay are welcomely unique amidst what I can only describe as a steady stream of recycled bullshit coming from most western developers. Its biggest shortcoming is indeed its length, but I was entertained and thrilled throughout the entire journey.
 
I too found it weird that Artyom never speaks throughout the game. I personally would have found it a little bit more immersive if he spoke when he was spoken to, especially when he meets the child about half way through and is asked a few questions.

Posted by darkjester74

Very nice review Dave, fair and balanced.  However, I am disappointed that you STILL don't have a proper review avatar.  That makes me a sad panda.  :-(

Posted by RandomInternetUser
@Tirrandir said:
" I am mighty curious why this wasn't on PC, since it's obvious that was the lead platform and by everyone's account is way better on that platform.    Oh well.  I'll still likely pick it up during a Steam sale someday.  Seems perfect for that. "
I think Dave said his computer was messed up in the Quick Look, or I could be imagining things...
Posted by TheJuda
@Jeffsekai said:
" At lest he reviewed it. Unlike SOME SITE. "
*cough*Destruc*cough*toid*cough*
Posted by gosukiller

I'd just like to point out that the Monster in the 3rd picture is not a Dark One. The Dark Ones are the freaky long armed people.

Posted by snide
@Binman88: I'm not 100% on board with you, but I definitely feel that Metro 2033 is a unique experience and I hope that came across in the review. The core shooting mechanics though seem a bit rushed for me to on-the-whole recommend it to people who don't necessarily actively search out different thematics in games for novelty's sake.
Posted by Yummylee

Needz more Dave cartoons!
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Posted by JJWeatherman

That was a really great, in-depth review Dave. Nice work.

Posted by Binman88
@snide said:
" @Binman88: I'm not 100% on board with you, but I definitely feel that Metro 2033 is a unique experience and I hope that came across in the review. The core shooting mechanics though seem a bit rushed for me to on-the-whole recommend it to people who don't necessarily actively search out different thematics in games for novelty's sake. "
It did come across that way and I appreciate, and indeed share your criticisms of the mechanics. I guess the game struck a chord with me as it allowed me to play it the way I wanted to; but the way I want to play a game rarely lines up with how most gamers do (I got enjoyment from reloading checkpoints throughout the game in order to pass various sections completely unseen, even though I didn't need to). That's why I'm able to overlook any faults of the game and speak so fondly of it.
 
I agree it's a dodgy game to recommend. It absolutely depends on what you're looking to get out of the game and how you approach it. Metro gave me exactly what I was hoping for, but I can see how others will be disappointed.
Posted by Mattalorian

As someone who loved Cryostasis and the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. games, I'm sure I'd greatly enjoy Metro 2033. Yes, all those games are largely flawed. They're kind of broken, and the core gameplay is rather rushed and sloppy, but they all deliver very unique experiences. You won't find the same type of believable world, atmospheric environment, and compelling setting anywhere else. Kind-of-broken Russian/Ukrainian first-person-shooters will always have a place in my heart for that very reason.

Posted by mrhankey

Love your PC reviews, hope you do more of them!

Posted by OneKillWonder_

Good review, Dave, although I can't say I entirely agree with your final verdict. From my experience, the only real problems with the shooting I've had is from poor hit-detection, particularly from shotguns, but even then, not really that bad. Never had any framerate issues, either. And I've been well-stocked on most ammo-types since about a a third of the way through the game. However, I do agree with you on the dodginess of the stealth mechanics and enemy AI. Not everything in this game works exactly the way it's supposed to, but it seems like most of it's design flaws and bugs are overshadowed by the experience as a whole, which is to say, is a very unique and compelling one.

Posted by Daryl

STUPID KNIGHT

Posted by Baal_Sagoth

Very good review! Yeah, you're kinda right about nuclear wastelands and the beaches of Normandy - though I hadn't entertained that thought myself, until now. I think I'm still sicker of WW II than of the nuclear apocalypse personally...
This is quite informative since I read some fairly superficial and uncritically positive reviews so this definitely helped to shed some more light on Metro 2033.

Posted by MrMiyagi

Great review. I'd say the same and I'm only about 4 hours in.

Posted by Lambert

I personally would have given it at least a 4/5 stars, but I can totally see why you thought it was 3/5. 
 
Great review.

Posted by eznark

Did you only play the 360 version?  Seems like there is a significant difference between the two in terms of performance and even the ammo issue (since you're more accurate with a mouse)

Posted by FelixCulpa

Too bad you couldn't review the pc version since I've heard that's the superior one. But every review of this game seems to have a different issue with the game quite odd how some are annoyed by  the human AI but think the monster AI is totally fine. Other say the shooting is broke, or think the story is poorly conveyed.   
 
Will probably pick this up later. Good review !

Posted by Skytylz

It sounds like the PC version is alot better.

Posted by natetodamax

Very nice review. I'll probably rent this game at some time.

Posted by Sharpless

Good review, Dave. I'll probably skip this one, as I'm not a fan of horror games, but it certainly does look interesting. The most interesting ideas and concepts often seem to get wasted on sloppy and/or weaker games. It's a pity.

Posted by Snail

Alright, DAVE!

Posted by Rowr

Should of played it on pc, i'm suprised you didnt dave. 
 
I guess this website caters 95 percent for console users so it wouldnt make sense to review it for pc. Too bad.

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Edited by pwnasaurus

i really hope dave isnt saying that, the nosalis pictured in the last pic is a dark one because it aint a dark one. also there is 2 endings so another reason to play through i'm sad cause dave coulden't play it on the pc so much better :(
Posted by Skald

Length was my only issue with this game. I thought it was fantastic.

Posted by Franstone

Deserves 4 stars 
 
I played it on PC (just finished it today) and thought it was a great game, very much gave me the Deus Ex / Theif feeling. 
It's a real pig to run if you crank the graphics up, within reason, it's a damn good looking game.  
 
Yes it has it's issues, a little rough around the edges is right... but definately had the potential to be 4 star+ or 8.5 + rated title.
Posted by ThatFrood

I'm curious how this game compares to Cryostasis? In your review of Cryostasis, you gave it a 4/5 despite its clear jankiness. And yet, in this review, the jankiness seems to get in the way of you giving it a higher score. Is the jankiness that much worse in Metro?

Posted by snide
@ThatFrood: Cryostasis' "jankiness" was for the most part technical. Metro's is mostly gameplay-related. The gunplay is similar, but there's a whole lot more shooting in Metro, where Cryostasis was very close to being an adventure game with gunplay as an afterthought. That said, if you liked one game, you are more than likely going to like the other. Hope that helps.
Posted by MrKlorox

Great review Dave. I'm still interested in trying this out. How do you feel Metro 2033 compares to the latest STALKER game (Call of Pripyat)? I realize they're quite different but if you could only choose one, which one would you recommend?

Posted by Box3ru13

Seems like a solid rental whilst CoP is a buy. Either way I'll enjoy this as I'm a sucker for atmospheric games. 

Posted by StingingVelvet

Reviews for this game are really all over the map.   Some 9s, some 8s, some middling scores and Destructoid says the game is so bad they refuse to review it.
 
Personally I like it, though I am not far in and won't be able to really play it for a while due to the insanity that is March.  Good review though Dave, though I would say some of these issues do not appear as badly in the PC version, which I found remarkably stable and amazing to look at, not really rough around the edges at all.
 
If you like atmospheric linear shooters I suggest a purchase, to put it simply.

Edited by bybeach

I'll get this game down the road. Iv'e rediscovered Fall out 3 and finally how to play it ..heh. Call of Pripyat is after that.  well unless something happens short term. Good games here and there coming out!
 
I wish Daves review was on PC, and leave it about at that.. Just mentioning his save experience might have been significantly different, besides framerate etc. He makes all things involved clear though,  and his pro review still has the neccessary value to me.  
 
Thanks, very much like this site.

Edited by predator

This is my favourite game this year so far.

I thought the gunplay was great, better than Cryostasis.

Posted by Skamberin

"Like other games that originate from Eastern Europe, the overall visual quality see-saws between stunning and silly on a texture-by-texture basis."

As if this isn't a issue in western games too.

Good review overall though, one of the greatest games I've played.

Posted by RVonE

Good review, Dave!
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