Great atmosphere hold back by disjoint story and troubled design
Right after the start up Metro 2033 impresses with a thick atmosphere and interesting setting. After a nuclear war mankind had to go underground and is now living in the tunnel system left over by the now defunct train system. Metro 2033 presents that setting with some great amount of detail, stations are filled with people, including women and children, the scenes are often lit by candlelight and everything feels crammed. The voice over with a heavy Russian dialect do their job as well.
On the control side Metro 2033 also pulls of some nice atmospheric twist, the flashlights battery for example will run out after a while and instead of auto-recharging, the player will have to pump a little generator to fill it back up. The quest log is presented not as a HUD, but as an in-game notepad the player can hold up by a button press, a separate button press will be needed in dark areas to light a lighter to make the notepad readable.
Metro 2033 gets however held back by some overreaching game design decision and a lack of clear purpose. I never really understood what the over reaching goal of my mission was. The story goes one NPC to the next and pulls the player along. Along the way the story also goes rather cliche, as far to often the NPC you just meet will be killed in some kind of accident and you are on your own for a little while before meeting the next NPC, which will then be killed in just the same manner, rinse and repeat. The game is also interrupted by numerous dream sequences along the way, which while looking nice are never really explained or integrate into the story, they just happen.
The other issue with Metro 2033 is that the game doesn't quite know what kind of game it wants to be. When inside a station the game gives you the ability to talk to other characters, buy weapons and ammunition and feels closer to an open world RPG type of game, except of course it is not, Metro 2033 follows the traditional linear FPS model. So instead of enhancing the experience, those sequences just add confusion as you never really now what you are supposed to do, how the money system works or what kind of weapons and items you might need.
The core shooting parts of the game follow mostly standard FPS conventions, but with a few gimmicks thrown into the mix. Most notably the gas masks you have to use whenever entering specific areas. As with most of the game, it's never really clear how those gas masks work, filters get used up after a time and have to be collected from dead enemies or can be bought, but it's never clear how many you need. The game also has a few stealth sections, which suffer from much the same problem, the game never makes it clear when to sneak and when to shoot, so those sections also manly add confusion, not immersion. Another troublesome part with the shooting in the game is that the death animations of the mutant creatures are rather hard to read, instead of having the killing blow have some noticeable impact, they just sink together rag-doll like and in turn it takes you a second or two to realize that a creature is actually already dead, wasting some valuable ammunition happens thus on a regular basis.
Overall Metro 2033 is a mixed bag, I really liked almost all of it's parts, the atmosphere, the graphics, the way it handled its gas masks, mission logs and weapons, but the game really missed the glue to hold all of those parts together. The story never crossed the point where I would have figured out more or less what was going on and what is left to be done and the item use and shop system was never clearly enough explained that I understood exactly how it worked. And as much as I liked the parts by itself, I can't say I enjoyed the overall experience much, to often had I had no idea if I was playing the game right or understood a mechanic properly. And while those troubles might be acceptable in an more open game, where there is enough room to try and learn how things work, in a more focused linear FPS like Metro 2033, there just never was enough room to make it past those obstacles.
The game took a little over 9h to beat.