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You might already have read our first hands-on preview of THQ’s upcoming shooter Metro 2033. If not, go and check it out now. You might not have heard of the game, but trust us, this particular slice of post-apocalyptic horror has the potential to be one of the most interesting FPS of this year.
Given the early nature of the last build we played, a few glaring issues hampered our enjoyment of Metro’s dense atmosphere and clever ideas, but having just played the newest version for the 360, we can happily say that the game is now a whole lot better. What’s more, we’ve discovered more than a few cool new elements that we certainly didn’t expect. Want to learn more? You should. So read on.
We were already impressed by Metro’s uncompromising blend of FPS and survival horror, but it’s now clear that its approach goes beyond simply providing lots of monsters and minimal ammo.
Perhaps due to its Eastern European origin (Metro is being made by the Ukraine’s 4A games, some of whom have history with the STALKER series), things are bleaker and more off-kilter than you might expect. The most affecting element we’ve found so far – aside from the visceral impact of some nightmarish hallucination sequences – has been the shadow people who linger within Moscow’s most neglected underground tunnels. Not really monsters, not really ghosts, these translucent black silhouettes are lethal to the touch nonetheless.
Lingering impressions of past anguish, they’re forced to remain in the location of their trauma, repeating history forever. Sometimes you’ll hear the voices of their past selves, but it’s almost more disturbing when they remain silent and motionless. And worst of all, you won’t even see one until your torch beam passes accidentally through it…
It sounds like a strange thing to say about what is essentially a bunch of reclaimed modern military hardware, but Metro’s scrappy and makeshift arsenal throws up a few very cool surprises. We’ve already covered Metro’s manual survival mechanics (gas mask filters must be manually refreshed, for example, and you’ll need to constantly recharge your torch battery with a hand-crank generator), but we’ve since found that the approach carries over into guns as well.
Our favourite example is the pneumatic sniper rifle. This improvised death delivery device uses a pressurised air pump to embed ball bearings into far off enemy skulls, but it loses pressure, and therefore stopping power, over time. So you’ll need to temper your blood lust with regular pumping (think of it as a lethal Super Soaker) if you want to keep nailing the one-hit-kills. Rather than an annoyance, it actually adds a really satisfying and tactical rhythm to combat. Get too trigger happy and your headshot will just glance off an enemy’s helmet and instantly alert him to your position.
And speaking of tactics…
Fighting monsters with minimal ammo is one thing – the back-up knife is powerful and health and damage are now balanced to make frantic slashy kills brutally exhilarating rather than frustrating – but going up against seven heavily-armed soldiers in a tight underground environment, with only a blade and three bullets to our name? That was going to take some thinking about.
Sticking to the shadows and weighing up the environment, we spotted a couple of lights further along that could cause us problems. We sniped them out and scuttled along our newly-safe path in darkness to get a better look. One unassuming guard was a bit nearer than the others. It would be risky, but a knife kill might be possible. We took the risk and prevailed, stealing the corpse’s gun, running back to the cover of the shadows and turning its bullets on the next baddo. But one kill later we were empty again and everyone else was attacking.
From that point on it was a maelstrom of rapid attacks, retreats, healing and scavenging, each new kill providing just enough ammo to make the next. It might sound messy, but once we had a feel for the flow of the fight, things again became very methodical and very satisfying. We expect survival horror to involve a lot of foraging for supplies, but adding that mechanic mid-battle makes for a whole new game. It’s an unusual approach and probably won’t be to everyone’s taste, but if you do buy into Metro’s Rambo-meets-Resi aspirations, there’s a lot to get your teeth into.