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Metro 2033 review

AT A GLANCE
  • Evocative paranormal atmosphere
  • Superb attention to detail
  • Play it cautious, and the shooting issues dissolve
  • The shooting sucks
  • May be too unforgiving for some
  • A few naive design decisions

You’re crouched in a corner clutching your AK-47 with both hands. You’re down to your last magazine. Five monsters are trying to get a lock on your scent in the next room and just beyond them a group of Nazis are sitting at their sentry post waiting for movement. You should have saved some ammunition but you blew it all  to buy a sniper rifle at the last outpost. Nietzschean law doesn’t apply: what doesn’t kill you here just makes you weaker. You want to go back but you can’t: the shelter doors are locked and won’t be opening again any time soon. Life in the Metro is tough – but above ground the situation’s even worse.

Your mother would have told you this but she died when you were young. Life in a cramped station was all you knew, so who can blame you for wanting to venture outside? But the sky doesn’t look like you’d imagined. The postcards pinned to your wall depict clear blue heavens. Here, though, rolling storm clouds and dust blot out the sun. You count yourself lucky given that the hole in the ozone layer makes sunlight deadly but then you remember the tough spot you’re in and your grip on the weapon tightens. It’s crazy to let your mind wander like this and you blame it on your gas mask’s clogged filters. Your visor slowly fills with condensation. Your laboured breathing is now accompanied by pronounced wheezes. Any louder and you’ll alert the monsters. What a fine mess you’re in – not enough air, not enough bullets and no options but to press on. But you’re having the time of your life.


Above: The world of Metro is a completely coherent and believable one

Metro 2033 is going to have its fair share of detractors. We’ll lay down the Joker card early: the shooting isn’t all that great. As we feared last issue, the guns do feel underpowered and enemies sometimes absorb a bullet or two without even flinching. If you’re after a great blaster then Metro 2033 may not be for you. Nor is it designed to be. Bioshock isn’t a great blaster either, but that certainly hasn’t held it back.

If you play Metro 2033 in the right way – stealthing and planning assaults like John Rambo Version One rather than barging through the front door with double rocket launchers like his carnage-loving later-ego – the shooting issues become non-issues. Decline, and fail to look past the resulting gunplay shortcomings, and you’ll officially have a heart colder than the Moscow nuclear winter. Like 2K’s watery adventure, Metro thrives on its atmosphere. And it’s in this area that 4A Games delivers in way perhaps nobody expected.

For starters, the dank tunnels of Russia’s Metro system are more evocative and more powerful than anything explored in the return visit to Rapture. Metro 2033 opens a window into a world totally unexplored on Xbox 360. Step through it and there’s an unshakable feeling you’re trespassing into a PC game. Yes, there are a few moments where the edges are so rough you wonder why Black & Decker didn’t pick up the publishing rights and stock Metro as part of their hacksaw range, but the unique look and feel is fascinating to behold. The world is utterly captivating: if the theme is strictly Fallout and the concept is Bioshock, Metro’s closest cousin in terms of game mechanics is undoubtedly Half-Life 2.


There’s no blinking arrow in the centre of the screen to guide you forwards and little in the way of hand-holding. Struggling to open a door? The solution might well involve working your way into a neighbouring room to blast away the plank of wood wedging the handle, or to blast the anchors of a chandelier’s cabling and swing the broken light into the entrance. Very PC, very Half-Life, and we’re sure you’ll agree that any game taking its cues from Valve’s masterpiece is going to be worth a look.


Above: If you’re too squeamish to ransack corpses, you're through

4A Games have approached Metro 2033 with all the confidence of a Valve, and a healthy portion of the talent too. The game boldly flits between solo and cooperative missions with just the right balance, and occasionally spices up  the mixture by throwing you into a few (actually, genuinely superb) on-rails section when you least expect it.

What really resonates, though, is how the game hasn’t been dumbed down for consoles. Fail to keep your torch topped up and you might just miss a hidden tripwire which hurls a spiked pendulum into your noggin. Ignore the audio cues that indicate a crumbling ledge and you’ll be dunked into toxic soup before you know what’s happened. Metro 2033 is never unfair  – 4A mercifully fixed the ammo and difficulty spikes present in last month’s preview code – but, simultaneously,  it’s far from forgiving.

Fortunately, some truly inspired level design has an uncanny ability to make you feel clever. One set of tunnels plays home to a war between the Reds and the Nazis. (Yes, future Nazis.) Holster your weapon and it’s possible to remain undetected for the entire chapter. Careful sneaking will lead you to the scene of an execution; a soldier is on trial for desertion of his post and, as he pleads to his captors, he reveals that he was trying to flank the enemy forces  by using a secret passage. Follow his instructions and you too can use the spaghetti-like collection of pipes to crawl beneath the battles above, completely subverting your involvement in the tussles between the factions. And, as you sneak under the walkways, you’ll feel like you’ve genuinely outfoxed everybody else.

To ensure you never find a comfort zone there’s an arresting paranormal edge to the post-apocalyptic pilgrimage across the devastated Moscow Metro. When the lights are off and the surround sound is cranked up you’re subjected  to as immersive an environment as anything currently on the console. The  only way Metro 2033 could be more atmospheric is if each box contained a plane ticket to Russia for a guided tour of the city’s abandoned subway tunnels.

We’re not just talking about the obvious pointers either. The stunning visuals, creepy enemy design and sound effects all play their parts as you’d expect. But it’s the little details which really grip you. It’s the people who proudly belt out Russian songs with voices ravaged by twenty years of impure air and vodka diets, or the moment you overhear a young boy telling his friend how the nosalis monsters steal away children and scoop out their brains for food. It’s the time you carry somebody to safety and feel the controls turn sluggish because of the added weight. The way your lighter’s flame will react with acute precision to wind or movement. Everywhere you turn there’s something of note. Stories about the last stand of desperate survivors are told through a series of visual clues: spent casings and blood trails paint a picture so vivid you didn’t need to watch the events to understand what passed.


Above: Before "the event", this poor guy worked in the tax office... this is an improvement

We probably missed plenty of goodies too, though not for want of searching. Metro 2033 sometimes fails to lead your eye to sequenced events (the first time we found a ‘ghost’ we couldn’t see it because our flashlight was off) due to a little design naivety. An especially sloppy decision proclaims one on-rails level is named ‘Chase’ – well before the surprise attack and pursuit in question actually gets underway.

The chief issue, though, is one we’ve already mentioned: the shooting – and it’s this black mark which stops Metro 2033 from challenging the absolute best FPS titles on the 360. But it’s a problem you soon learn to forgive, and by the time you’re a few levels in, the iffy fighting hardly harms the other features at all. Besides, it’s something 4A Games can work on during the sequel’s development. The Metro 2034 book is already out, and THQ simply have to order another game as soon as  they possibly can. Because while the wait for S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and Half-Life 3 on 360 continues, Metro 2033 is the only real alternative. And, if PC shooters are your thing, what an alternative it will turn out to be.

More Info

Release date: Mar 16 2010 - Xbox 360, PC (US)
Available Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360, PC
Genre: Shooter
Published by: THQ
Developed by: 4A-Games
ESRB Rating:
Mature: Blood, Sexual Themes, Strong Language, Use of Drugs, Violence
PEGI Rating:
Rating Pending

31 comments

  • HankVenture - March 12, 2011 5:52 p.m.

    The shooting does suck and the guns sorta blow it shouldn't take 2 shotgun shells to bring down one of those dog things within the second chapter. But the atmosphere is great, I have honestly jumped already. The Graphics can get pretty rough but still beautiful, and the audio bothers me, it's hard to hear one person talk at times due to them being to quiet or having a bustling market all around me, along with the monsters don't make a ton of noise when attacking. There are also some flaws like you pointed out, but those can be forgiven, especially for the sequel. I will be a buyer of Metro 2034
  • JCBlueNose2011 - February 13, 2011 3:14 p.m.

    Played and completed this game and I found it to be a decent game with challenging tasks, amazing graphics and a good storyline can't wait for the sequel.
  • Tygerclaws - May 14, 2010 6:02 a.m.

    After having just beaten the game, I honestly don't see what's wrong with the shooting. Yes, it's difficult to aim. Yes, it takes a lot of ammo to kill a nosalis. So? You're not exactly under ideal circumstances, fighting ideal enemies. I thought that it was nearly perfect, for what it was. So, it didn't control like Halo. Boohoo. Immersion is the name of the game, and I don't know about you guys, but I can't aim a gun perfectly while under stress, wearing a gasmask, carrying thirty or more pounds of gear, while freezing. >.>
  • tororosso - May 1, 2010 11:37 a.m.

    This game deserves 9 across the board. Very well executed game. I took one of review's comments and decided to bring it to this page as well because it tryely describe in detail the main intention of this type of game. TxTotally - wrote "Really fun and unique game. The shooting mechanics would be a big problem if that was what the game was focused on but it is not. This game is all about atmosphere and an immersive quality caused by no indicators or hud to let you know ahead of time what to do with the gasmask for instance. Instead you have to listen to subtle things like your characters breathing and the flashlight gradually dimming to cue you to change your filters or charge your batteries. I highly recommend Metro 2033 to anyone who loves games like Bioshock and is not so worried about the shooting but more interested in a unique world and atmosphere that sucks you in. This is not CoD and you are not a special forces bada** so the gunplay actually fits the concept of the story and your character. I have played about halfway through and I actually stopped because I do not want the experience to end. These kinds of games are rare in their new fresh feeling that comes from feeling like you have never played anything quite like this." The story of this game was treated with care and attention. Everything from pacing of the story to the mood to environment of game world as a whole truly worked perfectly. I've played with their other game S.T.A.L.K.E.R and theres a lot of similarities between the two. But one difference in stalker is in 1 hr of gameplay there's 15 mins of magic/quality experience.. but with Metro2033 entire game was Deep in immersive journey. I havent experienced in a game since Half Life 2.. and that was decades ago! (PC)(Surround sound) Story: 89 Gameplay: 85 Video:95 PC Audio:100 Overall: 94 take note... in order to get same experience i had with the game.. played in darkness..alone.. surround set up using speakers not headphones btw if possible PC with gfx settings to High across the board. xbox 360 bit ugly face value but hooked up in darkroom w/ 5.1 sound immersiveness still possible
  • ProphetZarquon - April 13, 2010 8:58 p.m.

    Recently picked up the game after reading your review, you summed it up perfectly! Cheers
  • kellen2000 - March 30, 2010 11:56 a.m.

    I was on the fence about purchasing this game, I've read a few reviews and seen a few videos. This review really puts me over the edge, I'm most likely going to get it now, I just wish I could play a demo first, just to make sure.
  • Anonymous93 - March 29, 2010 4:44 p.m.

    When did this become a 360 exclusive or is it just a timed exclusive?
  • shadowskater - March 21, 2010 12:58 a.m.

    the game was very good gameplay wise, and it also has very good graphics. very few games have limited hud this one pulled it off great textures looked good, even up close although the guns and hands looked small (knives were bigger than guns and so were hands when knife was equipped) the game was over all fun as hell to play although very short at on 6-14 hours of game play it a game you would want to play in one sitting its short enough to do it very creepy plot plays good and fits both the game and the book. if you havent read or played the game i suggest you do your missing out otherwise
  • juicenpancakes - March 21, 2010 12:35 a.m.

    Why is this review not on Metacritic?
  • rabidbutcher - March 20, 2010 11:27 p.m.

    I just threw the disk into my xbox, thanks to this review I'll know a little more of what's in store for me. Kind of disappointed about the shooting bit, but I suppose I'll get over it.
  • TxTotally - March 17, 2010 8:19 p.m.

    Really fun and unique game. The shooting mechanics would be a big problem if that was what the game was focused on but it is not. This game is all about atmosphere and an immersive quality caused by no indicators or hud to let you know ahead of time what to do with the gasmask for instance. Instead you have to listen to subtle things like your characters breathing and the flashlight gradually dimming to cue you to change your filters or charge your batteries. I highly recommend Metro 2033 to anyone who loves games like Bioshock and is not so worried about the shooting but more interested in a unique world and atmosphere that sucks you in. This is not CoD and you are not a special forces bada** so the gunplay actually fits the concept of the story and your character. I have played about halfway through and I actually stopped because I do not want the experience to end. These kinds of games are rare in their new fresh feeling that comes from feeling like you have never played anything quite like this.
  • crumbdunky - March 17, 2010 10:39 a.m.

    Was excited. Still think the premise is great. However, GR, that shooting IS crap and unforgivable and the presentation(on PC AND 360) is so up and down it's amazing. Sadly, it's a rental and I wanted to love it.
  • w40kfanatic - March 17, 2010 12:25 a.m.

    i cant wait for this game, im getting it this week. i would like to see a rating on the shooting. on a scale of 1-10, what would it be? this wont, in any way, affect how much i want this game, i just want to know so i can be prepared for it.
  • Failureisinevitable - March 16, 2010 10:11 p.m.

    This game looks epic. I've been waiting for it since I first saw the article in my GI. I think the lack of a HUD (but there is a crosshair, sadly) makes this one of the most immersive games I've ever seen. I can't wait to play it, and I don't care much for the gunplay. I just like the way the situations sound like edge-of-the-seat gameplay.
  • maudier - March 16, 2010 9:52 a.m.

    www.ihatesara.com/?mylink=8c0a 2a9669214e05
  • Tochy - March 16, 2010 3:31 a.m.

    damn,wish i had a xbox 360
  • barrage7667 - March 15, 2010 11:48 p.m.

    @noobeater cause he probably sucks at it and is not used to the slightly different look and feel and gameplay, i know i sucked at it at first
  • noobeater - March 15, 2010 6:58 p.m.

    how can anyone not enjoy bioshock letfy?? for me the second one had the best last hour/ending out of any game i have ever played
  • feeheelee - March 15, 2010 6:36 p.m.

    Can't see a demo doing it justice, especially if the shooting is a ropey as described here. Mtero 2033 has truly come out of left field and is looking really, really good!! I for one am surprised but pleasantly so. The world needs more games like this, by this I mean Half Life!
  • FreekinIdiot - March 15, 2010 5:54 p.m.

    I agree with all of the above, so glad this game got a good review, it looks so promising.

Showing 1-20 of 31 comments

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