Wow, it’s been a long time since I did one of these, eh? So, the backstory here is, I was looking for a FPS to play as a sort of palate cleanser from playing too much Dark Souls. See, I had some bad experiences in the Painted World of Aramis (freaking Wheel Skeletons) and I felt sad after defeating Priscilla the Crossbreed, who honestly doesn’t deserve it.
So yeah, I thought about playing Wolfenstein or Bioshock, but I had recently seen an interesting video featuring the Metro games, and I thought it sounded worth investigating. So I picked up Metro Redux, which includes both 2033 and Last Light, and started playing. And you know what? I really enjoy it. 🙂
Before I get into why, though, let’s talk about the plot a bit. It’s based on a book by Russian author Dmitry Alexeevich Glukhovsky (originally as a web novel, incidentally) and it features a post-apocalyptic Moscow, where the survivors of a nuclear holocaust live below the surface in the tunnels and stations of the underground metro. Hence the title. 😛
The story follows Artyom, who is induced to set off on a journey to save his home station from the Dark Ones, mysterious shadowy figures apparently controlling the mutated monsters that live in the Moscow metro system. During his search for help, he must contend with monsters, bandits, and two major opposing factions: the communist Reds, and the fascist Nazis.
Y’know, there’s a common theme in a lot of post-apocalyptic stories (and zombie stories, which are often very similar) that man is the real monster — in other words, the things that people do to each other are worse than being stalked, killed, and eaten by shadowy beasts. The the presence of the Reds and the Nazis serve this purpose in this game, as both use their purported philosophy to justify their inhuman actions toward their own people, not to mention the other side.
But here’s the thing: for all that the Reds and the Nazis are unsavory, at least they die when you shoot them a few times. The mutant monsters move quickly, jump off the walls and ceilings, and soak up way more ammo than the average human. In addition, unlike human opponents, they don’t drop ammo or medpacks, meaning any resources you use to kill them are lost forever. So in Metro 2033 (at least on the normal difficulty) the monsters are the real monsters.
And I like that, to be frank. The gameplay limits resource gain, and rewards you for sneaking past your opponents, or killing them from stealth. This is somewhat similar to The Evil Within, in a way; but I felt way more tension playing 2033 than playing TEW. Partly, this is because 2033 is much more claustrophobic, and in first person; but TEW also leans heavily on body horror, rather than building actual tense situations. I feel, therefore, that 2033 is actually the better survival horror game.
And there is some actual horror involved in 2033, as well. Several of the tunnels are haunted — possibly by the dark ones, possibly just by ghosts — but these ghosts can hurt you. Up on the surface, not only are conditions horrible, and gas masks a necessity, there are flying “devils” that will hunt you from the skies, as well as many of the other mutants running rampant. And finally, there are strange, electric will-o-the-wisps flitting about, setting fire to everything… Again, comparing it to TEW, there is much less sheer body horror and gross imagery, but the atmosphere itself more than makes up for such cheap shock tactics, cultivating paranoia and nervousness about what might be lurking around the next corner.
Of course, it isn’t perfect. There are a lot of things that can detract from the immersion, especially when you are around non-hostile NPCs. AI pathing is often quite stilted and disjointed, NPCs will face odd directions, and dialogue can often come across quite awkwardly — especially since Artyom only speaks aloud during loading screens, and yet is implied to be responding to others in the game itself. (Gordon Freeman has a lot to answer for…)
Also, there are some times when I missed some approaching enemy or important event because I was facing the wrong way at the moment. On the other hand, sometimes the game seizes control of Artyom and makes you go through a fixed cutscene. The latter seems heavy handed, but the former can be frustrating in a different way…
In addition, there are elements which I like and don’t like at the same time. The levels are poorly signposted, so it can be hard to determine where you are supposed to be going; on the other hand, levels usually aren’t very big, all things considered, so exploring everywhere will either allow you to find where you are supposed to go, or possibly lead you to caches of supplies which will make your life easier. This is exacerbated up on the surface, where you only have a limited amount of time before you run out of filters for your gas mask. You find more, of course, but you can’t exactly afford to wait around forever… But this is all of a piece with the atmosphere, and it actually makes the game more fun, to have a literal deadline. 😉
Secondly, the HUD is very minimal, with very little shown on the screen itself. Holding down one button allows you to manage your equipment, and a different button manages weapons. There is no health gauge, but the screen will flash red and you will be prompted to use a medkit if you take too many attacks. The game doesn’t give you much help figuring out how to perform certain actions, as well — it took me awhile to figure out how to recharge the battery in my flashlight, for instance. Also, I noticed belatedly that by examining the LED on my PS4 controller, I could tell if Artyom was fully visible or in shadow, making stealth easier. Useful, but I wonder how this was supposed to be demonstrated on PC or XBox… or maybe it just gives PS4 players an advantage? I don’t know.
Speaking of weapons… there are several different types of gun, three types of explosive, and throwing knives. Guns can be modified, but only three guns can be carried at once. There are guns that use compressed air to fire, as well as some type of dart gun that I haven’t found yet… but since you can only carry three, I quickly picked up a silenced handgun, an automatic rifle, and a shotgun, and I haven’t seen any reason to switch them out. So the variety of guns is somewhat wasted on me…
So, I haven’t finished the game yet, but I’ve enjoyed playing it so far, despite its faults. Getting overwhelmed by mutants, ganked from behind, or caught in firefights because you threw a grenade instead of a throwing knife isn’t much fun; but it makes successful stealth much more satisfying. My favorite moment so far was sneaking into Reich territory: I tried to cross the bridge at first, and ended up being shredded by bullets. But on my second try, I found my way down the broken pipes and platforms to the floor below, which was covered in poisonous gas but free of enemies, and snuck under their barricade from below. I love multiple paths, don’t you? 😉
Well. So that’s that. Let me say right now, I don’t plan to review games every week again, despite the title. But since it’s been awhile since I posted any new content, and since Metro 2033 was such a nice find after the disappointment I had with The Evil Within, I decided to do a little write-up. So yeah, I can recommend this game if you are looking for a fun, tense FPS, though take the story itself with a grain of salt — it’s a bit heavy handed. 😉