Post-apocalyptic worlds are definitely one of the favorite creative themes for ex-soviet game producers. S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl and Cryostasis were born in that ex-communist space, titles with a very special atmosphere. But, the same producers don’t have the best reputation out there, because their games are always literally swimming in technical problems.
Put together, the quality of the story and the bugs made gamers very suspicious when it comes to these “soviet” games and Metro 2033 stays true to this mixed approach. And just like their former colleagues from GSC, the Ukrainian folks from 4A Games found inspiration in literature for their post-apocalyptic shooter: the homonymous novel written by the young Russian novelist Dmitry Glukhovski.
Metro 2033 is set in a ruined Moscow that has been utterly destroyed by a nuclear holocaust, with the survivors now living in the tunnels of the famous subway from the Russian capital, turning the stations into small settlements. Amongst them, one in particular stands up, Artyom (not the football player, be nice back there!), a young man who’s never seen the surface, but who discovers that he’s kind of immune to the telepathic attacks of the monsters known only as the Dark Ones.
Thanks to his gift, Artyom is sent to deliver a critical, but cryptic message to another subway station – Polis – on the opposite side of the tunnel network. Obviously, his journey is vital for the survival of the whole human kind and the story is told entirely from his point of view. But barring the inter-mission “recollections”, Artyom is mute for all intents and purposes, just like Gordon Freeman in Half-Life, and this approach kind of ruins the immersion and the possible empathy for his struggle.
On the other hand, the action is littered with semi-interactive cut scenes in the most surprising moments. Quite often, I had to watch the hero taking his destiny into his own virtual hands and then, just as sudden, I was back in control in a very difficult spot. These unexpected jumps bring a lot into the gritty atmosphere of the underground, badly or not lit at all, full of rubble and many, many scary monsters.
How to keep your wits in the tunnel
Since Artyom has to cross a whole labyrinth of tunnels in order to deliver his message, most of his adventure involves killing plenty of enemies, humans and monsters alike. The underground society is divided into colonies, not all of them friendly, with many bandits roaming around in search for lost “tourists”. Some survivors are Nazis, others are communists and Artyom gets right in the middle of their conflict, an obvious criticism of the two totalitarian systems that changed the face of the world in the last decades. Besides fighting people, all kinds of monsters, zombies and mutants try to rip our hero apart. The action gets hot very fast, and the beats are all endowed with an unusual high agility.
Creatures with four legs or two, winged or ethereal, all of them force you to be always on the move, to retreat or go round in circles in the narrow tunneled spaces. I often found myself shooting at my legs, with the monster already behind me or three meters farther, the screen already death-red and my only accomplishment was wasting precious ammo. Therefore, one has to be a shooting ace to prevent the endless reloads of the same checkpoint because the monsters don’t go down without a fierce fight and normal bullets aren’t that efficient either.
True, you can use military bullets from the stashes that survived the atomic holocaust, but these are pretty scarce; and this special ammo is more useful as currency in the various shops from the friendly colonies. The arsenal doesn’t have much when it comes to variation and Artyom can carry only one gun from a certain class of weapons: a handgun, a rifle and explosives, with their clunky performance emphasizing both the deplorable state of human kind as a whole and the relative lack of experience of the protagonist: the pistol is not that accurate, the shotgun takes too long to reload, and the dynamite often goes anywhere but in the enemies’ head.
As a last resort, there is also a knife, but it takes at least 10 blows to kill the lowest of bandits. As for the monsters, mission impossible, so searching the bodies for bullets is the national Metro 2033 sport. The knife is more efficient when thrown, because the game includes some stealth sections when you have to eliminate some patrols. The major issue however is that it takes only one wrongly thrown knife to alert all the enemies to Artyom’s whereabouts. Add to that the fact that the scripts which should limit the radius of the AI’s hearing don’t seem to be working that well and the result is that, in the long term, the all knowing, all mighty and all seeing into darkness AI isn’t very appealing.