DOWN IN THE DARK | Metro 2033 Review

There’s something about the idea of post-apocalyptia that I think most people find intriguing, if only because it doesn’t always seem that far away. An errant flick of a switch or the leak of some launch codes or super-virus could result in worldwide disaster, so it’s no real surprise that there’s so much artistic work out there on the subject, from poems and novels to Hollywood movies, and of course videogames. Metro 2033 is based on the Dmitri Glukhovsky book of the same name, and claims to offer an experience with the true horror of a nuclear holocaust.

Your avatar of the day is a lone man named Artyom, whose past comes back to haunt him with the return of a man named Hunter to the station in which they live. As a child, Artyom and his friend managed to leave the safety of the base through a secret exit, to discover the Dark Ones, a new dangerous breed of mutant with the ability to control minds and psychically kill humans. Terrified, they escaped but neglected to seal the exit, prompting an invasion by their new foes and presumed destruction of those who failed to escape.

You never know who (or what) you'll find in the dark metro tunnels

You begin the game by learning the terrors of new-world Moscow - gas masks must be worn on the surface and radiation hotspots avoided. It’s through systems like these that Metro 2033 offers a much more intricate survival - your light must be charged, ammo conserved carefully and resources collected at every opportunity. You may only carry three weapons at once and a maximum number of secondary weapons such as grenades and throwing knives, meaning that management is key.

The dark metro tunnels provide some minor respite from the toxic atmosphere above ground, which consumes gas mask filters as you explore and hunt for new areas. Be sure to regularly wipe and switch to new masks, because if it gets damaged you’re a goner for sure!

"The dark metro tunnels provide some minor respite from the toxic atmosphere above ground..."

It’s hard not to immediately compare Metro to Bethesda’s Fallout 3, or GSC’s S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series, which actually coloured my opinion in the first couple of hours. While the control schemes present in those games felt fairly natural to me, because of the complexity present here I found myself constantly referring to the in-game options menu to remind myself of what button to press - indeed it took me 2 hours to realise you could carry multiple weapons with you!

Take aim at your foes with a variety of customisable weapons!

However once you overcome that roadblock and settle into the mechanics, you’ll begin to appreciate the more advanced approach. Pneumatic weapons must be manually pumped to maintain their pressure, and overpumping them will result in a couple of supercharged pellet shots, perfect for silent takedowns on distant enemies. New firearms can be looted from fallen adversaries or simply bought from traders, who will also offer a multitude of mods, including various sights, silencers or lasers.

On the subject of enemies, you’re in for an interesting experience - the radiation both above and below ground has done a number on the local flora and fauna, and most things are out to kill you. I was slightly disappointed by the lack of enemy diversity in Metro 2033, in that most mutant lifeforms simply look like swollen fleshy masses with claws and teeth attached, while the neo-Communist and Nazi forces in the underground are actually substantially more engaging to fight with.

So while I didn’t find the cast of enemies overly enthralling, there are some sections of the game that will really put you on edge - given how scarce ammunition can be, sometimes it makes more sense to run and hide than engage in firefights. During these periods I found myself sweating and sitting deathly still at my screen, desperately trying to avoid alerting the monstrous creatures to my presence. Worse still, bones and loose stones litter the ground so be sure to watch your step!

"I found myself sweating and sitting deathly still at my screen, desperately trying to avoid alerting the monstrous creatures to my presence..."

Visually Metro 2033 is very pretty for a dystopian world - a dead and rotting landscape recalls the industrial might of a once proud world. While little moves in the bleak surroundings, the dark train tunnels are steeped in a sense of great foreboding, making the few human settlements nice bastions of hope in a dreadful yet unique environment. Unfortunately this does mean a lot of dark greys, blacks and rusty browns and many textures become very similar after a while, but the contrast between the icy surface of Moscow and the claustrophobic tunnels is well executed.

Metro is visually quite pleasing in a godforsaken kind of way...

Another nice touch lies in the game’s ammunition system - what with the fall of mankind and everything there is no real economy - military-grade ammunition is the only effective currency. You can trade it for new guns and items, donate it to the less fortunate (and that really means something in this world) or even load it into your existing weapons for a little extra damage. Donation might mean that the people around you become a little more hospitable.

There’s actually quite a few instances where simple exploration can lead to interesting nuggets of information about the world - while sneaking through a Nazi camp I managed to inadvertently free a troupe of Red Army soldiers. Not what I’d intended, but at least it gave me a few allies, right?

And be sure to learn as much as you can about the lore behind the game - Artyom’s scattered journal pages can be found dotted around the various metro tunnels, hinting further at the strange goings on and terrors lurking in the shadows.

Do what the man says, Artyom.

Ultimately Metro 2033 was an enjoyable experience for me but nothing groundbreaking. It has however spurred to me to begin its sequel Last Light, which no doubt you’ll hear my opinion on in the future. The lack of variation in surroundings and enemies was made up for by the beautifully polished weapons and animations and the great sense of atmosphere. It’s usually available at a pretty good discount somewhere, and an especially good deal if you can grab Last Light along with it. Great for any post-apocalyptia survival fans, although not overwhelmingly brilliant.