Review by BusterLegacyFF7

Reviewed: 06/16/16

Metro 2033: Immersive but Hard to Follow

In the vast majority of circumstances, games that come from other forms of media- be it books, movies, television shows, etc.- have a reputation for being notoriously subpar. From the endless tide of superhero movie-game adaptations to the less frequent anime game cash-ins, finding a quality title is a rare gem. Metro 2033 is one of those gems. Based on the book of the same name published in 2005, Metro presents a linear story that sticks very close to its source material in both presentation and content. While most game adaptations choose to deviate from their inspiration in order to put the game first, Metro opts instead to tell the story like it is, and the result is a unique adventure through a mysterious environment that only an author could come up with.

In the wake of the nuclear holocaust brought about by World War III, humanity has since retreated to the only place safe from the deadly radiation: Moscow's subterranean railroad stations. Although safe from the perils of the surface, humanity still has much to fear. Mutated organisms prey in the darkness of the tunnels, the ever-mysterious Dark Ones creep closer and closer to society's borders, and, perhaps the greatest threat of all, humanity refuses to push past its own petty, ideological wars, even in the face of extinction. Metro 2033 tells the story of a young man named Artyom as he explores the ruins of Moscow and navigates the metro system. Artyom must travel to the station of Polis, the largest "city" in the metro, in order to find help for his home station, Exhibition. Artyom's adventure takes him through hostile territory, dark and unexplored corridors, and, at times, to the desolate surface world. The playing experience is incredibly immersive: minimal HUD intrusion, unique art style, and excellent sound design all work together to really make the metro come to life in great detail. The voice acting does a good job at bringing out the direness of situations, but all of the characters speak in heavy Russian accents (I recommend playing with subtitles on). One major criticism that only hurts immersion is the poor character model animations: awkward facial expressions and frequent clipping can take players right out of a critical scene.

Metro 2033, the game, is based after a book of the same name written by Dmitry Glukhovsky. Though I haven't read the books myself (yet), the story is presented to the player in a way that clearly imitates its source material. All cutscenes are shown from the first person perspective, and the silent protagonist injects his own impressions through a series of loading-screen soliloquies and collectable notes. Unfortunately, the real time cutscenes trade atmosphere and immersion for convenience, and the result is long and unskippable interactions. The narrative is very heavy on themes of human nature, perceived morality, and post-societal behavior, often presenting players with moral choices that are undeniably influenced by the game's well-defined setting and incredible immersion. Exploring the ruins of Moscow elicits a sorrowful emotion, and the accompanying score is humbling and saddening. There is a prevailing element of supernatural interference that's also present which serves to further develop the game's mysterious atmosphere. Despite the game's aggressive attempt to tell a story in a linear fashion the way a book would, the pacing seems scattered until the second half of the game when the plot finally solidifies. There are a lot of themes and elements that are only briefly touched upon, while there are others that will only be detected upon additional playthroughs.

Metro 2033's first-person-shooter style compliments its survival horror elements excellently. In the post-apocalyptic subway tunnels filled with monsters and hostile humans, visibility is always low and the ever-present threat of death looms around each corner. In addition to ammunition, you'll also need gas masks and clean air filters in order to survive the irradiated tunnels and barren surface. Ammo and supplies are plentiful if you're willing to walk down dark and hostile corridors to search for it, but more often than not you'll find yourself running desperately low on both. Items and guns can be bought and sold at shops, though you'll have to manage your resources carefully as you can't backtrack to previous missions. In a pinch, the game's currency, Military Grade Rounds (MGR), can be fired as substitution for regular ammo at an obvious cost.

As is the case with most survival games, not fighting is often the better option. Sneaking through tunnels and sewers to avoid detection can save a lot of ammunition at the cost of time and sometimes air filters. Most enemy engagements have hidden alternate routes that can help avoid unnecessary confrontation, and it's entirely possible to play through the entire game without a single human enemy detecting you. Stealth tools like standard melee takedowns, throwing knives, suppressed guns, and pneumatic weapons can all be used to increase your chances of avoiding detection. Because of fixed enemy patrol patterns and other staple stealth elements such as snuffing light sources, you won't find anything in Metro that you can't find in other stealth games. Aiming and firing feels a bit static compared to other shooters, but it works well considering the game can shift from stealth to action in a matter of seconds.

Delightfully, Metro rarely uses jump scares, instead relying on the unnerving atmosphere, murky visibility, and the player's own sense of self-preservation to establish a prevailing sense of fear. In reality, there's not much to be afraid of in the metro, but the lack of explanation of the post-apocalyptic world creates a well guised mystery that coats the player experience with layers of discovery and pioneering. As author H.P. Lovecraft puts it, "The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown." Metro actively seeks to exploit the fear of the unknown, and while sometimes the revelation is disappointing when it's finally revealed, delving deep into the heart of the abandoned metro brings players closer to the unknown than any book ever could.

If you want to enjoy Metro 2033, you need to understand what you're playing. If you're a fan of the more high octane shooters- Call of Duty, Battlefield, Halo, etc.- and you're expecting a similar experience from Metro, you probably won't have a very good time. Playing Metro successfully requires a good level of patience, a concept of methodical task accomplishment, and a decent amount of nerves. Though it's a linear shooter, levels are open enough to allow players the freedom to tackle situations from a multitude of angles, whether it be slowly and quietly or with full speed aggression with plenty of room for improvisation for anything in between. Oftentimes, it's best to allow yourself to sink into the game's atmospheric cocoon and just act reflexively, opening up to the sights and sounds of the metro and acting as Artyom would. Metro's letdowns are limited only by fact that its story follows a narrow book narrative which leads to some hard-to-follow story presentation, but it's hardly incomprehensible. Aside from that, Metro 2033 is a story that begs to be told. It explores a lot of themes relevant to pervasive cultural issues alive in our world today, and provides the author's interpretation of what could happen if we don't address them. Clearly conveying the message of a book onto a game isn't an easy task, and in that regard, Metro succeeds phenomenally.

Rating: 7

Product Release: Metro: 2033 Redux (US, 08/26/14)

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