Metro 2033 is a game based on Dmitry Glukhovsky’s book of the same name, and from this information alone you’ll probably be unsurprised to know that Metro 2033 is set deep under the heart of Russia – the Metro that runs underneath the city of Moscow.
The apocalypse has happened; the world resorted to all-out nuclear warfare, and the countries that once were closely-linked are now cut off from each other. Russia had decided in the lead-up to this war that the best option, should the worst happen, would be to reinforce the underground Metro system until it was one giant nuclear bunker. When the bombs finally fell, the citizens retreated underground to survive. Now, they’re quite possibly the last of humanity; as you’re cut off from the rest of the world, whether your former enemies are alive or dead is anybody’s guess.
You play as Artyom – a survivor of this war who fled into the Russian Metro as a small child, losing his mother in the process. The year is 2033, and Artyom has had 24 years to grow up since that fateful day in 2009. Artyom has joined the force protecting his town, the metro station of Exhibition, from the mutants just outside their walls. These mutants, believed by some to be the next stage of human evolution, do not like humans. They attack not only on sight, but they attack your station constantly; life is tough for the inhabitants of the Metro in 2033, and the attacks are only getting worse.
Mutants aren’t the only issue that Exhibition has to deal with; there are three major military factions that roam the Metro. First up are the Nazis – because every militaristic shooter needs a Nazi to shoot at. Secondly, we have the Communists. Finally we have the Rangers, and Artyom’s dream job: Rangers don their gas-masks and go out to the hostile streets of Moscow above to collect any scraps of civilization that would help with the desperate life that is lived below the ground. While the Nazi and Communist factions kill each other, the Rangers ignore them to brave the surface above and fight the mutants that live there, purely to provide for their kin – a noble job in this post-apocalyptic hell-scape. All the Rangers fear is The Dark Ones, and bearing in mind that they couldn’t give two shakes about the Nazis, you know that The Dark Ones are fucking hostile.
“In our order we have a saying – if it’s hostile, kill it,” says a Ranger towards the start of the game.
The Dark Ones are a new breed of mutant which have evolved to possess psychic powers; these powers are used to get inside the head of humans, driving them insane and ultimately killing them. Those who live through their encounters with The Dark Ones do not do so for long. The mutants are at war with the humans, and The Dark Ones are not only the powerful generals commanding the mutants – they’re winning.
Artyom is, of course, immune to the psychic attacks of The Dark Ones – and so he’s ordered to undertake a quest to bomb the living shit out of these “demons”, because that is obviously the best course of action considering how humanity has bombed itself into living underground because they have devastated the surface of the planet.
As they say in every Fallout and almost every Metal Gear game, “War never changes” – and your mission is to have history repeat itself, yet again.
Metro 2033 is an FPS game for the most part, but with RPG and survival horror elements thrown in for good measure. The FPS part is fairly obvious – shoot anything hostile. The RPG elements of Metro 2033 come into how you act; are you Artyom the nice guy, or Artyom the asshole? Once again, we have a binary karma system which governs how you play the game; if you play the asshole who doesn’t look out for his comrades, who is rude to people and is generally just an big old dickhead, you get the canonical (totally shit) ending. If you play the nice guy who gives money to beggars and play the guitar (yes, that gives you positive karma) you can unlock a secret, non-canonical ending which is infinitely more satisfying.
Metro 2033 is far more than an just an FPS with RPG elements however, and this manifests in the survival horror aspects of the game. Living in a post-apocalyptic Moscow, horror is obviously everywhere you look. While Metro 2033 is not in the same league as the likes of Amnesia, if games like Dead Space scared you, the Metro games will have you buying new underwear.
There’s nothing outright scary about a mutant – they just look like hairy wolf/dog/things; the scary thing is when you leave a station which you are passing through, and are forced to walk through the tunnels to the next station. You watch the giant steel doors close behind you and you come to a realization: not only is the nearest human and point of safety behind the thick steel wall at your back, but that wall was the only thing that kept those people anywhere near safe, and they are still very far from that. That means that the only thing between you and the hundreds of mutants you cannot see is a flashlight and the barrel of your gun.
Speaking of your gun, you’ll be unsurprised to know that with the last of humanity living underground, the factory which churned out the military-grade weapons and ammunition for the world above are now abandoned. Military-grade ammo is so rare, in fact, that it has become the currency of the Metro, and the bullets you use in your crappy weapons are the crappy bullets made by the crappy citizens of the crappy Metro.
You can fight off wave after wave of mutant, each carefully placed shot eating into your limited ammo supply; but what happens when you come across a flying mutant, or one of the boss mutants? Do you swap out your cheaper bullets for your military-grade ammo with the real stopping power, or do you pray that you have enough home-made ammo – which is pretty pathetic by comparison – to do the job? You can shoot away all of your cash, but what happens when you need to go to the surface? The surface is in a nuclear winter and is ruined – you need a gas mask up there, which is why you still live in the Metro two decades after the war ended; if you have no cash, you can’t buy filters for your gas mask. If you have no filters, you cannot breathe; if you cannot breathe, your regenerating health means nothing.
Just like in Dead Space, you don’t have a health bar in Metro 2033; the game is incredibly immersive for the most part, and your only health indicators are how much blood is in your eyes, and how hard your heart is beating in your ears. Your gas mask requires filters, but you have to find and change those yourself. Each filter is good for 5 in-game minutes, which will have you checking Artyom’s watch like a hawk – the worst thing in the game is hearing Artyom start to suffocate and making moves to change your filter – only to realize that Artyom is about to choke to death because you couldn’t find him a filter while you were busy gallivanting around the surface.
Almost everything in Moscow 2033 is trying to kill you – whether it be in the Metro, or above it; Metro 2033 has conquered many a terrified gamer, but if you love survival horror like we do, and can finish Dead Space without needing a week of sitting under a bright light like Alan Wake, this game comes highly recommended.
It’s not without its flaws though.
First of all, the game is unabashedly obvious in its storyline. If you think something is about to happen, the chances are it will. While this breaks the carefully-crafted immersion that the developer clearly worked hard to convey, it’s also unfortunately not the worst offender. At one point during the game, you’re led through a tunnel by a friend of yours, who tells you that nobody ventures through these tunnels because they’re haunted.
Ok, you think – fair enough people are superstitious. But no, these tunnels really are haunted by ghosts – ghosts which kill you if you so much as touch them. For the most part, Metro 2033 is immersive, but every now and then it decides to shatter this immersion by either being obnoxious in how obvious the plot is, or by throwing literal ghost trains in your face.
On top of this, it’s fucking difficult. Metro 2033 provides a challenge even on Easy Mode, and while we’re certainly not hostile to a little challenge now and then, occasionally the game goes overboard. When you get swarmed by enemies with guns, you are proverbially screwed. The Nazis and Communists alike all seem to know exactly where to shoot all of the fucking time, and can kill you in about 2 or 3 shots. If you can handle that, then for the absolute masochists out there there is a Ranger Mode, which is honestly more punishing than fun – but I don’t recommend it to the average gamer, nor even the advanced gamer who doesn’t like horror. Ranger Mode is fucking scary.
There isn’t much else to say; yes the game can be predictable at times, and yes the ending is infuriating as hell, but you need it for the sequel, Metro: Last Light. All in all, Metro 2033 is an incredible entry into the FPS survival horror genre, and is a game which you absolutely need to play.