The core shooting gameplay is much too simple; there's no option to lean or go prone and the weapons don't seem geared towards caution. At first this seems like a heavy-handed method of encouraging stealth, but stealth isn't implemented very well either. You have a light meter and weapons like throwing knives for silent take downs, but regardless of the precautions you take, if you mess up even once, every enemy in the vicinity knows where you are, and no amount of hiding seems to change that.
Even the game's good ideas backfire thanks to strange design decisions. One of the best ideas that Metro 2033 has is that ammunition - specifically pre-war military grade ammunition, which is better made and more powerful - is used as currency. It's an interesting mechanic and adds some much needed depth to the combat, forcing you to make a choice between your short term goals, like surviving to the next checkpoint, and more long term goals of buying new weapons and armor. The problem is that to balance this, the regular "dirty" ammo is by comparison laughably weak, with regular human enemies sometimes taking half a dozen close range shotgun blasts to kill, and the majority of the mutants being even tougher still.
It all adds up to create a feeling that your progress through the game is as much due to luck and persistence as it is to skill. Whether you succeed by replaying a section over and over again until you eventually beat it, or just manage to stay alive long enough to make a mad dash to the relative safety of the next check point, rather than feel triumphant when you clear a particular tough part, you just feel relieved.
Metro 2033 doesn't even tell its story very well. Artyom's home station is a bustling, cramped place, but you're given little time to establish an emotional connection with it before you strike out into the tunnels. The game's main overarching narrative is about finding a way to deal with the Dark Ones, but even with the strange interactive cutscenes where the Dark Ones reach out to Artyom - who for some unexplained reasons is immune to their attacks - their impact on the story always feels relatively minor compared to the more obvious and immediate Nazis and mutants the game has to offer. The game frontloads a lot of information about how terrible the Dark Ones are, but it never really communicates the idea past that initial exposition.
Bottom Line: Metro 2033 has a ton of really great ideas, but not only do they not fit together well, they actually compete with each other, sucking all the enjoyment out of the experience.
Recommendation: If you really like post-apocalyptic shooters, Metro 2033 might be worth renting, but you won't miss much if you skip it.
Logan Westbrook has been talking in a bad Russian accent for days thanks to this game.
This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of the game