Disclaimer: This review is the longest I've ever written. Meaning, very, very long. I did this so I could elaborate on just about everything I needed to. I just wanted to be sure to tell you what you're getting into. Enjoy.
I have always understood why it is very much necessary to compare games to other games. After all, we, as human beings, associate everything we know with something that is new in order to better gain a comprehension of whatever that new thing may be. It's just the way we are. However, there seems to be an increasingly liberal use of the word "Clone" in the gaming industry as of late. And it isn't because the game in question is an exact copy of another game, rather, it's because the game in question may steal thunder from another game. Yes, it's the exact same reason why an individual would hate their next door neighbor's awesome Christmas light setup (I'll get those fuckers next year), because it makes anything else around seem less awesome. Battlefield: Bad Company 2 was in no way a "Clone" of MW2, aside from the fact that was a shooter of the first person persuasion. It's just that the people who prefer MW2 get paid thousands every time they convince someone that Bad Company 2 sucks horribly (It's the only logical explanation). Well, I'm the biggest anti-clone spokesperson to ever walk among mortals, so naturally, you can understand my dilemma when Metro 2033 was compared to the love of my life: the Stalker franchise.
Part of me wanted Metro to be a step-brother of that beloved masterpiece, and it made sense, especially considering that two of the lead programmers working on Stalker left in order to develop Metro. The other part wanted a completely unique experience, which wouldn't be possible if the game were too much like Stalker. In the end, Metro 2033 is absolutely nothing like Stalker, for better or worse.
The story in Metro 2033 follows the Russian book of the same name, and rather faithfully it seems. Shortly after a violent nuclear war, all the people in Moscow have gone underground into the subway tunnels in order to survive the resulting nuclear winter. You take control of Artyom as he attempts to save his home from a recently emerged threat, known only as the Dark Ones. I'd recap more, but that is all I'm completely positive about. The story is incredibly confusing, not from complexity, but primarily from the method of exposition. Remember how in Bioshock you had to listen to those little audio diaries in order to even remotely understand what the fuck was going on? Well, Metro is a lot like that. You have to stop and listen to side conversations between two random people, talk to every single character you can, and observe your surroundings in order to get even a slight clue about the plot. Now, that worked excellently in Bioshock, slowly adding pieces to this giant puzzle, but never giving you every piece in order to preserve some of them mystery. Unfortunately, it works nowhere near as well in Metro 2033 and by the end it leaves you with no sort of solid facts about anything. The primary problem is the fact that, unlike Bioshock with the aforementioned diaries, not a single bit is exposed to you directly, rather, everything is implied. It makes it confusing. Never will one guy come out and tell you straight up about anything. Not once. Every time you encounter something new, you wonder if you should have known more about it, or if the game purposely wanted you to stumble blindly through the entire plot in order to keep you intrigued.
They are going to be so pissed at me when they wake up.
An excellent example are the Dark Ones themselves. They are terribly interesting creatures, especially given how they can manipulate the minds of individuals, and give them some particularly strange fever dreams regarding more than one smoky, unoccupied hallway. However, you never really learn anything about them. Throughout the beginning, your ugly-as-hell stepfather drones on and on about how dangerous they are, but never exactly why. Sure, they can mess with people's heads, but that is never on a deadly level, it just signals that it's nap time for all the characters around you. Soon enough, they're all awake again and relatively unharmed. Even by the end of the game, I had only surmised so much about the Dark Ones, unable to penetrate any aspect of the story enough to learn any more.
The strongest point about the game, much like Stalker or Bioshock, is the setting. The underground tunnels of the Moscow metro are creepy as hell, with very little lighting, and are more often than not, filled to the brim with corpses of your fellow man, or mutants who have stomachs that are, more often than not, filled to the brim with your fellow man. You'll very much appreciate the small details, from the scarred steel walls of the stations, to the dilapidated and ancient trains that sit dead on the tracks, and even the twisted and destroyed buildings that inhabit the icy wasteland of the city of Moscow. It simply fills you with a sense of constant dread and despair, which simply adds to the experience. You really get the sense that these people are simply trying to survive with what they've been given, and the often lighthearted dialogue that comes from the characters really provides a stark contrast, showing that their humanity shines through the darkness. It's all very immersive and amazing.
Of course, the presentation adds to the powerful setting. The graphics are stunning as a whole. Textures are all well done, the mutants look fantastic, the guns have an appalling amount of detail, and the lighting effects are fantastic. However, some of the facial features of the characters lack the detail of most games that are released these days. The sound is another amazing aspect, taking cues from Stalker in this area as well. The guns are incredibly loud, which makes it even more entertaining when you unleash their power upon some poor bastard, and the explosions are deafening. Literally. Often times, a nearby grenade will deafen your character, replacing all sound with a low ringing noise. It isn't the first game to do this, but it does it particularly well. The mutants all have a particular sound to them, meaning you can tell the difference between the mutants simply by listening. One of them, a giant rat sort of thing, screeches when it jumps, and I certainly knew when I was up against it, because it made me shit my pants every single time the bastard snuck up on me. One thing that adds to the eerie-ness is the fact that even the silence isn't silent. You'll find yourself creeping through a dark corridor and a stark, high pitched shriek will be emitted from seemingly nowhere, making it seem as if the Earth itself is crying out in agony. This will seem very familiar to you Stalker fans out there, as it does nearly the same exact thing. All of this will draw you into the game. This game has a presentation that will completely suck you in if you aren't careful.
On the menu for today: White Mush and Dark Mush
Metro 2033's phobia of telling the player anything also extends into the gameplay, making the game incredibly confusing at the start. Apparently, tutorials are for pussies, and there are no room for pussies in the apocalypse. Instead, they drop you off towards the end of the story, which acts as a sort of unnecessary prologue thing. The main problem with this is that you are shown the surface wasteland about five minutes into the game, completely destroying any sort of mystery and potential intrigue about that. After a short battle where your character blacks out, the game rewinds time to the beginning of the journey, and then continues normally from there. Now, one of the most talked about aspects of Metro is its use of military grade ammo for currency. You take the military grade ammo to shops in order to buy new weapons, armor, gas mask filters, and everything in between. I thought I understood this before buying the game, but I had no fucking clue, nor do they ever attempt to explain it to you. It turns out, each gun has its own kind of ammo, shotguns have shells, pistols have normal ol' bullets, etc. However, the military grade ammo is of higher quality than the traditional ammo, and therefore, more valuable. You have the ability to switch between using normal ammo and the military grade ammo, which does more damage. But (and this was the confusing part) you can only do so with the machine gun. Instead of tapping the RB button, you would instead hold it down, and he would insert a clip of the higher quality ammo. But honestly, this aspect is entirely pointless, and I would be lying if I said I used it even once during the game. Before playing, I thought certain guns would have to use to the military grade ammo, meaning you had to choose between being poor and well equipped, or rich but with shitty stuff. That is not even close to the case. I went through the game well equipped and as the richest fucking man to ever live in a cave.
Once you finally get a hang of the game (no thanks to the lack of any sort of help from the game itself), you will find a very fun shooter in Metro 2033. Many people have been complaining about the shooter mechanics being lackluster, but I had no problems with them. In fact, I found the shooting to be very well implemented, especially considering the realistic nature of all the guns. Creeping silently through a narrow metro tunnel, flashlight barely piercing into the wall of darkness, home-made double barrel shotgun at the ready, blowing away any mutant that dares to show itself. It's exactly as fun and satisfying as it sounds. The game is also very diverse, throwing in several rail-shooter sequences which keep it from getting too stale. However, the main issue with the gameplay is the stealth sequences. Now, it isn't so much a broken aspect of the game, as it is an incredibly difficult one. Not once was I able to sneak through an enemy base completely unnoticed, and with my aforementioned well equipped ass, I was never terribly worried about it either. If I was found crawling around in the shadows like a tard, I would simply whip out the trusty AK-47 and plow through wave after wave of enemies with ease, making me wonder why I bothered sneaking in the first place. When I was able to sneak around a little bit, the stealth did make the game very thrilling. Popping out from the shadows to silently slit the throats of people who would very much prefer to continue living was often very exciting, however, I found myself getting too frustrated when it didn't work.
"Why are you guys wearing your gas masks down here? It's safe to breathe." "Actually, Jim just farted."
Another troublesome aspect of the game is the fact that the enemies are really not that dangerous to you. You would think that a giant fucking mutant could tear your wimpy daddy's boy ass to shreds, however, that couldn't be farther from the case. Instead, the mutants run up and give you a nice cuddle, showing off their affection, and allowing you plenty of time to fill them full of lead, knife, or whatever. None of this is helped by the fact that all of the bi-pedal mutants in the game are just different color versions of each other. Towards the end of the game, you encounter these mutants aptly named Librarians, obviously due to their extreme appreciation of books, particularly Asimov and Huxley. Regardless, they are essentially the exact same as the other bi-pedal mutants you've been fighting all along, except these are slightly more difficult. This gives you an impression of laziness from the creature designers. Speaking of slightly more difficult, the enemies share your tendency towards surviving things that should normally kill you. Humans can take up to four shotgun shots to the face and still survive, and as for the mutants, well, you'll be very much annoyed at those Librarians. The damned things will survive anything and everything you throw at them. I was coasting through Metro on the default difficult setting with an abundance of ammo, but when I got to the Librarians I lost nearly fucking everything. I can't imagine what it would have been like had I not been so well equipped.
Frequently, you will go up to the surface and fight through the ruined city streets, but the lack of clean air forces you to don a gas mask at all times. Honestly, for such a small aspect of the game, this is terribly interesting. You hear your character's labored breathing inside the mask whenever you run or when you get into a fight with something. And in a fashion so fucking awesome that you'll stand up and say out loud to yourself "That's fucking awesome,", your gas mask will begin to break as you take a beating, forcing you to scour the wasteland in search of a new one, lest you die from the lack of air. Occasionally, you'll have to swap out filters, which looks cool, and ice will gather on the glass of the mask, proving that the developers were very keen to add in some nice details.
The linear nature of Metro 2033 ensures that there are many strong cinematic moments, very much like Half-Life 2, and these are certainly some of the best moments in the entire game. Describing some of these may spoil some of the fun, so I will add a spoiler after this paragraph where I describe one or two in detail. If you don't want any of them spoiled, just settle for me telling you "Trust me. They're awesome."
"It sucks that we can't re inhabit this place, but it's just too damn cold." "Yeah, and the lack of breathable air is a bummer too."
To be quite frank, Metro 2033 is an easy game to recommend. It may be a tad short (10 - 12 hours), but it is ridiculously compelling, a lot of fun, and has a completely satisfying ending that will have you wanting to play through it again, just to see if you missed anything. Besides, there are two endings, and I've heard they are both equally as awesome. I deeply enjoyed Metro 2033 and I recommend that you at least try it, especially considering that there really isn't anything out there like it.
Thank you for reading and feedback is greatly appreciated.
If you enjoyed this, feel free to read my other reviews: Ninja Assassin, Ruse Impressions, Stalker: Call of Pripyat, Battlefield: Bad Company 2, Shutter Island, Halo: Legends, Stalker: Clear Sky, Stalker: Complete 2009, HAWX, Fable 2, and The Boondock Saints[/quote]