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anglebender [Celluloid 04.01.10] post apocalyptic review horror video game

[Editor's Note: Thanks to anglebender for being patient with us.]

PLATFORMS – Windows (7, Vista & XP), Xbox 360
RELEASE – March 16, 2010
MSRP – US$49.99 PC, US$59.95 XBOX 360



Based on the 2002 Dmitry Glukhovsky novel about the world's largest air raid shelter, the Moscow Metro, it's about the protagonist Artyom traversing it and part of the ruined city above to deliver an urgent message. Global nuclear warfare occurred a few decades previous, yet survivors have already established borders between underground stations, with each one being a sovereign country. During his journey to deliver the message, Artyom must fight mutants, ghosts, neo-Nazis, Marxist extremists, and “anomalies”. It's a first-person shooter with no multiplayer, no RPG elements, a linear plot progression, and a really annoying “checkpoint” based autosave system. However, this is the most prudent video game purchase I've made in years.

One way to describe Metro 2033: the entire game is like the tram ride in the opening of the game Half Life only you're attacked by stuff constantly and Barney has a Russian accent. If you haven't played Half Life, imagine a heavily populated Norman Rockwell painting with mutants and survivors killing each other in decrepit subway tunnels.

Metro 2033 was developed by Ukraine-based 4A Games, which was formed by people from GSC Game World, the developer/publisher of the S.T.A.L.K.E.R video game series. There's a definite Russian influence in the storytelling of Metro 2033, yet there's enough American influence from THQ to keep it familiar. Russophiles and fans of anything post-apocalyptic will probably be floored or at least highly amused. Game trailer after the break.

From the Game's website (
“In 2013 the world was devastated by an apocalyptic event, annihilating almost all mankind and turning the earth’s surface into a poisonous wasteland. A handful of survivors took refuge in the depths of the Moscow underground, and human civilization entered a new Dark Age.

The year is 2033. An entire generation has been born and raised underground, and their besieged Metro Station-Cities struggle for survival, with each other, and the mutant horrors that await outside.”


The combat dynamics are responsive enough on a PC, but I feel this title is better suited to a console. A good place to pigeon hole this game is in the “survival/horror” niche, but it would be a tight occupancy. Metro 2033 meets the requirements of that category (constant tension, limited ammo, grotesque enemies), but it aspires to be something greater. The abundance of back story is enough to spawn a lengthy franchise or even an MMO. This has a very crafted feel to it, like the developers are talking directly to you, yet they're not: it's what they AREN'T saying that's really important. It's a storytelling conceit from that part of the world, and while it may be an acquired taste for some, it's definitely novel enough to be extremely entertaining to everyone else.

Money in the metro is ammunition, and pre-apocalypse rounds are more valuable (and do more damage) than rounds made locally. I like the idea of making the decision to shoot your money or conserve it. Some of the weapons are pneumatic air rifles that have to be pumped up before they can be fired, and because the seals have corroded over time, you can hear the air hissing out before you fire. Your flashlight has to be charged occasionally by a hand-pumped generator. When you go outside, you have to wear a gas mask and change its filter regularly or you'll die of asphyxiation. Also, when you wear the gas mask, the edges of the screen fog with condensation and Artyom's breathing becomes more ragged the longer he has it on. If there was a checklist for post-apocalyptic video games, Metro 2033 fulfills every bullet point and adds a few more.

But the most annoying facet of the gameplay is the “checkpoint” based autosave system- every so often, the game will automatically save your place, it can't be turned off, and you can have only ONE save. This is very WTF to me. For example, if you make a mistake in purchasing items and waste precious ammo, you'll have some replaying to do.

Occasionally, the computer-controlled enemies do incredibly idiotic things, like jump behind cover on the wrong side so you can shoot them in the back, or if you headshot someone who's having a conversation with someone, the other person will act as if nothing just happened. Then again, most of the soldiers you encounter are conscripted civilians told only which end of a gun is dangerous and where the battlefield is, i.e. they haven't been properly trained, so this irrational behavior can sometimes be justified.

But with idiocy comes genius- if you shoot a guard, all the guards in the level will psychically ascertain your position (even if you're hidden) and converge on you. Omniscient guards in video games have been around forever, and they're almost to be expected (it increases the challenge), but I've gotta say it doesn't work in this case. Not when all the guards are dumb as a post but apparently carry IQ boosting pills for when they hear a scream or a gun shot. Add to the fact that enemies later in the game can take five or more shots before they drop, and the first headshot will only make them angry. It makes me want to do something drastic, like use a cheat code. Speaking of which, there aren't any invincibility or unlimited ammo cheats on the Xbox version, but PC users only need to modify a few lines in the game's USER.CFG file to access great carnage and constant hilarity.

Overall, this game is fairly tough even on “normal”. There isn't any option to change the difficulty during the game, so either get a cheat code, restart on “easy” or put on your “hardcore” hat because experiencing the entire story is really worth the trouble.


Aside from the short intros before each level, the game's story is conveyed through conversations non-player characters have with each other that the player overhears. The storytelling style is uniquely different from anything I've seen in the last few years. I might play through it again just to hear all the NPC's conversations. But earlier I described how lots of audio cues have replaced most of the information normally given by a head's up display. For it to be implemented so elegantly deserves a moment of silence. There.

The music is fairly okay, in that it's mostly ambient and devoid of any drum beats. Most of it sounds like dark ambient with a little bit of piano and acoustic guitar. None of it is cheesy, but sometimes it sounds like generic stock music for a survival/horror video game. However, the closing title theme, in its sublime greatness, cancels out most of the negative comments I have about the music.


Internet Forums use the term “tech demo” to describe the game's graphics, which I took to mean either “supernaturally awesome” or “don't waste your time”. I assumed they meant the former. The minimum requirements alone might prevent most gamers from playing a game with this much graphical-type stuff going on. It looks a little bit better on an Xbox 360, and sadly there isn't a PlayStation 3 version.

Even on the lowest of graphics settings on a PC, candles have a heat-haze effect from the flame- THAT was one of many jawdropping moments I had. When this title is in the bargain bin a few years from now, and it will probably be able to run on a cell phone, this title will still be attractive. The linear track of the plot isn't so much of a downer when everything looks so intricate. I frequently found myself pausing next to piles of garbage in awe at how random and well placed it appeared. The physics engine is really nice: if the player headshots a charging mutant, its body will slide on the ground for several yards. While this isn't new graphics tech, it just looks very well developed.

The only written English I've seen is the slightly ubiquitous cover of the novel this game is based on. It occasionally skirts the border between cameo and product placement, but it's easily forgivable. All posters, labels and banners are in the Cyrillic letters of Russian, which adds to the atmosphere immensely. If I could read Russian, I'd gladly do another play-through just to read everything. But there's something missing: aside from crosshairs (which you can turn off),there's no HUD or “meters” to show how beat up you are or if your gas mask's filter needs changing. Artyom instead has a wristwatch that tells you not only how dirty your gas mask filter is but how well hidden you are. Artyom will sound more ragged the more tore up he is, and the glass in the gas mask will develop cracks as you take damage if you're wearing it. It's lots of little cues like that which only aid in immersion and make the experience so memorable.

The shadows look great, especially the volumetric smoke effects. If you like to sneak around and use the shadows, it's a jungle gym. In one level filled with patrolling guards with headlamps, but I managed to sneak past all them without raising any alarms. There should be an achievement on Steam for that, because it was REALLY hard. Yes, it's actually possible to pass an entire level (sometimes) without killing anyone- Mothers can rejoice. They won't like the violence in this game though, since decapitations are frequent and blood sprays are widespread.

If you have Windows 7 or Vista installed, you'll have the option to enable the depth-of-field effects (objects are blurry when they're far away). Although the system requirements on any Windows machine are fairly high, if someone wanted to go full on berserk and plunk down a few hundred dollars for nVidia's new 3D glasses, this game was designed with it in mind. Once the price drops and the technology has been around for a few more years, this will be the game I'll use to “test” my 3D system when I have one.

From a video game design standpoint, there is no such thing as an “open world” game. It's impossible. You would need several hundred warehouses full of artists/coders/testers, approximately 30 billion dollars and a few decades. Even with procedural content generation, it will have an overriding sameness that people will perceive but maybe can't distinguish. It's really all about fooling the player into suspending their disbelief so the game world only **appears** to have infinite potential when the player is actually guided by an invisible hand on a rail to endgame. In a good video game, freewill and choice is an illusion, but it must always be a pretty illusion. I think I'll go read the book now, maybe its sequel too.

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chuck (12 years ago) Reply

Great- now I've got to buy an xbox. Between this and New Vegas I'm going to be busy this summer!


kevin (12 years ago) Reply

Played through it on the PC. It's pretty fun but I think Call of Pripyat was a more memorable experience for me.

Here's a tip I wish I had gotten before I played: once you get to the part you see in the intro for the second time, you might as well start using your military ammo right then. You can't buy anything else and that's the toughest few minutes of the game.


Ivan (12 years ago) Reply

May try it some day. Hope that it is better than the wannabe-Strugatsky novel, which I left in the middle.


LordOfFlies (12 years ago) Reply

Its no Half-Life, but it sure is a great single player experience everyone should at least try, once it hits a more deserving price range. 60-50$ is a bit to much for this 6-8 hour romp through the metro.


nebbish (12 years ago) Reply

Just started this last weekend. Dark and claustrophobic. So far an entertaining game. I am have a few Widows 7 video issues with it.


kall (12 years ago) Reply

If it was me, I would have given this game a 10. So so immersive.

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