Tech Digest got to have a pretty extensive sit down with post-apocalyptic first-person shooter Metro 2033 this week. Read on for our initial impressions of what may prove to be the most atmospheric shooter of the year.
There will be many quick to compare Metro 2033 to Fallout 3, and while they share similar post-apocalyptic settings, this is a very different beast. Metro 2033 is a linear, scripted shooter, where jumps and scares are far higher on the agenda than exploration. That’s not necessarily a bad thing at all considering the rich back story on offer here from Dmitry Glukhovsky’s acclaimed, eponymous novel.
Metro 2033 throws you into the shoes of Artyom, a young man who has grown up on the wrong side of an apocalyptic event that has turned the world to ashes and rubble. His life has been spent scraping together an existence in Moscow’s underground Metro station settlements, fending off mutant attacks from above. If that didn’t sound grim enough, there’s a gang of new mutants on the scene, known only as “Dark Ones” who use psychic powers to mess you up without even the courtesy to claw out your innards first.
Our Xbox 360 testing session let us try out the first few scene-setting missions. Many early sequences had us soaking up the atmosphere of Artyom’s home station, Exhibition. Ukrainian developers 4A Games have obviously spent a lot of time making this world feel lived-in and natural, and there’s a real sense of community in these underground tunnels, despite the bleak set-up. Kids weave in and out of shanty-style hovels, markets bustle with mercenaries looking to trade bullets (the game’s currency) and every corner reveals an NPC with a well voice-acted story to tell. It all looks really great too, with moody lighting and a sense of foreboding written on each character’s face.
A little further down the line and we’re exploring one of the metro tunnels and fending off waves of rat-like mutants. Each gun (made to look like a “Frankenstein’s monster” of salvaged parts) had a weighty punch appropriate to their strength, and the aggressive enemy AI definitely kept us on our toes. Ammunition is limited (perhaps a little too limited), giving a real survival-horror feel to proceedings. Your comrades put up a good fight too, and saved our sorry skins on more than one occasion. Getting pounced upon by the beasts sometimes throws up a little quick-time-event as you struggle to clamber away, but they feel well placed here, adding to the frenetic action rather than breaking the sense of immersion.
To traverse the hazardous tunnels, you’ve got a backpack full of gear to aid you, including a gas mask, lighter and map for navigation, and a hand crank for charging your headlamp. Donning the gas mask for too long in noxious areas sees the screen fog up, a really nice touch that obscures your view and adds to tension, as is the need to flick open the lighter to read your map in the dark corridors. There’s no HUD here; everything is tactile and needs interacting with to be of any use to you, with the controller-trigger pumping charge crank being a good example. It all helps to immerse you in the desperate struggle for survival Artyom faces, but we couldn’t help but feel that all these functions made the controls a little overly-busy at times.
The last area we saw brought us upon some human bandit foes, and required a bit of light stealth work. Tripwires and tin can alarm systems were set up to alert them to our presence, but just hiding in the shadows was enough to evade most of the baddies and allow us to deliver a silent throwing knife killing blow to our enemies. Stealth isn’t looking to be too integral a part of the action, and that’s probably a good thing, as we’re pretty certain an enemy passed straight through us without detecting our presence at one point.
All in, Metro 2033 is looking to be a pretty enjoyable adventure. There doesn’t seem to be anything revolutionary on the cards, but it’s a solid shooter that just oozes atmosphere at every turn. It’s literary background also looks to set it apart, and we’re genuinely excited to see where the plot will eventually take us.
We’ll have a full review of Metro 2033 in the next few weeks so keep an eye out in the days running up to its March 19th UK release.
By Gerald Lynch | March 4th, 2010