Their storytelling elements, visual environments, and unique gameplay offerings add up to a product that transcends the point-and-shoot simplicity from both the old (Wolfenstein, Doom) and new (Call of Duty, Halo). These games are few and far between among the FPS genre but have offered some great moments in gaming.
The Half Life series perhaps is the flagship, but there are other lesser-known gems out there. With its sequel confirmed for a 2013 release, TGF’s Luis C. Mendez (LC) and Nick Pinkerton (NP) turn our attention to an undervalued FPS, Metro 2033. 4A Games‘ 2010 sleeper hit struck a chord with gamers for its gameplay innovations and haunting universe, leaving us with some lasting memories we’ll want to rekindle later this year. So, without further ado, let’s journey to post-apocalyptic Russia and uncover what makes this game particularly worth playing.
S*** Just Got Real
Similar to the Call of Duty WWII Eastern Front campaigns, Metro 2033 puts us in the shoes of a group of Russians who are struggling to overcome an invading force. Like many American or Western depictions, we get a first-hand perspective of an oppressed Russian society and the vignettes of those who wish to reclaim their previous, fulfilling lives.
NP: At first, the premise and its characters seem cheesy and derivative (da Comrade!), but by walking through the subterranean encampments and observing the rich interactions among the survivors, you get a better sense of what you’re up against — not so much from a protagonist-antagonist perspective, but from a survival perspective.
Most of these encampment scenes present an interactive collective of citizens, merchants, women & children, and soldiers struggling to make it through another day (if an underground dweller could use such a term). There’s a lot of variety that comes from these scenes: citizens gathering in front of a guitarist as he plays a surprisingly beautiful song, bartering among small groups and merchants, a man trying to cheer his son up, someone giving a speech on a platform. These moments make for a powerful setting that few games can hook us with. You might think of something from the Elder Scrolls series ,but, with a more contemporary time piece, this becomes more relatable.
Hey! You Got Character Development In My Shooter!
LC: Most shooters today are guilty of mainly concentrating on providing action set piece after action set piece. There’s no real character development throughout. One of the most memorable aspects of the game is the actual character players assume the role of, Artyom. A huge reason being the simple fact that Artyom discusses a little bit about his thoughts and feelings before the start of each level. Not only do we get to know the character from start to finish through gameplay, but we’re also introduced to the type of person he is, his sense of humor, what he fears, etc. through these little snippets of dialogue before players jump into the level.
LC: I found myself smiling or smirking every once in a while during the game when an ally or Artyom would joke about something that happened during the game because of how dark and ominous the atmosphere of the game is. The part that specifically comes to mind is a section of the game when someone says something along the following lines:
“Literally shit. I just stepped in shit”
Jumping Out Of Your Skin
NP: For a game nearly three years old, Metro 2033 still looks gorgeous. Character modeling and animations are very lifelike, environments are fairly texture-rich, and the particle effects add an extra layer of hopelessness to the dingy, gritty underground. Though my PC is about two years old and runs off of a GTS 450 graphics card, I struggle to run the game in 1920 x 1080 res on medium settings — the same configuration I used to smoothly run Battlefield Bad Company 2. Clearly, this game is a visuals benchmark for its time and further; perhaps one could liken that to 2004′s Doom 3.
Cinematics and cut-scenes bring you closer to the action and create another level of grit. Some of the cut-scenes are dream-like or evoke hallucinations, similar to what you’d find in the F.E.A.R. series or The Darkness. What I like is that these moments are brief — nothing that seems like a distraction irrelevant to what you’re controlling with your character.
LC: The power behind the enemies weren’t the different types, but that if they came in hordes or groups you were in for a huge fight for your life. Even if you just happened across one on the surface, it was best to avoid it. Not only could they put a damper on our health, but enemies could also crack your gas mask, which would eventually kill you if you didn’t find a new one.
One of the enemy types that I felt was done really well was the Librarian. It was a huge brute type that, instead of being avoided, almost had to be confronted. The only way to avoid a battle with a Librarian was to never show your back to it. If it walked up toward you, you had to hold your ground and stare it down until it walked away. If you rubbed a Librarian the wrong way, then you were in for a fight. The Archives section of the game had me constantly on edge knowing I could face a Librarian at any moment.
NP: With respect to how the enemies are presented, I like how you hardly ever got a good look in the eye of your not-of-this-world adversaries. Especially when it comes to the underground combat, you don’t know if your shots are hitting your enemies. A big part of that is their appearance and how they blend with the light-lacking settings. And to think I found Hell Knights scary!
Turn It Up A Notch
NP: When it comes to the blockbuster shooters like Halo and Call of Duty, reviewers and fans alike are often prone to criticizing the repetition involved in walking down a corridor, shooting some baddies, turning the corner to another corridor, and shooting more baddies. Metro 2033 seems as on-rails as it gets, but the element of suspense and horror keeps you from seeing it as a linear experience. You’re always looking around to see where these demon spawn could pop out of.
Metro 2033′s pacing almost resembles that of a survivor-horror game. It’s impossible to go guns blazing and easily pick off your enemies through your first time — because you’re not sure where they are. Then, to fit in with the combat side of the gameplay, there’s the theme of economy.
LC: The great aspects of Metro 2033 were that there was little room for relaxing and cruising through the level. Players were in a constant fight to search for more ammo (which they could not only use to fire at enemies, but also as currency), new weapons, oxygen refills, and gas masks.
NP: There’s no telling how many times I entered a room of Nosalises with four or five rounds in my shotgun and nothing else. With Metro, the-spray-and pray/blind fire norm of most shooters out there is as ineffective as Tim Tebow running a West Coast offense. Sure, it’s not fun to run out of ammo, but it’s challenging. Few shooters offer an obstacle of this magnitude.
While not sitting in a class of its own, Metro 2033 has helped shape the way that today’s shooters play. We’re three years removed from the horrors witnessed by Artyom and his Russian countrymen, but perhaps being away from the sewers for a long time will work out well for us. While it may have been nice to revisit the setting more frequently, this helps things stay fresh. That’s always a good thing.