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Metro 2033 360 is effective and sophisticated in its portrayal of a post-apocalyptic Moscow, with some of the finest storytelling you'll find in a game. Unfortunatley though, such well-executed bleakness doesn't make for a fun game.
When it comes to portraying a post-apocalyptic landscape, the former Soviet Union and parts of the Eastern Bloc have a head start.
That's not me being snarky about their infrastructure, it's that these are places where the ideals and dreams of a collapsed empire have left the wreckage of those aspirations visible in the landscape: grand Stalinist apartment buildings, triumphalist statues, imposing radio towers.
The stations of the Moscow Metro, famous as architecturally extravangant showpieces for the Soviet state, make a dramatic and ironic bolthole for the remnants of the city's people in Metro 2033. Shanty towns huddle in stations that once represented the shiny public face of Stalin's regime.
Not that I got to see much of the fixtures and fittings for most of Metro 2033. When I left the stations where people lived in makeshift clapboard structures, and ventured out into more open corridors and halls, I found I couldn't see much in the darkness, and didn't have time to stop anyway.
Metro 2033 is dark, both aesthetically and thematically. Based on the SF novel by Dmitry Glukhovsky, the game puts the player in the role of Artyom, a young guy who needs to leave his home station on a mission, allying himself with various untrustworthy characters as he faces mutants, gangs, ghosts and anomalies both underground and above, on the city's polluted streets.
Its story has a real dramatic weight, a heavy atmosphere of despair.
It's a pitiless world, beautifully executed. I haven't read the novel, but the world building in the game is excellent, the environments bleak and brilliant. For all its mutants and other shooter standbys, Metro 2033 feels like a more serious proposition than most post-apocalyptic games: its story has a real dramatic weight, a heavy atmosphere of despair.
This atmosphere is helped by an excellent script, and highly effective voice acting and character animation. It's disappointing then that Artyom has limited interaction with other people - push or bump into them and you'll get a few words of dialogue, but this isn't an adventure or RPG, so there are no options to engage in discussion beyond scripted cut-scenes.
Interaction is a bit of a sticky issue with Metro 2033. I found myself funnelled from set piece to set piece with pit-stops to buy ammo and weapons, the most difficult decision being whether to hide behind the crate on the left or the crate on the right.
This is understandable in the metro itself, which is after all a system of straightforward tunnels, but far less acceptable on the surface, where open landscapes are littered with blockades and chasms to channel you on to a specific path. Even when there seems to be an opportunity to explore, there isn't.
This linearity, coupled with the overbearing atmosphere, makes for a depressing game.
The action is hectic but similarly direct, generally coming in the form of a desperate attempt to pump bullets into a hoard of mutants as they rush at you. Human enemies are brighter, but the layout of the environments aren't complex or interesting enough to make for good cat and mouse gunfights.
This linearity, coupled with the overbearing atmosphere, makes for a depressing game. As Artyom, I spent most of my time either meekly following people around, or on the defensive while cornered by enemies.
It's entirely fitting with the story that there shouldn't be any action movie grandstanding, but the sense of powerlessness becomes wearing after a while, especially when you can barely see the fatal threats coming in the gloom. There's a shout in the dark, a gunshot, game over.
I think I'll get the novel to find out.
The final straw came for me in a battle against a gang in their lair. There's a certain realistic brutality in the way that, when facing a gang of merciless killers on their home turf, poor old Artyom kept getting killed again. And again. And again. Usually by a grenade or bullet from an assailant I couldn't see, never mind hit.
Realistic, yes. Fun, nyet.
In the end, for all the merits of its production and story, Metro 2033 isn't an enjoyable game. The linearity robs you of any opportunity to explore, and the gunfights are brutal but uninspired.
I'd still like to know what happened to Artyom in his quest, but I think I'll get the novel to find out.
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