STAFF REVIEW of Metro 2033 (Xbox 360)

Thursday, March 25, 2010.
by Ken Laffrenier

Metro 2033 Box art There?s a traditional saying that states ?what a difference a day makes?. The exact origins and the original sentiment have likely long since been forgotten. The term still resonates throughout many of our regular activities and each of us has had this phrase pass through our collective consciousness on a somewhat sporadic basis. Surely, (don?t call me Shirley?wow that just doesn?t work at all in print does it?!) there are moments, individuals and circumstances that utter the phrase with such regularity that the term begins to lose all sense of tangible reality. If you have experienced a repetitive desire to point out the inherent issues associated with difference over time then you are likely very closely associated with THQ?s latest offering ?Metro 2033?.

Of course THQ is not going this alone. The game has been developed by 4A Games Studio; established in 2005 and based in Kiev, Ukraine. This is the developer?s first foray (get it foray ---?4A??.nicely played 4A Games, nicely played) into the gaming market and it?s clear that the group has tried to deliver a top notch experience. They?ve even gone so far as to create their own gaming engine: the 4A Engine. As evident throughout the game, this studio has a clear goal in mind, with a strong team behind them but they do have some hurdles to address.

While the story is not entirely new, the delivery of the story is completely unique. Based on a Russian Novel by Dmitry Glukhovsky, Metro 2033 takes you through the twisted underground Metro (Subway system for us Westerners) a full 20 years after the complete destruction of the planet in 2013. Although, early on, it?s not laid out in front of you exactly what happened or how, you will find yourself creating scenarios to justify the devastation you encounter throughout the game.

You play as Artyom, an individual that has never experienced life before the devastation and has grown on tales of better days, lost glories and the hopelessness of civilization. What is left of mankind has taken refuge in the Russian Metro system (which is, in fact, set up to act as a massive nuclear bunker in the event of just such a scenario). The underground has become the cities of the future and much like today, no two areas are alike. In most areas you will find save havens complete with families, trade and even development; while other cities are virtually lawless, reckless and overridden with the mutated remnants of surface dwelling animals. Very few venture outside of their own ?cities? and fewer still dare to imagine travelling among what remains of the surface.

Of course, you quickly find yourself abruptly thrown into a task that will take you from city to city and onto the post apocalyptic surface (which you find wondrous and inspiring as you seek to simply stay alive). Traveling between cities is as harrowing as any surface dangers you will face as the tunnels and even the ventilation systems are populated with various mutant animals and a new emerging species referred to as the ?Dark Ones?.

Artyom is not completely helpless; although times have changed, mankind has adapted to ensure plenty of firepower is available. In keeping with the original story, the weapons are not what we are used to; there are 4 basic weapon classes: Pistol, Automatic, Heavy and Thrown. There are several unique twists put on the weapons and how they?re utilized but it?s the ammunition that takes center stage in this title. The weapons themselves are true to the setting?most are reworked prewar offerings that are nowhere near as effective as you would expect while others are pneumatic postwar creations that are both surprisingly powerful and satisfying to use( how can you fault a weapon that allows you to charge your shots, stealthily fire a lethal harpoon and retrieve your ammunition).

Ammunition is king here in the gloom of destruction; it?s needed to deal with all of the inherent dangers, so much so that it has become a sort of currency. No one is printing money or raising your credit limits (could be that 2009 is a harbinger of things to come) but the manufacturing of ?Dirty? ammo is brisk business and acquiring traditional ?Military Grade? ammo is the stuff dreams are made of. Life goes on in these ?cities?, there are people bartering for food and basic necessities; you will need to utilize the same trade system to acquire better weapons, armor and supplies while maintaining a hardy stock to protect yourself. Should you trade your more powerful, traditional ammo because it?s worth more or trade vast amounts of less lethal ammo. Although conservation and smart trades are beneficial you will find that there are enough corpses and stashes to keep you well stocked.

Which segues nicely into the gameplay?this title is immense. You will not find two areas alike, tunnels are vast and each ?city? has its own unique quirks. Everywhere you go there are quiet corners; it?s in these out of the way corners, boxes and hovels (and the many dead bodies) that you will find what you need to succeed and more. For some reason there are stashes of ammo, weapons, air filters, gas masks and more just sitting around waiting to be pilfered. The ammo which the game goes to great lengths to showcase as a hot commodity is often found within feet of the AI characters?.I understand that this is necessary to ensure that the player has the means to move through the story but for a game that leaves no stone unturned, in the sense of in game atmosphere, why is the player virtually handed the keys to salvation. Don?t get me wrong, you do have to look for this stuff and it can be frustrating at times but with such a wonderful story it is disappointing to be removed after settling in the immersive surroundings.

The AI is great?.most of the time. In true survival horror fashion you will be inching forward, sitting on the edge of your seat completely lost in the moment?..most of the time. You will marvel as the denizens of the underground go about their day, you?ll listen in on whispered conversations about the concerns of these hearty folks?.most of the time. You?ll feel tremendous satisfaction taking down your enemies and mutants?.most of the time. However, having mutants come racing after you when you?ve just traveled a closed tunnel or watching as AI character make 90 degree turns when walking or watching as your AI partners ignore the fact they are getting shot at or shooting rounds of shotgun blasts while enemies move right through you (with no reaction) is completely unfortunate.

The visuals are not what one would expect from a new studio. These are among the best graphics I?ve seen. Each area, character and nuance is well formed and executed (if sometimes ?glitchy??see 90 degree turn). The implementation of the 4A engine provides excellent quality and believability which is important to the delivery of a story driven game. Having more explanations behind the what, where, when and why would be beneficial (mostly to us Westerners) to help understand some of the more involved storytelling. The controls are typical but it would have been nice to have an explanation on utilizing some of the finer controls?I only had one shotgun, plenty of ammo, but I didn?t realize the gun wouldn?t switch over to using the Military Grade ammo when I had ?spent? all of my ?Dirty? Ammo.

While this easily could have been a forgettable title based around an already tired fps style in an overdone genre; I am pleased to admit that I am intrigued by the game. I genuinely want to find all of the ?hidden? resources and I look forward to watching my gas mask fog up as the air filter becomes clogged (don?t worry reader, I have more filters?I hope) and I am enthralled by the many features above and below ground (you haven?t lived ?til you?ve taken down a winged mutant beast). The title offers so much and is so immersive; the story is very involved and detailed I am almost disappointed that it doesn?t have a more general aspect that I could more readily associate myself with. While the story is fantastic the gameplay leaves me frustrated at the best of times. If THQ had given the developers an advance and allowed them to do a couple more months of fine tuning and beta testing I?m certain we would have seen a different score.

So?what a difference a day makes?.whether it?s needing a few additional months of testing (as 4A studios could have used) or 20 years of growing up never knowing the joy of an Xbox 360 (as Artyom has in the game?perhaps that?s why he?s so brooding) or simply remembering not to sell all of your gas mask filters before heading out to a new area (damn autosave feature)?.try to remember this if you can -- it?s not the days that make it different?it?s the differences that make the day.

Overall: 7.7 / 10
Gameplay: 7.0 / 10
Visuals: 8.5 / 10
Sound: 8.5 / 10


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