Metro 2033 4-Years Later Review
Reviewed by: Guest_Jim_*
Reviewed on: June 17, 2014
'The best laid plans of mice and men, oft go awry.' I keep on my computer a list of games to review. Some of the games are upcoming titles and others would be reviewed as a Years-Later Review. Metro 2033 was one of the games on that list from the beginning, but with it being one of the older games, I got some lee-way for when I pick it up again. But then Deep Silver announced the Redux versions of both Metro 2033 and Metro Last Light. That shakes things up some, as the Redux versions of both games will have multiple tweaks to the originals, and neither have specific release dates. So should I review the original Metro 2033 ahead of the Redux release, or wait and review that? The plan I chose is to do both; review the original Metro 2033 and then when the Redux of both games releases, I will review those, likely together. As the changes in the Redux version should not drastically affect gameplay, this review should still be informative when the new version is released. With that explained, time to get on with the introduction.
Metro 2033 is a post-apocalyptic, survival, horror, FPS based on a Russian novel of the same name. It takes place largely in the metro tunnels and stations under Moscow, where Artyom, the playable character, was raised. The only way to return to the surface is with a gas mask as the air of the wasteland is toxic. One should also take a weapon with them, because the new species and mutants that dominate the surface only like humans for about as much meat as is on their bones. Even with threats all around and through the metros, a new one has emerged and has led you to leave your home station to seek help before it is too late.
The game has an M rating from the ESRB for violence, blood, strong language, sexual themes, and use of the drugs. The last two on the list can actually be missed during a playthrough, but are present. The first three though are everywhere and easily earned the game this rating. As none of the screenshots or videos have been censored, this review may not be appropriate for everyone to read. If the game's content would be inappropriate for you, then this review likely is as well.
Now that we have covered that, time to find out if we should return to the metro or let the survivors face their fates alone.
I can still remember when Metro 2033 first came out and how many people were describing its graphics as beautiful and capable of bringing many computers to their metaphorical knees. After four years the game does still look quite good, but has some blemishes that can jump out at you, especially if you are used to the graphics of more modern games.
Light is very important in this game, which makes sense as much of it is spent underground with artificial and luminous organisms being the only sources. Gun flashes also can illuminate the world around you, if only briefly, and that definitely adds to the character of the world. The mist that hangs in the air and catches the light though may do the best job of setting the environment as something you are not supposed to be in.
The shadows are mostly very good, but can be a little soft in some places, and suffer from LOD in others. Nothing quite like seeing low resolution shadows becoming sharp to remind you that you are playing a video game.
One thing I noticed in this play-through is that some character models are reused. Expect to see some faces throughout the metro, with different clothes beneath them.
When you visit the surface, the toxic air will require you wear a gas mask, which does impact the graphics. The most noticeable will likely be the cracks in the glass. There are always going to be at least two on the screen, at the top and bottom. As you take damage though, these cracks can grow and make it much harder to see and shoot.
Because of your breathing, moisture will also collect around the edges of the mask, distorting your peripheral vision. Depending on the quality of your mask's filter, the amount of moisture will vary, which is definitely a neat cue for swapping the filter as it is used up. The effect swapping the filter can have is impressive, with how far the moisture can extend from the edges.
The textures of Metro 2033 are largely quite good, but there are times and places that they can look stretched and blurred. For the most part, this will not be all that noticeable, but it is still the case. The models however are definitely showing some age with edges just looking hard at times. This is more noticeable than the textures, but nothing ever looks bad, at least as far as the models are concerned.
Animations are a different story, especially for the enemies. The animations for human characters are fine as they are, but enemies can react very oddly when they die. Instead of "rag-dolling" to the floor, some enemies will become rigged upon death, and just tip over, and that is something I just could not help but notice. Other enemies do collapse appropriately, though not always with the mass one would expect.
Water does a very good job of distorting what is beneath it, but I cannot say I ever noticed it being distorted by objects moving through it. It does have an issue with how the distortion is applied though, as objects not beneath the water can have the distortion applied to their edges. As this is not something unique to this game, it is easily forgiven.
Fire and explosions are somewhat mixed, with explosions looking good while fire is obviously pre-rendered and just pasted on top of the burning materials, when you start it. The billowing smoke from flamethrowers also does not look that great, being much blurrier than I would like. To be fair, these fire effects are actually pretty uncommon in the game. Most of the time if you see any fire, it is in a pit trying with people around it trying to keep warm. They also act as light sources then and do a very good job of it as well.
Though actually very situational, some objects in Metro 2033 are destructible. For the most part it is doors that you may have to break through in order to progress. When the wood breaks, it tends to fall apart in unnaturally large pieces, as they were break-away props in a television show from the sixties. Not exactly pleasant to the eye.
Time for my computer's specs and performance:
- Processor: AMD A10-5800K @ 4.40 GHz (44.0x100)
- Cooling: Corsair H110
- Motherboard: ASUS F2A85-M PRO
- GPU: EVGA GTX 770 2 GB
- PhysX: EVGA GTX 570 1280 MB
- Memory: G.Skill Ripjaws 4x8 GB (32 GB total) at 1866 MHz 10-10-10-27
- PSU: OCZ Fata1ty 750 W
- OS: Windows 7- Professional 64-bit
Being four years old, you would expect that a computer with such modern hardware would have no problem playing the game smoothly at maximum settings and with an impressive framerate. Sadly that is not the case. At maximum settings Metro 2033 had an average framerate of around 30 with stuttering up and down. If you look at it, you would expect much better performance. The best answer I can think of is that the engine was not very well optimized at the time, so now it is not able to take advantage of newer hardware as one would hope. Of course that is only my own guess, but I suspect it is not far from the truth. The Redux version will be using the newest version of the 4A Engine, so performance will likely be much better on modern hardware.
As bad as it may sound, the gameplay only once really seemed to suffer. Thirty frames-per-second is playable and even when it stuttered up into the forties or down into the twenties, it was still playable, but obviously less beautiful. Really the biggest annoyance with the framerate was the screen-tearing that occurred somewhat frequently. I had V-sync turned on through the configuration files, but it did not appear to help much. When I tried forcing it through the drivers and running the included benchmark, performance actually decreased, so I turned off that option.
One thing I often mention in this part of the graphics section is that I turned off settings like motion blur or depth-of-field as a personal choice. Motion blur cannot be toggled on and off so easily in Metro 2033 (it is switched according to presets) and even though there is an option for Advanced DOF, I decided to play with both turned on. The reason is simply because I wanted to see this game I have played on two previous GPUs (an HD 5770 and a GTX 570) at max settings on my current hardware.
For the most part, these effects actually looked okay, but there were some issues. The motion blur actually succeeded in making it easier for me to follow enemies with my eyes, because of the distortion that was applied to them, so I have no real complaints about that. The depth-of-field however was definitely annoying at times, for two reasons. One is how often it was applied to objects close enough that they should be in sharp focus. The other is how it would look like a blur filter was just being pasted on top of the moving object, and nothing around it. This would make the blurred object stand out in contrast to the sharp objects around it. Also, sometimes, parts of the blurred object would not be blurred with the rest of it.
When just looking at objects in the distance, the depth-of-field looked and felt great. The troubles were only with closer objects that are moving relative to myself.
Overall, the graphics of Metro 2033 are somewhat mixed. It still does have the quality it did at release, but modern games are matching and surpassing it making it less impressive. For the setting of the world and game, there are no complaints. The performance does leave something to be desired, and that is largely optimization. I did find it to be playable without great issues, but it did have a lot of smaller issues.
The story of Metro 2033 is very linear and focused, as it should be. You have the goal of trying to save your home station and potentially all of the survivors throughout the entire metro system, so you really are not going to be stopping to enjoy the scenery that much. This goal will lead you to join up with multiple people with their own principles and purposes and go through many dangers to get where you have to be. While the mutants provide the horror aspect of the game, the people provide the survival as so many want to kill you or are struggling with you to live on.
The game begins with a flash-forward, but soon takes you to the events that started you on your quest. A Ranger named Hunter, who is a friend of your father, has come to your home station with news. After he sees what has been happening there, he sets out to report what is happening with the Dark Ones. These mutants are particularly lethal as they destroy men's minds and are not so easily stopped with bullets. If Hunter does not return in a few days, you, Artyom, are to set out for Polis and deliver the information yourself.
If you thought that getting from one metro station to another would be easy, you are very mistaken. Not only are the mutants invading the tunnels all the time, but not every station is open to visitors and those just looking to pass through.
There are three main factions in the metro, beyond the people just trying to survive and the bandits. The Nazis and Communists are trying to take over the metro to put it all under their strict rules. They are in a constant war with each other for supremacy and have little interest in holding fire so some kid can deliver a message. The Rangers, like Hunter, are a more neutral party, just interested in killing the mutants and protecting the metro from the outside threats.
Along the way to the Rangers' base, you will encounter people like the unsavory Bourbon who appears to have only himself as an interest, but will accept your help to that end. Kahn is considerably more helpful as he escorts you through some of the tunnels and introduces you to some of the more unusual phenomena of the metro.
Being based on a book, the story definitely has a fair amount of depth to it, but only in the places a linear FPS allows. That is just a comment and not a criticism, to be clear. You do not need to worry about being forced into long-winded events meant to fill in backstory that may or may not explain what is happening and what is coming. If you want some more backstory, you can listen to the conversations around you and do some exploring. You will never deviate from your mission by much, but there is some reward for doing so.
Unlike the book, the game does have two endings you can experience. Unlocking the non-canon ending is a little tricky though, as it requires certain choices to fill up an invisible morality meter. If you do not know where or what the choices are, it is fairly easy to miss them. Either explore everywhere or look up a guide for the game. I would rather not go into detail and risk spoiling anything.
Even on what is my third or fourth playthrough, Metro 2033 still provided me with an interesting and enjoyable story. For someone unfamiliar with the story, I am confident you will find yourself being driven to continue forward, to see what happens next.
With Metro 2033 we have survival and first-person-shooter combined to bring about gameplay that you probably need to be prepared for before jumping in. The biggest aspect to take note of in that regard is that spray and pray will hurt you in the long run. Ammo is not altogether common, so if you are not careful to make sure your shots count, or to just avoid firing altogether, you may come to a situation where you have nothing to fight with but your knife. Mutants have something sharp too, called teeth, and they are sharper and more numerous than what you have. You can also run low on medkits and gas mask filters if you are not careful, so be resourceful all the time.
Believe it or not, but this does not hurt the gameplay, but it does shift your focus. Instead of being an action-hero saving the day with explosions going off behind you, Artyom just needs to be the hero, even if he stays in the shadows and avoids every fight he can.
The stealth mechanics of Metro 2033 work, but it is difficult to say much more than that. They are not harsh and they are not forgiving, they just are the stealth mechanics of an action game. Naturally standing in front of an enemy will expose you. Crouching helps, but unlike some other games, it does not make you invisible, so you still need to use your environment and the shadows to your advantage.
Be careful when moving around between shadows though. One thing the stealth system really does take into account is sound. Cans and glass are throughout the game to alert your enemies to your presence, and when they hear you, it may take a long time before the AI calms down and just forgets about it. Obviously silently killing enemies can help, but if the bodies are found, they will know you are around. Sadly, silent kills do not always work quite right now. In some areas I managed to silently kill an enemy, in another room from his friends, yet they were still aware of my actions and proceeded to come after me. Fortunately in some sections you can find a path that lets you avoid almost all enemy contact. When you do need to kill an enemy silently though, many of your weapons can silently dispatch them, or variants of the weapons can. The knife you carry cannot silently kill an enemy in one attack, which is something to be aware of when you are sneaking around. Also, shattering lights to hide in the darkness will alert enemies to you.
In all out battles, you may still want to go for a more stealthy approach, to avoid being hit and perhaps save some ammo. Of course that only applies to human enemies. Mutants do not care if you are stealthy or not. Crouching just puts the tasty meat closer to the ground.
You will need to be aware of your weapons because they can have very distinct advantages. The handgun can do a good amount of damage, and the version with a silencer, scope, and stock is very useful, but with only six shots you probably will not want to pull it out in active combat. Unless you are trying to get around a long reload time. Basically they fill the role of a handgun very well, but can also become the stealth weapon-of-choice. The assault rifles more or less fill the role of assault rifles, though there are silenced versions for when you need multiple shots to take down a target quietly.
The third weapon slot is where things really get more interesting. This is where the double-barreled shotgun, auto-shotgun, heavy automatic shotgun, pneumatic rifle, pneumatic speargun, and volt driver can fit. Each one of these has one advantage or another to it, so you have to be careful when deciding which to pick up. The double-barreled shotgun can fire both barrels at once, which is devastatingly effective, but two shots is someone limiting. The auto-shotgun carries more ammo but takes a long time to reload and actually does less damage per shot. The heavy shotgun is not common in the game and does the least single-shot damage, but with its high rate of fire and long belt, can be the most powerful weapon in the game.
Both pneumatic weapons have the advantage of being silent, but must be pumped up for use. The speargun carries less ammo, but its bolts can be recovered while the metal balls of the rifle cannot be. Those balls are also the ammo of the volt driver which is one of the most powerful weapon in the game. One shot from it can take down many of the enemies in the game, but it can be hard to aim well, as it lacks any scope and has a low rate of fire. It is, however, the weapon I used for the majority of the review playthrough.
One thing that would have been nice to have is the ability to modify weapons, instead of just having to purchase new weapons that have already been modified. (That is one change that may come in the Redux version.)
Knowing your weapons is very important because some weapons are just more useful than others. The volt driver may be able to one-shot a lot of enemies, but its low rate of fire can make many of the other weapons more effective. This was definitely the case for me when I had to deal with the brains.
Remember when I mentioned in the graphics section that the gameplay only really suffered once from the performance issues? The brains would be that example. These are small enemies that look like brains inside an orb of mucus and all they do is spawn, roll up to you, and explode. The explosions not only do damage but throw up enough goo to obscure your vision, so you really want to kill them before that. The problem there is that they are pretty small, have to be shot in the center, and can move pretty fast. Only after I reduced the graphics settings to improve performance was I able to get past them. They are genuinely annoying to the point that, honestly, they potentially represent the greatest challenge of the game.
That is not to say anything else is trivial compared to the brains. No, everything is lethal, and some are more lethal than the brains, but they are less annoying. Take the Librarians, which are one of the two biggest enemies in the game, both literally and figuratively. Killing one of them is practically a fool's errand because of the ammo it will require, but thankfully their AI was designed with an exploit. They will not attack you, so long as you look at them. Navigating the library without looking where you are going is somewhat awkward, especially when you have to open doors, but it is easier than trying to kill one of them.
One thing I have not touched on yet, and really must be covered is the ammo situation. You have two types of ammo at your disposal. The most common is dirty ammo that has been made in the metro, since the surface was devastated. Military grade ammo is less common and more powerful, but is also the currency. If you want to purchase new weapons, more dirty ammo, medkits, etc. you will need the military grade ammo, which often is found in the ammo chests you can find and on dead bodies. Yes, you will be taking items off of dead bodies, because that is what it will take to survive.
I played on normal difficulty for this playthrough, which leaves Easy below it, and Hardcore, Ranger Easy, and Ranger Hardcore above it. The Easy and Hardcore settings follow the standard difficulty patterns in other games while the Ranger modes not only increase difficulty, but remove UI elements for a more realistic experience. Higher difficulties also offer less ammunition, which is more to the point I am getting to.
Only once or twice did I really run into a problem of ammo on Normal difficulty. Of course I have played the game before, so I did kind of remember where to some ammo is, and knew to look for it and alternate, stealth paths. The point still stands though that if you are careful, the limited number of supplies will not often disrupt your gameplay on Normal. On higher difficulties with fewer resources, definitely be more careful.
The game took me just 7 hours and 59 minutes to complete on this playthrough. Again, I knew what I was doing and where I was going, so that probably saved some time by cutting down on exploring. If you are new to the game, I would expect the playtime to be closer to ten hours, but how much closer is hard for me to say.
Altogether, the gameplay was fun and at times tense, even for someone who has played it multiple times already. Watching humans that will gladly kill you on sight and having mutants leap out to attack you is definitely stressful, but part of the fun of the game. It definitely has many well designed aspects to it, but there are some that could use some tweaks. Mostly those would have to do with the stealth mechanics and they are just tweaks. Truly, it is just a fun experience that will entertain you and one you may try again and again, at high difficulties.
Additional Gameplay Media:
Should we return to the metros to deal with the threats of the Dark Ones? I believe so. Metro 2033 is simply a well-made and enjoyable experience with many things going for it. The story is strong and the gameplay is definitely fun and has depth without overwhelming you with the survival aspects.
Its biggest problem is its performance on modern hardware. As it is now, one would expect near perfect performance on a computer with current hardware, but alas this is not the case. This does not make it unplayable except by a stretch, but it cannot be ignored and does affect the experience. If you can forgive that, which honestly should not be too difficult to do, then there almost no reason to not play this game. Gamers looking for a good survival FPS with a good story should definitely invest their time into this. With the Redux version, I only expect it to be better.