The level of immersion achieved here is partly thanks to some clever design decisions. For a start there is no need for a HUD in the traditional sense. Weapons and ammo counts pop up when needed but blood splats and sound cues are enough of a clue as to your physical state. To check on objectives you hold your notebook up to your face and to see how long before your gasmask filter stops working and you begin to choke you can glance at your watch. These little touches go a long way towards drawing you in.
As with most single player FPS games this is a very linear affair. It takes a corridor approach where you complete sections and move on to the next map and this is especially appropriate because you are navigating through a subway system. Your occasional jaunts to the surface and stops in underground towns with their seedy politics are enough to give a strong impression of a wider world. There is plenty of variety in the levels and some fantastic set piece scares with a heart attack inducing level of tension. This isn’t a rip roaring shoot-everything-that-moves kind of game. You can take that approach at times but you must also know when to play it stealthy.
This ill-fated journey through the dregs of human society pitches you up against various hideous and bloodthirsty mutants intent on finishing you off. Of course there are plenty of nasty humans standing in your way too and then there are the mysterious “dark ones". This is easily one of the best horror games in recent years and there are some truly spine-chilling moments. You have to learn when to stand and fight and when to run and you’ll experience several skin-of-your-teeth escapes.
Survival horror dictates certain standards and Metro 2033 definitely adheres to them. You have limited ammunition, it is dark a lot of the time, and there is a powerful sense of foreboding. This is not a game that hand holds, you are dumped into the story and expected to find your own way out.
While the majority of the design is strong there are problem areas. The stealth sections are quite weak and partly spoiled by the AI which is a little erratic. Now they see you, now they don’t. It’s not always clear why you were spotted. Against weaker foes it’s easier to just wade in and shoot them all. There are also a few glitches with dodgy collision so you can get stuck if you take a stupid turn while running in a blind panic from a hairy lumbering thing. There are also occasions when the scripting breaks down and a couple of times I had to reload from the last checkpoint.