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The Last Refuge
This is an incredibly atmospheric and immersive first-person shooter. Metro 2033 splices an excellent narrative with bursts of frenetic, blood-pumping action and thrills to bring you some serious entertainment. Wrapped up in a visually stunning package this is a must buy title for single player FPS fans. Something you’ll see in every Metro 2033 review is praise for the atmosphere of the game and that’s reason enough to buy it.
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The planet has been ravaged by nuclear war and the survivors scratch out an existence living underground. The old Moscow metro system provides a makeshift home for hundreds of people but they are under siege from mutants and can’t visit the surface without gas masks. The premise is drawn from a popular novel, also dubbed Metro 2033, written by Dmitry Glukhovsky who thankfully collaborated with the developer, 4A Games.
There is no doubt that the strong narrative, the characterization, and the engaging story are a big part of what makes Metro 2033 the game a success. The story of the novel itself is curious as Glukhovsky published online and drew a huge fan base before the book was picked up by a publisher. The game has an unusually strong identity and while it may appear to be reminiscent of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and Fallout 3 it is an altogether original piece of work.
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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.
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Artistically speaking Metro 2033 is breathtaking. You’ll need a decent machine to appreciate the full beauty of this game. The environments are alive with detail and everything is beautifully modelled. There are some stunning visual effects and the cut scene sequences are well directed. The brief trips through the ash covered ruins of the city are superbly atmospheric and despite the remains of human civilization it feels like a dangerous and alien world, so much so that you’ll feel relief on scurrying back into the depths of the metro.
Characters are extremely well designed and animated. The animations during combat are occasionally glitchy. The mutants are a mixed bunch and they all create the right sense of revulsion and fear. The sequences with the “dark ones" are best of all and they combine terrific animation and direction to create some really creepy moments.
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The audio backs up the gorgeous visuals. The voiceover acting is top quality. There are loads of incidental conversations going on as you wander round eavesdropping and they really add to the sense of reality. The howls the mutants make are horrible and the general sound effects from gunfire to footsteps are effective. The narrative style between chapters is fantastic and marks the only time you really hear yourself speak. The game is backed up by some nice atmospheric music which is suitably unobtrusive.
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With a single player experience this immersive and well made there’s no need to tag on a multiplayer component and they haven’t. There are plenty of great multiplayer titles out there already. This is an immersive single player experience and it offers plenty of value for money. The story is also rich enough that you’ll probably want to embark on a second play through.
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Surprisingly the Metro 2033 reviews have been mixed. Most have praised the game as an excellent survival horror FPS but there has been some heavy criticism of the AI and the poorly implemented stealth sections. For me this is a fantastic release and the level of immersion, the strong plot and the fear factor easily outweigh the problems. When you add in the fact that this is one of the most visually stunning releases in recent years it becomes impossible not to recommend the game.