I Have a penchant for things Russian. I've read a number of books on Stalin, Lenin, Rasputin and other kooky Russians funsters and this also extends to games. As you'll be able to read further on in this weighty tome, I'm back in Russia for some more partying down with the perestroika posse.
First though is Metro 2033, a game from a team formed from deserters from camp STALKER. 4A wanted to make their own game, one that would see them break away from the world of radiation, mutants and crude weapons made out of corrugated iron and ball bearings.
That didn't work out, so they instead concentrated on making the very best radiation, mutants and ball bearing gun game they possibly could. Now, as it gets closer and closer to release, we're being allowed to re-enter the belowground world of Metro to see how it's shaping up, and whether 4A has a STALKER-beater on their hands. While the obvious comparison is with STALKER, people who look a bit harder will see that, despite superficial similarities, Metro 2033 is nothing like that openworld shooter. This game is much more like Call of Duty, being a linear FPS.
While this game has radiation, mutants, and a desolate, decaying feel, it's not set outside, like GSC's STALKER series, and definitely does not involve any roaming about looking for preternatural junk in wibbly wobbly anomalies. (This is in spite of an NPC crouching over a corpse at one point and muttering "Stalkers..." We also spotted a pile of Metro 2033 novels in an early location. Two chortle-worthy Easter Eggs indeed.) Instead of traversing vast expanses of post-apocalyptic terrain, you have some of the darkest tunnels you've ever seen. These underground locales are only lit by a companion's torch or, if you're alone, a flimsy, hand-cranked model you're lugging about. The fact you have to dig out a generator and manually bring your torch back to life is a great touch of realism, but one that'll be annoying if the flashlight dies during combat.
We have seen all of this before, so this time 4A were giving us a chance to see what's changed and whether issues we had with the game are being addressed or not.
We're still no closer to finding out what mysterious grub the pigs that live in the underground settlements eat yet, as for the game itself, we do know a whole lot more. It doesn't seem as if the strange dual-health system has been tweaked, which means your liealth will magically regenerate over time, while you can also still dig out a needle and jab yourself to speed this process up.
Ammo is scarce enough that running out in each section is a serious risk. In one bit, you're meant to, but in others you're forced to ration as much as possible. But, again, this is perfectly acceptable in a crumbling, destroyed world where resources are at a premium and there are more pigs than children. Clearly ammo shouldn't be raining down from the skies. Still, it does seem strange to be stuffing your pockets full of bullets and to then be swiping away with your knife because you've run out. Another reason to conserve ammo is that it acts as currency in this world, so saving cash means getting handy with a blade.
As for the feel of the weapons, combat seems to be balanced between not knowing what the impact of your bullets against mutants is and feeling satisfied with how much they damage human enemies.
There's finally the issue of how everything handles. With a game that looks as good as this, you'll naturally be worried about how it's going to flagellate the insides of your machine and tear it to ribbons with all its high-quality shadows and other techy things that we don't really understand.
The good news is that the system we tested it on was able to handle it all well, apart from a slight sludginess with the mouse aim. I know, that sounds terrible as well, but it's really not as bad as you think. Unless 4A improve things, it may well just be a case of fine-tuning the mouse sensitivity more than usual. Whether this is a legacy of the fact this game is developed for consoles and PCs, so is also catering for pad users, only the developers will know. Tilings have definitely been tweaked and changed since we last saw this game, but not as much as we'd have liked. This was perhaps inevitable, despite our initial optimism, but that doesn't mean you should dash your brains out on the pavement in despair.
Other than perhaps the mutants -the Dark Ones, to give them their official title - still having the tendency to get behind you too easily, even when backed into a corner, the game is great fun.
One of the reasons why is because it looks beautiful when running. Like many games nowadays, stills just don't do it justice. Imagine a much, much more detailed version of Modern Warfare 2 (set underground) and you're about there. Just like Cryostasis, another Russian game that poured on the atmosphere, Metro 2033 won't be a game you forget easily. Especially if you do flick the language setting over to Russian.
Just like watching foreign language films, listening to Metro 2033s dialogue in its native tongue brings you into contact with the proper voice actors, rather than failed actor Joe Rent-a-voice from the 'burbs of LA, and adds layers of subtlety to the game's atmosphere and to the emotional ride you experience.
Stalker It Ain't
So, despite all the little niggles we've still got with the game, work on Metro 2033 isn't finished. We're still confident things we don't like will fall out of the game and things we do like will continue to get better and better. As long as you don't go into it thinking "Ooh, another STALKER, great!" and remember it's not going to be like that at all - think of something like Half-Life 2 - then we're confident you'll find it to be a great game.
Metro 2033 looks slick and, if certain tweaks are put into place, might even surprise grizzled FPS veterans who are tired of the usual settings of World War II and the Middle East. Just like Cryostasis before it then, this could be one of those Russian games that catches us by surprise and sinks its mutated fangs into our hearts forever. Too poetic? Perhaps.
Processor: PC compatible,
OS: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game Features:Single game mode