By the time the credits rolled on this game, I was in love. This feeling was by no means instantaneous, and there were times when I wanted to scream from frustration, but as the story emerged, I found myself growing immersed with the character and forming the connections that make certain games unique. It's not all about the graphics and technical aspects of playing for me. I like to feel truly involved and games that balance a good story with gameplay will always bump up the score in my mind. I also like survival horror themes, so this one was right up my alley.
You play a twenty-year-old, post apocalyptic survivor by the name of Artyom. The setting is Moscow and people are living in various stations of the vast underground metro system. The surface is covered with ice and the air is still toxic, making any ventures outside extremely hazardous. Added to this are a variety of mutants that roam the tunnels, making travel between stations very dangerous. The game begins its story with Artyom learning from an elite soldier named Hunter that their home station is being threatened by some creatures they refer to as the Dark Ones. Hunter leaves to investigate the tunnels, but first extracts a promise from Artyom to travel to Polis for help if he doesn't return.
Polis is the largest of the stations and has a sizable defense force, but the trip is long and treacherous. In addition to mutants and toxins, there are also hostile humans. Ammunition is scarce, but used as the main currency of any commerce. Although there are different calibers, there are only two overall types; homemade and military grade, which is more lethal, much harder to find, and therefore more valuable. Weapons and ammo can be found by raiding dead bodies as well as searching crates and all other areas. You can use these to trade for other types of weapons and ammo in the stations. One of the most essential pieces of equipment is the gas mask, which requires replacement filters. There are very few places to buy these and are mostly found in your travels. Each filter has a different amount of time left on it before expiring and requiring a change. If you have them in stock, it will automatically be changed in the game, but if you run out in toxic areas, you will shortly die. Time is indicated by a watch you wear and interestingly, the watch will actually show you real time as well. So if you are playing at 9 o'clock, the watch will read 9 o'clock. Cool.
There are a few frustrating things about this game. It lacks a tutorial and might leave you a bit confused about what you should be doing and what you should be buying. There is no description to indicate a weapon's effectiveness, nor the significance of the two types of ammo. There is zero handholding, which means you must figure out for yourself what to do and where to go and what weapons to choose. There are also two endings and one of them requires achieving certain objectives throughout the game. These endings cannot be chosen in the last five minutes, so if you want the alternate ending you will have to research what is required and play the game accordingly.
Health regenerates automatically but slowly in safe circumstances. There are medkits for a fast fix, but there is no HUD to tell you its status. The only indication is a red haze, but by the time you figure out you're bleeding to death, it can be too late to manually take health. I also couldn't figure out how to recharge the nightvision and had to look it up. It was the same with viewing the journal. Guess it helps if you actually read the manual.
There are two ways to play many of the levels, stealth or kill. Stealth can be quite frustrating, however. If even one of the enemy spots you, the whole area is alerted and you can't go back into stealth mode even if you hide. This often means repeating the whole sequence again. Timing is everything here.
Metro 2033 has a checkpoint save system and for the most part, they are often enough. Usually, it saves during stages of a mission, signified by a disc showing up in the bottom left corner of the screen. However, there are one or two places where you might feel like strangling the developers. LOL! One place where I got super ticked off was at the station, Polis. Polis is huge and I made the assumption that I could explore it and have time to consider my trades. Not so. Even though every other station allowed you to chose when to leave, Polis is not explorable and you are confined to a small area, so be sure to buy what you want here before going through that door. The thing about this game is that it's not averse to changing the rules, so keep on your toes.
The graphics are great and enhance the creepiness and tension. Your gas mask can get damaged and the cracks will inhibit your sight, but you can exchange them for ones you find. It can also ice up or become fogged when the filter is low. Metro 2033 is a very atmospheric game and reminiscent of the Stalker series. Antagonists consist of monsters, ghosts and anomilies, as well as the human component of Communists and Nazis.
It's not really a long game, but it does have a lot of achievements and a few different modes, making it very replayable. This game is definitely a winner, and in my opinion, deserves a better score than it got.UPDATE - Aug 2014 This game was re-released as Metro 2033 Redux claiming to be rebuilt in the vastly improved Last Light engine and gameplay framework with "incredible lighting, physics and dynamic weather effects." The story remains the same.
When games are re-released, this generally means that the original version becomes unavailable to purchase and the price of the new version is more expensive. As of Jan 2015, you can still get the original version in a couple of places, but there is no guarantee how long it will stay on the market. The information on this page, including specs and issues, is based on the first release.UPDATE - June 2017: Good news for fans of the Metro series. Metro Exodus is a not-quite open-world sandbox survival game that might scratch the itch for STALKER fans as well. It will feature the return of Artyom from Metro Last Light as he moves from the tunnels in search of a new home above ground. It's due to be released sometime in 2018.