Where do you go when you’ve crafted a couple of post-Apocalyptic open-world shooters, but then everybody starts to do it, and with a slightly higher budget?
While we’re not suggesting for one minute that the cream of GSC Game World jumped the nest due to stiff competition from abroad, we’re willing to imagine that a change of direction seemed only too welcome after the wasteland wandering genre began to become considerably more packed.
So, what has 4A Games come up with apart from the least catchy development studio name since… well, since GSC Game World. Metro 2033’s a straightforward, linear shooter. A bit like Modern Warfare 2, maybe? Yes, actually. But scarier. Much, much scarier and with the ammo conservation ethic of Resident Evil pre-4.
We already knew some of this, but not all, and it’s a pretty interesting experience. Allow us to share you the sum of our walkthrough, and why we think Metro 2033 may very well be shaping up to be something rather special.
We began in a small shack within the station of Exhibition; the dwelling place of Artyom, the game’s protagonist. While his house and surrounding area still basically looked like the stereotypical Terminator-style underground corridor full of miserable people in rags, jerry-built bars and gently sobbing children, there were enough neat, incidental details going on to make us sit up in our comfy leather seats a little. People sat around knocking back vodka and chatting in little groups, toddlers wobbled about the grotty floor and you could even switch desk lamps on and off or snuff candles. There was a quality and an attention to detail at work that previous rumour-mongering had hinted at, but we were glad to be finally getting to grips with for ourselves.
The level of notice given to the little things could well lie in the fact that Metro 2033 seeks to stick closely to its roots as a novel by Dmitry Glukhovsky, who has had a firm hand in the developmental process, and has shaped the narrative to fit his overall vision.
But what of action? What of killing and maiming and gunplay? It wasn’t long until we left the relative safety of the creaky homestead and stepped outside with a fellow dystopian inhabitant. We had to get to the next settlement along in the Metro tunnels, and we were damned if it was going to be easy.
It was pretty dark out there, as you may expect. Luckily, though, we had a vaguely comedic wind-up torch to help us combat these night terrors. Casting a pretty dim spotlight on the surroundings even when fully charged, the darn thing ran out of juice every few minutes, necessitating a panicked pumping of RT (once the charger thing had been selected) to get the flickering lamp going again before we soiled ourselves in an impending dose of ‘The Fear’. But despite our feared charging, it still took a while before anything actually showed up; the professional quality of writing seemed to be working pretty well.
It started in the standard, usual kind of way that these things do. A faint shadow rushing past the wall, a gnarled limb flashing through a small gap in the wrought iron tunnel housing. What was that? A man? A dog? A giant gopher? Then a pack of about four or five of them appeared, and we discovered it was all of the above and much, much more.
Before we’d left Exhibition, we’d been handed a paltry pistol and about nine bullets. Nine bullets we now wasted in a panicked fervour, spraying seven of them randomly round the tunnels as the pack of dogmangophers – or Tunnel Dwellers, as they’re officially named – bounded towards us. While the remaining two slugs took one of them down, the other group did the whole Modern Warfare jumping on our face bit, and we had to stab them off with our handy hunting knife while chummy took care of the other two. Bad start, and a true indicator of what was to come in terms of a career spent running around with only a knife for company. There was no more ammo for the next portion, and we had to sheepishly stay behind our friend while he did all the work (infinite NPC ammo for the win).
Down the line and finding the next city, we were able to get a little bit tooled-up with a rusted, broken machine gun and a few clips to go with it. Luckily, we were given this, but casting our eyes over the shop we were able to confirm Metro 2033’s rather unique currency system. In burned-out future Russia, money has no value and, unfortunately, unlike the denizens of Washington, nobody’s thought of trading with bottle caps instead. Ammo is the only useful commodity, and so that’s what you’ll need to be buying things with. But you didn’t have enough to begin with, really. And now you’ve got to part with more of it just to buy guns that, if you’re not careful, you’ll have nothing to shoot from. Oh, man.
It’s not quite so cut and dried, though. As well as standard, duffed-up post-nuclear ammo, Artyom can also find ‘Old World’ bullets, which are prized for their enhanced firepower and are worth a lot more than the standard fare. These almost operate as a currency within themselves, but it’s a sad day when you’ve completely run out of ammo and need to start shoving these prized artifacts into your barrel…
So now we had the tools, but where was the talent? It was three chaps on a combat trolley, who we were tasked with joining, in near-darkness, hurtling along a broken railway. Here we go again.
More Tunnel Dwellers, this time launching themselves at us and our three buddies from the blackness, marooned as we were on this tiny sliver of wood. Luckily, someone tossed us the frankly essential shotgun, which we were pleased to see included rather a unique twist (pleased until we got horribly panicked and confused by it, that is, though we suspect that may be part of the point). Basically, LT controls the gun’s left trigger, and RT the right. So you fire each barrel separately and, in the heat of battle, often forget which barrel is full and which is empty. We won’t lie, this became a pretty inept performance from NowGamer, as the Tunnel Dwellers tore at our face and made mincemeat of our friends.
Then we fell off the trolley altogether – to our deaths, we thought, until we were encouraged to run down the tunnel and jump back aboard. Then things got weird. Tarkovsky-weird, almost. A weird blue mist enveloped the tunnel, and everybody passed out. Except Artyom, who seemed to pass into a weird dreamscape where a wobbly thin guy with really long arms was wandering about. We were informed this guy was a Dark One, a mutated, enhanced human – Homo Novus, apparently. They tend to drive men mad with their power of their minds, but we were immune, for some reason.
This newly discovered reputation for not losing our mind led us to fall in with dodgy mercenary Bourbon, who promised us a sweet AK-47 if we would escort him across the wastes to rendezvous with a friend. This took us topside, which truly made the Capital Wastes look like that grassy wonderland where the Teletubbies hang out. Cavernous holes in the road filled with toxic slime, gnarled, fallen flatblocks and lots of barbed wire were the setting, all cloaked in a thick, unnatural nuclear mist. We became acquainted with the gas mask, which frosted up over time, reducing vision even more, and included a filter that quickly ran down, necessitating checking our in-game watch to find out when we were going to suffocate. It was just horrible.
Without Fallout 3’s stylised Fifties sci-fi world, Metro 2033 finely illustrates a bleak near-reality of nuclear disaster, and pulled us right in, despite its tendency to veer almost calculatedly close to a COD-like formula. While it’s still a little more rough and buggy than we’d like at this stage, its refreshingly un-American charms and finely paced horror make us genuinely excited to experience it completely at review stage.