The Games Of Christmas ’10: Day 14

By RPS on December 14th, 2010 at 1:34 pm.

FOURTEEN!
We’re going down, deeper down, into the abyss. There’s something alive down there, and it means to make soup from our bones. Yes, the sound of the underground involves less girls singing and more the singing of machineguns. What could all this be pointing to? Well, it’s not exactly a platform game, but it does have some trains…

It’s… Metro 2033!

Jim: There’s something extremely alluring about apocalypse. It’s not a slate wiped clean, but a sort of catastrophic reset. The possibilities for the world have changed: things are different and there’s no telling quite how different until you’ve begun to explore it. This is particularly true in Metro 2033, where the world is an existing world – the Moscow subway – and yet the things that define it are twisted and different: a poisoned surface, mutants, polarised, extremist factionalisation. It’s one of the most interesting shooter worlds we’ve explored of late, even if that dark-brown, shadowy world is one that games have dabbled in for too long.

It feels traditional in many ways, and yes, it’s a corridor shooter, as linear as a movie, yes, but there’s so much going on in it that you can see why it’s one of our games of the year: it’s something interesting done with the linear form. It has hard edges, a powerful whiff of the post-Soviet attitude. It’s just the sort of thing we hope that the Eastern studios don’t lose sight of as they become more successful. A bold take both on apocalypse, and on the Western genres. If Pripyat is the most interesting of the open-ended shooters, and that’s what drives you, then that’s where you are going to have focused your attention this year. Likewise with New Vegas – if you want to explore and apocalyptic scenario with any depth, then that’s the logical place to end up. But Metro 2033 has something else going for it: a strong story, and a set of survival mechanics that make your journey seem all the more desperate. The fights are often extremely difficult and violent, particularly against human enemies. You are hugging the walls, counting your bullets, desperate to get through, to continue, without getting killed.

I think the strongest contrast for me was between this and Mass Effect. Bioware’s “guns and conversation” game is an attempt to do dark. It’s an attempt to create a sort of morally grey Star Trek, and it works. But then you compare it to Metro 2033′s nightmare claustrophobia and it really doesn’t seem like they are trying all that hard. If you want to taste the poison of doomed futures, look East. Look to this. I can’t wait to see what 4A do next.

Alec: One of the many humiliating moments of my published career was when a magazine sub-editor took a heavy scalpel to my overlong Medal of Honor: Pacific Assault review, and with such artless brutality that it ended with the mystifying apparent complaint that this shooting game had shooting in it. I looked like a goon, and I’ve raged about the absurdity of such of a claim many times since.

Then I played Metro 2033, a shooting game which I really do wish didn’t have so much shooting in it. The action is often this mood piece’s weakest link, thanks to greasy aiming, occasionally sadistic scripting and a smattering of insta-death QTEs. Those things are not the issue, though – the complaint’s more that the need for gunplay and reflex interferes with the unsettling thereness of Metro 2033′s deathly world. The moments that linger in my memory are simply looking around grimy, claustrophobic survivor camps – tiny places packed with dirty people, rusty machinery and, somehow, farm animals – and the occasional emergences into the unnerving, frozen grandeur of the topside world.

Just wandering, just looking. Ever-alert, ever fearful, ever awed. The awareness of potential danger, the lingering sense that I should not be here: this was far more powerful than any resultant encounter with a winged horror or hulking rat-thing. Fear forever trumps fright.

There’s a profound difference in tone between this and Stalker, which is otherwise my absolute preference to its hyper-linear kissing cousin here. Stalker is only the Zone, a sort of dark holiday camp within what’s presumed to be a better world outside. Its glowering menfolk don’t have to be there; it’s only some strange tug of pride and greed, a quest for wealth and status, that keeps them in it. Metro, though, convincingly sells the sense of that this is all that’s left of the world. There is no reprieve from this. Where the Zone is a place to be conquered, Metro 2033′s dead Moscow is palpably a place that will kill you eventually.

Its many moments of tension-building quiet are simply remarkable, lavishly-detailed documents of what happens when civilization gets completely derailed. That it doesn’t quite manage to reconcile its harrowing beauty with also being a game about shooting all the monsters in the face doesn’t ultimately matter a jot. Metro 2033 successfully took me somewhere else. That’s all I ever really ask a game to do.

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64 Comments »

  1. poop says:

    i sorta liked metro 2033 until the part where and ape chases you through a snowy library and my FPS starts to crawl

  2. Navagon says:

    A damn fine game. I would have appreciated something deeper and more involving. But equally it’s for the best that the team behind it didn’t get ahead of themselves and embark on an over-ambitious project that would have either failed or been riddled with bugs.

    I’d like to see more from the sequel now that they’ve found their feet. Not that more of the same would be such a bad thing. Without the QTEs that is. The storyline, graphics, realisation of the setting and weapons were all well above par.

  3. Jonathan says:

    I really wanted to like Metro 2033 more. I don’t care if a game is linear if it has other redeeming features, like Metro’s wonderful atmosphere. However, the weapons felt a little shonky to me and I found the frequent loading between sections irritating*. It felt like as soon as I was getting absorbed in a given part of the game, I’d have to sit in front of a loading screen for a couple of minutes and the spell would be broken.

    It’s probably the best-looking game of the year though, I’ll give it that.

    * Shonky weapons possibly down to my ageing PC not being able to deliver consistently good framerates; long loading times possibly down to my ageing PC’s hard drive having, well, aged.

    • Nick says:

      Nah, I really didn’t like the way the weapons handled either. Never felt .. good.. to fire them.

    • DrGonzo says:

      Really? The weapons were on of my favourite bits. I really loved the shotgun with several stages of reloaded. The guns did feel shonky and dodgy, but I think that was their intention.

      I remember the bit with those little shits who jump out of those wholes, stab you in the back and hide again. I loved how badly prepared you felt. You were picking guns to face the humans you had faced so far, then suddenly a completely different enemy appears, and chances are you picked the wrong weapons for them. I basically just legged it through that whole section.

    • VelvetFistIronGlove says:

      Unfortunately you really need to make sure you can get a decent framerate, or the controls do go a bit mushy and laggy. But I you were thinking of upgrading your graphics card for any game this year, this would be the one. It’s really beautiful despite its dirty underground tunnel and post-nuclear wasteland setting.

  4. Stephen Roberts says:

    This is a game worthy of playing. In russian. With Subtitles. It’s deliciously immersive and there is this sense of hopelessness that pervades your journey from the offset. The gas mask mechanic was excellent and the characters that accompany you are always interesting. Sadly I’d have said it was somewhat short, and two annoying features combined to be one hell of a shitdick. Those were Human AI and Checkpoint saves. Dismiss any notion of stealthing. Your first stealth kill will survive a bullet to the neck and die noisily on the second one. Then everyone in the level knows exactly where you are forever, despite being in the dark. Peek one centimetre of your shoe out from around the corner and a hail of bullets will turn it into burnt leather and dust. Without those two issues it would have got nine thumbs up out of a potential seven chicken buckets.

    • Maykael says:

      I partly disagree with the Russian, because the fucking casual banter was not subtitled. Most of it was subtitled, but what the people were saying in the station was not and it annoyed the hell out me, so I switched back to English… If you say you will provide a playthrough in Russian with English subtitles, provide English subtitles for every word in Russian!

      I completely agree with everything else you said though. Unhelpful checkpoint saves destroyed the stealth for me more than any of its unforgiving systems, really. Stealthing through a game, is about experimenting, is a about really getting to know the gameplay. This is mainly possible only through quicksaves, unless you want to spend a useless amount of time getting the umpteenth time through a section you’ve already mastered. The lack of quicksaves, at least in some games, discourages experimentation, exploration and, ultimately, the enjoyment of dicking about with the mechanics of it. Especially in what is admittedly a difficult title like Metro 2033, where every risk you’d take would be usually punished by losing tons of precious progress.

    • Joshua says:

      But stealthing is not about killing silently (And if you want to do that, use the throwing knives and throw them in the flesh, preferably the neck, or use the pneumatic weapons). The sections you can stealth are sections where you can stealth without having to kill anyone. So don’t.

      (I actually kinda liked the shooting, but i’m weird, so ignore me).

    • fuggles says:

      The shooting was okay, but someone needed to sort out the monsters running up to you. At first I thought they were clipping into me, but I think they just run really close up so that you properly have to look down to aim. Either way, having monsters that you can’t see as they are on your feet was irritating.

    • Archonsod says:

      I never noticed omniscient AI when it came to stealth. I did note it was smart enough to run off and alert others if you let it, and similarly smart enough to realise if a guy pops up in a corner with no other exits there’s a good chance he’s still in said corner even if you can’t see him. In fact I thought it was quite neat that you could fake out the AI in that manner and flank them if you could manage to change locations without them seeing you.

    • DrGonzo says:

      I disagree. I really liked the fact that monsters were really quick, in your face and hard to see. Made it difficult and scary to face any enemies. It was always best to not fight the monsters. Which was kind of a message throughout the whole game. Especially the big gorilla guys. That bit becomes much easier and more fun when you realise you shouldn’t be attacking them.

  5. Urthman says:

    I haven’t played the game yet, but it had two of the best trailers I’ve ever seen for a game:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6qzEHXK27E
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xc2hhef-Nzo

    The first one particularly — is the script in the game as well-written as the voice over in that trailer?

    • Navagon says:

      Yeah, it’s based on a book. So the script is very good. The world is very well crafted. It’s one of the game’s highlights.

    • Andrew Dunn says:

      I loved Metro 2033 as a game and an experience, but book or not, the script/dialogue and the general storyline were terrible. It creates an excellent world and atmosphere, but that’s separate.

  6. Casimir's Blake says:

    I tried watching a video of Resident Evil 5. Some games want to make you feel real fear, but most “horror” games just want you to experience “frights”. RE5 might be fun to play, but christ the whole zombie thing is a cliche now. One knows what to expect in the Generic Capcom Resevil Situation. Therefore it is not scary any more, it just occasionally makes you jump. This is a common problem with “horror” games.

    Metro 2033 and Amnesia both avoid this, and create real fear though in different ways. They both have fantastically compelling narratives and atmosphere, easily making up for the imperfect gameplay that blighted them for different reasons. In Metro’s case, yeah, shonky guns is about right. And the odd frustrating section (the Librarians!). But it spins a yarn that will stay with me for life. Can’t say that about many games.

    I feel pretty confident that this year has been one of the very best PC gaming has had to offer, even if many of the games listed have relatively unexceptional or merely “very good” gameplay, they make up for it with – shock, horror – decent writing. And, bloody hell, it’s taken long enough… (for others to catch up with Looking Glass Studios?)

    • Dominic White says:

      Your problem there is that you’re misreading Resident Evil 5. That series stopped being about horror a long time ago. It’s horror-themed, perhaps, but it’s a pure action game with cheesy one-liners and a buddy-action dynamic going on.

    • drewski says:

      Yep. Resident Evil 5 isn’t a horror game, if indeed any of the series ever was.

    • TCM says:

      I think REmake (and, indeed, the original RE) does a pretty good job, horror-wise. Relies a bit overmuch on the cheap scare, but creates an excellently oppressive atmosphere.

    • Nick says:

      What.. ‘if the series was ever horror’? What the hell are you talking about? Its very clearly horror, even if its not “scary” (which is subjective btw).

      Anyway, Resident Evil 5 isn’t even zombies, its just weird parasite controled things. Its not bad, but I prefered 4.

    • DrGonzo says:

      I wasn’t a huge fan of Resident Evil 5, and didn’t like Resident Evil 4 at all. But one thing RE5 did very well was capturing a feeling of panicked fighting. Where you were hunting for ammo and health while being chased, while trying to reload, while covering you partner who was about to get chainsawed.

      Unfortunately about a quarter of the way into the game, I realised I could stay alive in any fight by just running. It doesn’t matter where you run, just keep running and enemies won’t be able to hit you.

      Very pretty and atmospheric game though, with some really great moments.

    • Bret says:

      Well, yeah.

      Four was all suplexing undead monks so hard their heads explode and wisecracking.

      What more could you want?

  7. Wizlah says:

    When I first read about this, I figured I didn’t need another corridor shooter. Time is short and not to be spent on stuff like that, I thought. But I went back, reread the RPS wot I thought, read some other bits and bobs, and it sounded like for a confirmed atmosphere freak like me, I had to get it. So it’s on the list.

  8. Wizlah says:

    so amnesia, mass effect 2 and minecraft still to go. Wonder what else?

  9. McDan says:

    Loved this game, can’t wait for the sequel that was mentioned.

  10. [21CW]2000AD says:

    I never did get round to finishing it, though I’m not sure I will since it would mean having to go through that damn annoying section where you have to give that kid a piggyback and he constantly messes up your aim and points out the obvious in his annoying voice.
    Having read the spoilers and that article mentioned in the Sunday Papers a while back about Metro’s nifty morality system, I would have much preferred an option to leave that little bastard to get eaten by monsters and have that effect what ending I’d get..

    • fuggles says:

      Wow, I’d forgotten about that part! You didn’t find that a nice inclusion? I thought it was fun how having a kid on your back affected your movement and aim, as it would be something of a hindrance. You would only have thought it wrong if it had no effect. Also a handy way to avoid having to escort someone…if only it was an option for everyone.

  11. fuggles says:

    @Navagon, I am unsure what you mean by wanting something deeper and more involving? Is it the game mechanics that you refer to or the game content? I’m padding slightly to avoid the SPOILER fast approaching appearing on the front page.

    SPOILER!!
    I thought the inclusion of the second ending added quite a lot of involvement in that your actions in the game lead up to it, it’s not a simple yes/no choice at the end. Also the fact that this ending was added by the writer as an alternative to that shown in the book was interesting as the author is playing with his art in a different medium.

    SPOILER ENDED!

    @Urthman, yes that is a fairly typical example of the writing in the game. It’s all very bleak very much a contemplative piece about the nature of man. I think a lot is lifted from the book, but still they didn’t have to include it – I mean look at film to game conversions!

    Very good scripting in this game with lots of intense sections that will stay with you afterwards. Two things standout for me positively – trying to stare down a giant gorilla and the log about the submarine commanders who can’t believe the world has gone nuclear and ended as they are still at the bottom of an ocean awaiting orders.

    More feedback on which guns are good would be nice, and the steaIth is a little sloppy, but I would very much like to see more of the world, but less of the damn escort section against angry testicles.

  12. clownst0pper says:

    I never really enjoyed Metro, even playing it on the hardest, ranger setting. There were so many flaws and ill thought out ideas it drove me to distraction.

  13. Fumarole says:

    The only frustrating thing I found about the game was the checkpoint save system. At the last checkpoint before entering the final tower, the game saved with my last gasmask ready to crack at the slightest bump – right before a huge fight too. It didn’t help that after the fight you had to wait for an AI companion to open the tower door in a scripted event. I can’t recall how many times I choked to death while he took his sweet time getting that damn door open.

  14. Ziv says:

    Best linear shooter since Half Life 2.

    Yet somehow I almost got to the end and stopped playing there… I really need to finish this game.

    • DrGonzo says:

      If it’s where you encounter those blobs. I can’t blame you for stopping. That one bit took me about 10 tries to get through, which was very frustrating considering it was the only massive difficulty spike I encountered. I had to leave the game for about a week and come back to it to control my rage.

    • Joshua says:

      Stand still, and stand away from the guy who is waltzing trough it. The blobs only detect you when you are moving.

      If feeling anxious, shoot the spores where they are coming from.

  15. Dozer says:

    Gave this to my little brother for his birthday. Freaked him out completely :-)

  16. Inglourious Badger says:

    I knew there was a reason I bought it the steam sale. Yay me!

    Now to find time to play it…..

  17. Jonathan says:

    (Meant to be a reply to the “what other games will be on the Xmas list” question)

    Civilization V, Fallout: New Vegas, StarCraft 2 …

  18. Tusque D'Ivoire says:

    Aaaand it’s now cheaper than it’s ever been in the steam treasure hunt. bought/sold!

    also: Just Cause 2

    • Linfosoma says:

      Same here, this is not a good month for my wallet/productivity.

    • TimA says:

      Yeah, bought it for that price, been hankering after a new linear shooter.

    • gulag says:

      Ditto. Nothing to do with wanting TF2 hats, honest.

    • Ziv says:

      Played both those games pirated and I think they’re good enough to buy them and support the developers. especially for such good prices.

    • Jhoosier says:

      Wow, Metro 2033 and Just Cause 2 for that cheap? I’m getting them both now. I can eat ramen for the next week. Why? Why? Why do these games have to go all cheap the same time I have a ton of expensive social obligations?

      Don’t mind TF2 hats, if I ever go back to it, so I’ll be trying these out tonight to see if I can get the achievements. Got AAAaa… for that too, and it turns out to be an entertaining little thing.

  19. DrPepper8 says:

    I made the mistake of trying to play this on the X-box, and gave up very quickly because the controls were just horrible. Serves me right for not getting the PC version I guess.

  20. Eukatheude says:

    I loved the atmosphere, however it suffers from a terrible gameplay. It has potential though, so i’m looking forward for 4A’s next move.

  21. VelvetFistIronGlove says:

    And in a nice coincidence, Metro 2033 is just £4.99 on Steam today and tomorrow.

    • Rane2k says:

      Yep, 7,49€ for those not living on the Island. :-)

      I´ve been on the fence of getting this for quite a while, bought it a minute ago, good timing RPS!

    • Ziv says:

      First time I see you brits getting it for the cheaper price ;)
      was kinda disappointed to see it’s ten dollars after savygamer had it and just cause for a fiver each.

  22. Snuffy (the Evil) says:

    My biggest issue with Metro 2033 was how cutscenes were presented. The grand majority of them are presented in a Crysis-style scripted, first-person manner, but towards the end there are several that use a third-person perspective instead, and for such an atmospheric and immersive game it’s quite jarring. I never had a huge problem with the gunplay, checkpoints or AI (save for that one bit near the end).

    It’s a really slick title, and I think everyone needs to give it a try at some point. Especially if it’s on an expensive computer, because it looks absolutely gorgeous. That’s really just a bonus, though.

  23. etho says:

    I gave this game a shot, but I cam to it after a couple weeks of really intense Call Of Pripyat play, and it kind of paled in comparison for me. It just felt like CoP, but simplified and linearized, and the scripted events where the game wrested control away from me just drove me crazy.

    But I can definitely see that my initial impression might be unfairly negative. Maybe I’ll give it another shot some day.

  24. Jack says:

    For a second there, I thought you were talking about The Void. Then you started mentioning machine guns, and I remembered it was released in 2009.

  25. Radiant says:

    How much you like metro 2033 is directly proportional to how much you want to push your pc’s capabilities.

    I’m not saying that you must make it look good to play it.
    I’m saying that if you push it too far and get 10 fps in a fight you are going to fucking /hate/ it.

    Also some of the creature designs are a bit shitty but then one of them stands up on it’s legs like a meercat and you shit your pants.

  26. Corrupt_Tiki says:

    So I might buy this, and maybe Just Cause2 , although JC2 is still like 26$AUD =/

  27. The Sombrero Kid says:

    The motion blur is superb, as is the AI, the Core Gameplay balance was over ambitious and so stumbled particularly with the stupid apes at the end, basically ruined the game for me (i got the feeling that this could’ve happened at any point up until then & i was lucky enough not to experience it). It could possibly stem from the poorly implemented shop mechanic that saw me sell all my ammo for guns i didn’t have only to have those guns thrust on me.

  28. K says:

    Good:
    - Immersion.
    - Except for a few cases (“The Dark Ones”) highly inspired writing. “Artium” instead of “Jack” is a great name.
    - Dark, dangerous.
    - Creepy.
    - Pretty (though a bit brown).
    - Great shooter gameplay.
    - Great AI.

    Bad:
    - Performance issues kill your aim
    - Annoying English voices with horribly fake accents (I didn’t know it can be set to russian. Damn!)
    - Player character clipping area is wonky, sometimes you get stuck on rocks, and melee enemies always stand where your legs should be.
    - Control scheme also wonky. I frequently changed my filters when I wanted to take off my mask and similar.
    - Monsters all look very similar, sometimes to the point of not being able to distinguish them. Seems like a waste of artist time because they ARE different, it’s just not visible enough from a distance or in the dark.
    - Sometimes unclear mechanics: Some enemies are invulnerable due to cutscenes, others are not, and you never get told which is which. It annoys me greatly if I burn through precious ammo only to find out that the critter cannot be killed to begin with, since it is required for a final scene later on (where it suddenly becomes vulnerable)

    The last one irked me greatly, as it hurt my sense of immersion.

    Conclusion: Well worth it.

    • Joshua says:

      - Performance issues kill your aim
      - Annoying English voices with horribly fake accents (I didn’t know it can be set to russian. Damn!)

      Both can be fixed in the options menu. Just tone down your graphics (seriously! If you have performance issues, FIX THEM YOURSELF.) English can be changed unter the audio switch AFAIK. Or game. But remember to keep the game text to english.

      As for the voicing… Reality is unrealistic. Many of the voice actors are in fact russians. Bar one. Who sounds American, because he is.

  29. Araxiel says:

    But I was of course incredibly biased by the book. I’ve read the book first and I loved it. It’s an astonishing peace of reading and I can’t wait reading the second book as soon as I’ve got some time to spare. The world in the book is even more awe inspiring than the one in the game. One of the things I just loved was all the rumours. There are so many never resolved questions and you hope that this is some kind of Chekov’s gun, which means they’re getting resolved later on. But they never do! Hell, it’s not even really explained why the world is in ruins. Throughout the book there are always people talking about events and stuff they heard from someone which knows someone that heard it from a trader who had spoken with someone he has once met which has experienced it.
    But I knew that the book destroyed my ability to play this game on its own terms. And if I try to forget everything about the book, than I can only say: Incredible game! The atmosphere, the pictures, the fear, the claustrophobia…everything is just so great. When I walked through the Zone I knew that there are mutant pigs and mutant fast zombies and mutant invisible zombies and man carrying guns that want to shoot me. But I knew that this is a giant plane I’m standing on. And I knew that in this building on the horizon is at least one of the mentioned enemies. And I knew that in that ruin over there are some more enemies. And I could see that this building there had about 6 rooms and 3 floors. And I knew that in this field over there are again more mutant pigs. But I had no idea what was around the next corner in Metro 2033. Was there a bandit? A Trap? A mutant? Nothing? A dark one trying to get into my mind? It could be everything that is hiding around that corner. With some luck it would just be a dead guy with some ammo because my assault rifle was already out of ammo and my shotgun was about to run out of ammo. So I take my charger and I charge my flashlight. I reload my guns. I brace up and peek around the corner. Darkness. In no other game darkness made me that uncomfortable (haven’t played Amnesia thought). And while peeking in the darkness, I see another corner. The story repeats itself.
    But the reason I’m disappointed is, that this is a shooter. In the book, Artyom only kills a bunch Mutants and one single Human. When I hold the game’s package in my hands it was clear that to create a shooter out of a story where the protagonist uses a gun just a few times. They must have changed the story a lot. And that’s what they did. (Spoilers) For example there is a similar sequence in the book when they retrieve the missiles. There is some kind of dark, mind-controlling ooze trying to devour our small troop of heroes and Artyom. They escape by lifting their spirits by singing “an old song from a long time”, “the sacred war” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mK2T2aPooy4). It is suggested that this ooze is some kind of military experiment/plant that mutated due the radiation. Of course it’s never resolved. But in the game, you have some sort of hunk of flesh sitting on generators and they have to go down to remove it. What? That’s not in the book! Or another example: In the book the fascists of the Fourth Reich and the communists from the Red Line did wage a war, but are in peace in right now. Artyom kills a fascist during a fight because they kill Mikhail Porfirevich (long story) and is then captured by them. When he’s about of being executed he get’s saved by the Leninistic communists (opposed to the Stalinistic communists from the Red Line). Where’s that part in the game? Nowhere! Ok, two fascist are about to shot him and then he get’s saved by Hunter, but that’s not how it happened! (spoiler end)
    So yes, as a game, this is really great! As a game that follows the book, it’s horrible! As a game that is based on the book and shares some places and some character, but does not linearly follows the book, it’s astonishing! I’m not saying the plot of the game is bad or, heck, boring. That it is certainly not.

    Uff, what a long text.

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