Breathtaking atmosphere and world design; unique setting.
Mediocre-to-awful enemy AI; sometimes stifling linearity.
We liked Metro 2033. We really did. But we wanted to love it. Its dusty, downtrodden, nuked-to-oblivion vision of a post-apocalyptic future is a thing of perverse beauty. At once terrifying and unsettlingly believable, it threatened to suck us in like no game before it. “Half-Life 2, who?” we asked ourselves frequently during the game’s opening moments—that is, when we weren’t left completely breathless.
Then the game made the mistake of putting a gun in our hands.
This screenshot—believe it or not—barely does Metro's immersive qualities justice. Metro's sound design is absolutely fantastic, and plays a huge role in sucking you into the game world.
At best, Metro’s shooting is serviceable. The weapons—while compulsively upgradeable—are crafted in such a way as to be realistic, which in this case means “boring.” That would be fine and dandy if the other two pillars of first-person-shooter fun—level design and enemy AI—did enough heavy lifting to make up for it. Sadly, they don’t.
Levels, of course, are visually spectacular, but at their core are linear corridor crawls. Fittingly enough for a game called Metro, the entire thing is almost glaringly on rails. Now, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, so long as you stick to the beaten path. Think of the game as a roller coaster ride: If it stays on track, it’s the ultimate thrill ride. If it goes off track, everyone dies. That’s Metro 2033 in a nutshell.
Those flaws, however, are almost speck-like in their insignificance compared to the plank that is Metro’s enemy AI. Sure, when it’s powering hordes of monstrous Dark Ones, it does the job well enough, but human opponents are a different story. On multiple occasions, we were able to stand in plain sight with our silenced weapon and pick off enemy after enemy, and all the while our confused quarry mounted no noticeable offense. Other times, enemies ran right into us and carried on as though we were nothing but a particularly thick cloud of air.
It’s a shame, too, because the game’s certainly not all about shooting. In fact, its most intense moments come creeping in when the action grinds to a halt. Metro makes excellent use of ambient sound, bringing the proverbial roller coaster to its absolute peak before the inevitable climax. Also a bit disappointing is the game’s storyline, which is surprising considering that it was actually adapted from a novel by Russian author Dmitry Glukhovsky. While Metro’s world design is almost uniformly spectacular, its plot relies too heavily on convenient coincidences and ultimately resolves with a twist gamers have seen hundreds of times before.
In spite of all that, though, we’re still willing to recommend Metro 2033. The game’s world design, attention to detail, and dread-inducing pace are second to none. Seriously. Rarely do such an uneven game’s high points overshadow its glaring flaws, but Metro’s an exception to the rule. The game may have an unfortunate knack for killing its own buzz, but even that’s not quite enough to ruin the overall experience. That’s what Metro is, really: an experience. And a damn good one at that. Its shooting—while admittedly lacking—is only a part of that whole, and Metro 2033 is greater than the sum of its parts.