One of the great things about a Steam sale is that you can buy a game without the feeling that you are taking a huge risk. Sixty dollars is a lot to risk on internet hearsay. That is not to say that developers and others behind a game do not deserve to get as much money as they can get from players when they provide a quality product. However, once a game has been out for 2 or 3 years, long after the review scores have been averaged and the investors have been paid back, is it not good for them to make a buck off of a guy like me who decided to buy a game to test a new laptop? They get residuals that they would not have otherwise seen and I get a game that costs less than a Chophouse Cheddar Burger combo from Whataburger (which at 1490 calories is a far worse choice than a 1st-person shooter).
Metro 2033 was released in second quarter 2010. When I was pricing laptop builds in November 2011, Metro 2033, like the two Crysis games, kept showing up on graphics card benchmark tests. I noticed that the reviews were not too bad and that the game had a unique setting; the Moscow metropolitan-area subway system. Once I saw the game go on sale for $5, I decided that it would be irresponsible of me not to buy it. [FYI: It is $5 on Amazon until 4/15]
Once I finally got my new laptop a day before Christmas, Metro was one of the first games that I installed. I wanted to see if what kind of FPS rate I could get at maximum settings and what kind of heat my GPU would generate. I have an AMD Radeon HD6990m running in a custom Clevo P170HM laptop from Malibal with an Intel i7 2670QM. With Direct X11 and all the graphics settings maxed out, I could only get about 20 frames-per-second at my native 1920 x 1080 resolution with a lot of action on the going, which is certainly playable. I drop down to DX10 or DX9 and I see around 42 and 67 FPS respectively. The GPU heats up to no greater than 88ºc which, I hear, is acceptable. I cannot tell much difference between DX10 and DX11 quality. Both are stunning.
Smoke effects, surface textures, water, shadows, and light all looks amazing in this game. I could spend hours taking screenshots of monster-infested subway tunnels and post-nuclear holocaust Moscow making desktop wallpaper. Unfortunately, I was too busy running around looking for gas mask filters and shooting vicious, radiation-immune creatures to take any screenshots of the surface. I play a lot of MMORPGs and there are definitely limits on how good a game can look when you have to render 60 players doing random actions in the same location. Thus, maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about, not having a good reference point. Good chance of that. Still, this is one of the best-looking games I have ever played.
The game itself is based on a novel of the same name by Russian author Dmitry Glukhovsky that was first published on his blog in 2002 and then physically in 2005. It has sold 400,000 copies in Russia and was pretty popular. An English edition is available, but from reviews I have seen on Amazon the translation is poop. It is also 700-plus pages long. I will wait for the movie.
In the game, you play as a survivor of World War III [:the search for vodka]. The earth is experiencing a nuclear winter. The surface of Moscow is covered in pool of irradiated water and poison gas. Humanity has taken refuge underground in the subway system. Similar to a Fallout type of scenario, your group needs some thing that I do not recall for some reason that does not matter. They send you out to get it. What you discover is that besides the bandits and the communists and Nazi militants, there are also either mutant animals or demons from hell roaming about, along with ghosts and other supernatural phenomena. Entertainingly, the game gets pretty weird. You experience random visions while moving about some areas that cause you to wonder if you should move or freeze and you see odd things that should not be. I am about 8 hours into the game. So far, nobody tells you flat out why things are the way they are, all I know is that I am trying to survive.
That said, I do not know what my character’s motivations and objectives are all times. In at least one section, I did not know whether I should crawl out of a ventilation duct and start killing people, wait for some plot point, or go try to talk to them. The dialogue that I hear does not always make it clear what I need to do. To be fair, the character was probably unsure as well. Moreover, as a gamer, I should have known that killing is always the answer.
All the dialogue in the game is voice-acted and about 70% of the people you bump into have something to say. The voice-acting is very good. I do not question the authenticity of any of the Russian accents; none of them sound like Sean Connery. Sound in this game is very important and the developers did a really good job of making almost every sound matter to your situational awareness. Footsteps and breathing matter. More on the sounds later.
You will pick up a lot of flavor and background whenever you find yourself in a market. In the various markets in the Metro tunnels, you sell army-grade bullets for weapons and supplies. Bullets are the only accepted currency. You either waste the good ones putting down an enemy faster than with cheap bullets or you save them up to upgrade your inventory. You find the army-grade bullets on corpses normally. Corpses are an abundant resource. You will also hear others buying and selling and telling stories in those market that help flesh out the world of the game. However, none that extra stuff is critical; this is not an RPG.
Obviously, the core of any shooter is the shooting. I confess that I am no expert at as my experience with the contemporary first-person shooters is limited. In Metro 2033, aiming can be imprecise. At times, the number of shots it takes to kill is unpredictable. This is especially true if you do not realize that one creature is different from another. This is a “monster closet” game where you know that when you get to a certain spot, you are going to have to kill 2 or 3 waves of monsters before moving on. However, this does not apply to the human antagonists. They will not attack you until they become aware of you. Some of them will be on watch, others will be chatting about the plot, and at least one will have to vomit due to food-poisoning. You should kill him while he is doing that.
There are “stealth” portions of the game that a number of reviewers have taken issue with saying that it was poorly implemented. Generally, I find stealth tedious in most games. I cannot seem to keep enough interest to get through the Metal Gear Solids. I did enjoy Tenchu back in the day, though. Anyway, I do not think of the stealth missions as such. I merely try to kill as many people as possible covertly before proceeding to kill everybody as normal. Sometimes sneaking around does provide unexpected weapons or access. The cover system does not lock you in place when you are taking fire. You are either well hidden or you are an easy target. The other common complaint some reviewers had was about the A.I. being poor for both enemies and allies. My naïveté prevents me from giving a damn. I have seen a guy crouch down on the wrong side of a sandbags stack allowing me to pick him off easily, but I do not harbor the notion that the game would be so much better if that one guy was harder to kill. The gun-play in this game is reasonably satisfying. For what it’s worth, I have never been killed so many times that I quit playing out of rage.
I am not sure how much of the game I have left, but it is a game that I look forward to completing. I have played a couple other games between the first handful of missions and where I am now, but I have been nothing but impressed whenever I have picked it up. The visuals are so well-crafted and evocative that even if I don’t know why I’m doing what I’m doing, I want to keep playing inside the world to discover how captivatingly unusual it is. I am have no strong feeling about my character, but the story is told in 2nd-person (only the visual POV is in first) and I already know how I feel about me. Besides, the environment is the main character. Mixing a dystopian future with a real paranormal menace makes for a fascinating world. From time to time, I do get the urge to play a shooter where I can do some thoughtless blasting. Metro 2033 is not the game for that because it has some really interesting other things going on.
I do have Bulletstorm, though. I can always fire that up.