Metro 2033 Redux Review
Metro 2033 Redux: Aggressively-Apocalyptic Atmosphere
The Metro franchise managed to stay out of my vision for quite some time. I’d heard good things on forums and they seemed to be rated well on Steam, but I just never pushed to give them a shot. Enter Metro Exodus last year, as well as some video content about it from YouTube channels I follow, and suddenly the games’ concepts ring a little stronger than it did in the past. As a result, I decided I’d finally give the franchise a spin to get to Exodus and see how it has developed over time.
For the sake of clarity, Metro 2033 is the first game of the franchise and was released in 2010, and its sequel, Last Light, was released in 2013. The “Redux” version of both games launched in 2014. Metro 2033 Redux has, according to my own searches, been given not only a reasonable graphics overhaul, but also a handful of mechanical and gameplay changes from the original. Because of this, bear in mind that if you find yourself playing the true original, there may be some deviations from what I say.
The concept of the Metro series is borrowed from a novel of the same name (Metro 2033). The setting is Moscow in a post-nuclear-apocalyptic world during the year, you guessed it, 2033. After the bombs fell, the survivors of the explosions went down into the city’s metro tunnels to survive, and have stayed there for years and years as the surface is still inhospitable. In time, there became a developed culture, where each metro station acts as its own city of sorts.
In addition to the natural elements seeking the destruction of human life, there are, unsurprisingly, mutant creatures that manifested out of the radiation. Largely they stay on the surface, but they do make their way down to the tunnels and try to directly combat humans in their homes. As in any apocalyptic game, life is hard for all manner of different reasons.
You endeavor through these dark tunnels, and sometimes to blinding light of the surface, as a young man (early 20s) named Artyom. The game begins with a mission given to you by your father’s friend following a mutant assault on your home station. As the situation with the savage creatures worsens, you are sent off to a larger and more stable station named Polis for assistance. And that’s about the point where I stop diving into story details for the sake of spoilers.
In its entirety, the narrative of 2033 was entertaining enough, but perhaps a little bit jumpy with some information being left out that I would have appreciated. Overall, I’m not dissatisfied with the story, but it definitely took a back seat to the gameplay for me.
At its core, 2033 is a linear (you know, because of the tunnels) first-person shooter with survival and stealth elements incorporated, which seems to be pretty par for the course when it comes to dystopian futures.
Redux offers to ways to play the main game: Survival and Spartan.
Survival is, according to the game’s menus, the way the game was originally designed, and focuses very heavily on the stealth and survival elements by making resources more difficult to come by, requiring a more methodical and careful approach to the game.
Spartan, also according to the game’s menus, was actually imported from Last Light’s play style and is much more “generic” FPS experience that heavily focuses on engaging combat against mutant and human enemies. Because resources are more abundant, constantly engaging firefights are much easier to participate in and handle.
I only managed to play the game one time and opted for Survival because I wanted an experience more in spirit with the intended vision of the game. Naturally, I cannot comment at all on how severe the difference is between the two.
The atmosphere of the game is incredibly engaging, even if the story itself didn’t reach out and grab me. The squalor that is the different station settlements, with people doing what they can to find joy in their lives while pacifying the cries of children is incredible. The stubbornness of human life in these rigid times is one of the things that always draws me in with dystopian future environments. Especially the degree to which they’ve established this as a “normal” life and operate very fluidly inside their small homes. Much of the game takes place outside of the stations, but it’s still something I admire about the worldbuilding every time I find a new one.
The tunnels themselves are just tunnels. But walking down these terrifyingly dark tubes previously only meant for hurling hunks of metal from point A to B to C still manages to be unnerving when it becomes so obvious how easy it is for these creatures to be hiding just out of sight up ahead. The tunnels are also littered with large, mutated spider and their massive webs. Fortunately, they don’t actually deal any damage to you because they’re still small relative to a person. But again, unnerving. Every noise could easily be something coming for you.
There are also segments of the underground that aren’t tunnels or stations, such as maintenance facilities or large storage areas or… something. Okay, I admit I don’t know what the pre-war purpose of every area was, but the point is there are several areas much more spacious than what you’re normally offered in the tunnels, and it is in these spaces that you’re given a greater insight into past life. Many skeletons dot these wide areas. Some are new, and some clearly from when the bombs dropped. Finding messages or markings that point out the difference in life is great for the worldbuilding element.
Lastly, there are sections of the game up in the wasteland of Moscow, though they are not the focal point of the game’s environments. Would be a little strange for a game called “Metro” to take place mostly on the surface, wouldn’t it? But the surface levels are the ones where the “survival” aspect of the game truly shines. Because the air above is still toxic and unfit for humans, you can only go up with gas mask filters offering you a handful of minutes each, forcing you to balance dashing through the city to avoid being killed by the air with moving slowly and stealthily to avoid being killed by the mutants. Even worse is when combat is inevitable because you’re not in a position where you can try to find cover and manage the problem slowly. Having a lifeline timer on you is not a new concept, but I really appreciate its use in 2033 by not being a constant drain on your attention.
I admired the level design and scenery in all the environments of the game, which went a huge way to making me enjoy the game as a whole, despite the shortcomings.
But all this conversation and I’ve said no actual words about the gameplay, so let’s shift gears into that direction.
First off, the game is surprisingly difficult. I won’t lie, wading through Doom Eternal on Ultra-Violence (the highest difficulty) gave me a bit of an ego on what I feel I can do in a shooter. But the issue with Metro 2033 is that the weapons are awful. Like, of course they are. They get manufactured in a hellscape like this one and you expect some Doom Super Shotgun level of quality? Get out of here with that nonsense. Contextually, it makes a lot of sense that the weapons themselves are mediocre because they’re the best humanity can come up with given their current living situation. The way that leans into the actual combat, however, can be a tad frustrating. But this teaches you early on how to manage your expectations on what the different weapons are actually capable of doing, and how important it is to prioritize weapons with different ammunition types so as to always have SOMETHING on hand to deal with the monsters and humans you have to fight.
Despite my comments in the previous paragraph, the guns feel pretty good for what they are. There’s a pittance in variety, but that goes back to being part of the narrative, so it’s difficult to feel upset about that. It might have been cool if the game implemented some kind of Borderlands-style “infinite guns” mechanic. Because materials are so scarce, every gun could be made slightly differently, with varying levels of effectiveness? Maybe that’s too much of a reach, but still an idea I felt like sharing.
The gunplay is a good time, and I love how enemies are so willing to get in your face. I got done playing a couple of the new Wolfenstein games recently and it bothered me how so many enemies just stayed in formation and never chose to approach you. Not so in Metro! Monsters with only melee capabilities would naturally shove themselves into your personal bubble, but even the human enemies do a great job at pushing the line. They know they outnumber you, and their confidence and decent upon you reflects that. I really appreciate when shooters are able to keep you on your toes like that, as it keeps combat far more engaging. To say the system is flawless would be a lie, as there are certainly situations with enemies staying behind their own cover for far too long, but I’m satisfied with it more often than not.
That is, of course, assuming you don’t just sneak up on your enemies and take them out with a throwing knife like a champ. Some guns also have the capacity to be fitted with a silencer, allowing for some great stealth kills from a distance. Even if a corpse gets noticed and every human is suddenly on alert, they can be fairly easy to dance around depending on the environment. This can be a good or bad thing depending on the player though.
There are also pieces of equipment like grenades and firebombs, but I used them with such irregularity that it’s hard to say they were really a component of the game. I used the throwing knives often, however, because they encouraged the stealth gameplay and were retrievable whether or not they hit a target. They are by far easier to master and utilize effectively over the course of the game than the other equipment types, and as a result, were my favorite.
All of these things, the equipment, the guns, and the weapon mods, can typically be purchased in any station at a vendor stall. The currency in this game is “Military-Grade Ammunition.” What this means is that you might stumble upon some higher-quality ammo that acts as money in-game, but in a pinch, can also be used as highly effective ammo against enemies if you’re out of the cheap stuff. This is a mechanic I was super intrigued by, but I found myself on more than one occasion accidentally shooting money at enemies because the key to switch to MGA is by holding “R.” Given how often I had to reload, and how easy it is to let my finger linger for a hair too long, I really admit I should have changed that to a different key.
My one big gripe with the purchasing system is that, due to the story trying to push you along, you can easily accidentally bypass a couple shopping opportunities, leaving you with a ton of MGA but no air filters to survive the surface in the next level. I don’t think the game needed one of those big pop-up screens to remind you this is your last chance to do anything here, but a little something to indicate that NOW is the time to shop, because you won’t get to later, would have been great.
Though saying that this is one of my biggest gripes with the game is pretty indicative of my overall positive feelings about it. The game succeeds in atmosphere and settings a little bit more than base gameplay, but I don’t say that to downplay it at all. Rather, I’m saying it because I think the game world, given that the game is just a linear FPS at its core, does an exceptional job at telling its story through its environment and it became very easy for me to get sucked into it. Fighting enemies in this game is fun, if fairly challenging at times.
This review is shaping up to be my longest one yet, so I’m going to cut myself off here. Point is, when this game is on sale, if you’re a fan of FPS games that can deliver on great atmosphere and at least a passingly fine plot, it should be an instant-buy. As I write this review during the 2020 Steam Summer Sale, Metro 2033 Redux is on sale for $5, and hits that price point with incredible regularity during these sales. It’s hard to go wrong at that price, I think.