Review: Metro 2033 (Microsoft Xbox 360)

Metro 2033
Publisher: THQ
Developer: 4A Games
Genre: First-Person Shooter
Release Date: 03/16/2010

While the FPS genre is thriving as a whole, we are seeing online shooters take precedence over single player, with games like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 and Battlefield: Bad Company 2 being bought primarily for the multiplayer experience. THQ and 4A Games’ newest release, Metro 2033, sets out to join the ranks of series such as Dead Space, and deliver a single-player story worthy of it’s price tag. While it isn’t easy to do, when this is done right, it is something special (Bioshock, I am looking your way). Can Metro 2033 deliver? Let’s find out!


The story – derived from a Russian novel of the same name – is what piqued my interest in Metro 2033 a couple months back: the year is 2033 and a “Dark Age” has begun. You play as Artyom (AR-tyum) in a post-apocalyptic Moscow. In 2013, when Artyom was very little, the world was destroyed by an apocalyptic event that nearly wiped out all mankind. This nuclear fire poisoned the earth’s surface and 40,000 people in Moscow fled into the Metro system (the subway system) where they reside today. Artyom describes the setting as a “war to determine the very existence of our species”.

When the story begins, there is already an established underground life system- “Metro System-Cities” – that is struggling for survival against each other, the mutant life forms outside the cities, and, most importantly, against the “Dark Ones”, who attack your mind as well as your body. You are given the task of traversing through the dangerous Metro system in order to save your family, friends, city, and the rest of mankind.

There is no doubt this story is intriguing, and the game does a fine job of establishing setting; the feeling of nothingness and despair is great, and I loved that you use ammunition as currency. But where the video game fails to deliver is the telling of the story. As I played, I didn’t understand exactly WHO I was trying to save. Yes, I know, “the city”, “mankind”, my “family”, blah blah – who are these people? The game never made it clear if anyone else in the world was alive- maybe New York City residents hit up their underground subway system for survival? So, the fact that I was in a “war to determine the very existence of our species” fell short of being as epic as it sounds. And what about my family? Did I have a mother, a wife, and child? I don’t know because I never saw them. The only family member that is ever brought up for Artyom is his stepfather, who is there in the beginning of the story, but never reappears again. The game could have done a much better job of personalizing my journey by showing the family and friends I was fighting for.

What about WHY? The only reason Artyom goes on this journey to begin with is because his stepfather’s friend, Hunter, asks him too. Artyom has never left his Metro Station-City before this, so why would he take on this crazy journey simply because someone asked him too? This could have been better established, and if there was more personal investment in him going on the journey, I would be able to buy it easier.

Before I played, I read that there was going to be a morality system implemented in the game. To be honest, that was completely lost on me. And the reason for this, aside from the fact that I only ever encountered one decision that I had to make, is because the story failed to establish the “other” option as a viable choice. I cannot go into any further details on this point without giving away spoilers, but feel free to email me if you’ve already beaten the game and care to discuss it.

The story starts out excellently, with well-written narratives, but that is lost somewhere along the way. The main enemies, the Dark Ones, are not nearly developed enough, and I don’t quite understand them. At points throughout the game, it just felt like I was doing things for the sake of doing them; there was no real purpose. With a game like this, the story needs to be king, but it just didn’t land well with me. Great setting and good characters were not enough to save a lackluster story that started out with so much potential, but floundered along the journey.

Story Rating: Poor


I am definitely not a “graphics whore” (as I have heard touted), but I can appreciate when a game looks pretty. Heavy Rain has set a new level of graphical possibilities for me, and having just finished that one a few days before I began Metro 2033, I was not blown away. This isn’t to say the graphics are not great, however. Metro 2033 is one of the best looking Xbox 360 games I have seen since Gears of War 2. The world is vivid, alive, and bleek – it is a great example of an “ugly beautiful” that my old friend used to talk about. What makes the graphics special is the amount of detail you see throughout the Metro system. The walls are covered with different posters, graffiti, and postcards (if you are in Artyom’s room, at least), which make the cities feel alive.

The character models look nice, but towards the end, some of the NPC’s (non-playable characters) started looking very similar. Not just the people you are killing, but the guys who are helping you on your journey as well. This is a problem because I started getting lost on who was who at different points – is that Khan talking, or is that Hunter? Miller or Andrew? This isn’t a very big problem, but did start to get confusing after a while.

The blood graphics look great, and the enemies, though repetitive, are incredibly detailed. There were only a few different enemies, but the non-human enemies were pretty special, graphically speaking. They looked disgusting and mean, exactly how they should in a game like this. Whenever I approached a librarian (an enemy you meet in later stages of the game), my heart started pounding because they simply looked scary. Another cool thing about the game was its use of shadows- before I saw some of my enemies, I was watching their shadow to see what direction they were coming from. This adds to the entire atmosphere that the game is going for.

I loved how the gas mask you wear starts to crack, and you can see the cracks on the screen, actually impairing you vision. This added to the already great visual detail that is found throughout Metro 2033

But there is one aspect that really frustrated me throughout: the darkness. There were points where I couldn’t see anything that was going on in front of me, even after turning up the brightness settings. I understand that this was intentional in certain parts of the game because they wanted you to have to use the night-vision goggles you can find, but before these are available I should be able to see what is going on. There were some parts that required me to turn off my flashlight in order to stay in the shadows, but these also required me to, as an example, kill an enemy at the same time. This was nearly impossible because I couldn’t even make out the figure of a human standing somewhere in front of me. I don’t believe this was intentional, and if it was, it is a problem in my eyes.

Graphics Rating: Incredible


Sound has jumped up and taken the crown that “Story” should be wearing – the voice acting was fantastic! I always pay close attention to this aspect of video games thanks to my work as an actor. Unfortunately, I am usually disappointed and then begin to tune it out. This was not the case with Metro 2033. In a game that is narrative-heavy, the voice acting can help a game thrive, or can kill it flat. Luckily for us, 4A Games understood this and hired some great actors. Artyom stands out, but that is most likely due to the fact that he talks the most throughout the game (but only in cut scenes, of course). I don’t want to take away anything from the other characters. Whether they were major players like Khan, or the very minor characters that I stumbled upon while walking through the different Metro Station-Cities, every character I encountered was likable and real.

The sounds do not end with the voice over work, though. With Metro 2033, sounds almost replace your HUD (heads-up display): They were my life gauge- when I lost health, I started breathing heavily and the screen turned red on the sides. When I needed to put on my gas mask, I started gasping for air, and when my gas mask started to run out of filter time, I started breathing even heavier. When enemies got near, I usually heard them before I saw them, getting my heart racing. This is a great feature, and one of the few things that help sets Metro 2033 apart from other games in the genre.

Some of the sounds did get repetitive amongst the weapon dealers in the cities, but this was hardly a big problem.

Sound Rating: Classic

Control and Gameplay

You’ve played a first-person shooter before, right? Of course you have. For better or for worse, Metro 2033 does little to stray away from what we are used to in this genre- you use RT to shoot, RB to reload, X to interact with objects, B to crouch, hold down LS to run, etc; all the common fair in the FPS genre is here. Where Metro 2033 strays from the norm is with its lack of a HUD. It is not completely gone, but is only seen when you start reloading or changing your weapons. You hold down LB to look at your watch, which shows you how well you are hidden in shadow (a feature I rarely used), or how much time you have left in your current gas mask filter. After turning down the aiming sensitivity a great deal, I found the controls to work just fine. There was no lag between the pressing of a button and the action on screen.

The lack of a HUD can have its fair share of problems also. A gigantic problem I had with the game was knowing where to go and what exactly to do. If you hit the BACK button, you bring up your journal and your lighter (another feature I never used). The journal contains your overall goal and your current objective, as well as, most importantly, a green arrow that shows you were to go. Problem is, when you have your journal out with the arrow pointing you in the right direction, you cannot have your weapons out. Some people may like this, but I found it to be incredibly difficult to navigate. There were specific levels that required me to know which direction I was supposed to head, and at the same time had countless enemies attacking me. I could have tried to kill all the enemies before continuing, but that never seemed to work for me thanks to a low ammo supply. So, I was left to manoeuvre through some areas with only my arrow (which also went down to the side when sprinting, causing me more grief), praying that I didn’t die before I reached the next checkpoint. I didn’t enjoy this. And while you can, technically, go through some of these levels using stealth as your weapon, this was not what the game was all about in my opinion: the game starts out with a couple big firefights against monsters, which doesn’t scream “stealth” to me.

Continuing on the path of “what do I do/where do I go”, I cannot begin to say how many times I was screaming at my television “what the hell do you want from me?!”. There were points where the objective listed in the journal wasn’t making clear what the game expected from me. Again, this is unfortunately an aspect that I cannot elaborate on without giving away spoilers. Essentially, I wish the game had made my objectives clearer, instead of me figuring it out through trial and error.

I had some big grievances with some other aspects of the gameplay and controls too. First and foremost, how many friggin’ shots with my shotgun, at point blank range, is it going to take to kill an enemy? Is it the one bullet that it sometimes took, the two bullets that it usually required, or is it the five bullets that completely blew my mind a few times? There was not enough consistency between how many shots an enemy could take when it came to human enemies; this bothered me to no end. It wasn’t whether or not the enemy had armor on either because, for the most part, the enemies all looked the same. Sometimes it took me one shot (I am not talking a headshot, which was rare enough to come by) to kill a human enemy, and other times it literally took five shotgun shells at point-blank range. I know I hit him, too, because the enemy would stumble backwards.

This brings me to something else I noticed while looking closely: if you shoot an enemy (human or mutant) and he stumbles backwards, the game will not register a second, third, or fourth hit – whichever number you happens to be at – on the enemy until he stops the stumble animation. Now, I can’t say this happened EVERY time, but I noticed it a lot after I figured it out in the later stages of the game. This is terrible, and something that needs to be fixed. I was wasting bullets on an enemy that weren’t even registering as hits! This might be the reason it took five shotgun shells sometimes to kill an enemy.

The grievances don’t end there. A big area of contention for me was human enemy AI, because they were idiots. Numerous times I could just run right through a big gunfight without dying because the human enemies refused to chase after me. They used dumb areas for cover that allowed me to simply come up behind them (somehow, they couldn’t hear me, even though I just fired my gun right beside them at someone else) and blow them away. The characters yelled out things like “flank him”, and if they had, I would have been cornered and killed. Instead, they just stayed where they were, or ran back and forth between a couple spots, waiting for me to surrender, I guess. I have seen games with great AI – F.E.A.R. for example – and Metro 2033 does not have good AI. Keep in mind that I am talking only about the human enemies; the creatures AI was fine, often using swarming tactics on me.

An annoyance that isn’t really 4A Games’s fault is with the Xbox 360 D-pad; it is atrocious. Sadly, Metro 2033 uses the D-pad to change weapons and to put on and take off both your gas mask and night-vision goggles. There was a point where I spent five minutes simply trying to get my night-vision goggles on because every time I went to hit the down button on the D-pad, it would change my weapon (as if I had hit the left or right button). This got incredibly frustrating, and made me hate the 360 D-pad even more than before. I realize that this isn’t breaking news, but it is still important when reviewing a game that requires the D-pad.

I am sure there are negative points I am missing, but I think that is enough. And with all that said, I want to point out that it is not all bad when it comes to controls and gameplay. When it wasn’t pissing me off with the aforementioned problems, Metro 2033 was fun. There were some great gunfights, and I constantly felt that I was in a hopeless situation, which I then managed to survive (eventually). I absolutely loved the use of ammunition as currency, as well as the way in which you found ammo; you could find ammo on dead bodies, lying around random spots around the Metro, or you could buy it in shops.

Speaking of the shops, these are where you could buy better, makeshift weapons. Unfortunately, though, this wasn’t a huge aspect during my time with the game. I was able to only spend money on a couple different weapons (two, in fact) and make it through the entire game. I hoped that I would suffer at the end of the game due to me being cheap throughout and not spending money on upgrading weapons, but that never happened. These shops, in general, never played a huge role with me. I would only ever buy med kits and ammo. A problem I had with buying ammo was that I wasn’t exactly sure which gun used which type of bullets, so I ended wasting money on bullets I couldn’t use. The shops, when all was over, ended up being a neat addition that I didn’t use as much I as I figured I would.

The gameplay and controls were not terrible, but there was also too many problems for me to overlook. I enjoyed the gameplay when I wasn’t getting pissed off at it. Too bad I was getting pissed off more than I was enjoying it.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Poor


There is apparently a morality system in this game. This should make Metro 2033 automatically replayable. It does, but only to a certain extent. The morality system is hidden so well that I completely missed it (aside from one part where I was asked to decide whether or not to take bullets from somebody). This really hinders the system. With games like inFAMOUS, you can automatically add replay points because there is a clear good and bad ending. This is not the case here, and I would have no idea how to unlock the other ending without reading how on a message board or in a walkthrough because I only made one choice (which wasn’t akin to either ending). With inFAMOUS, a game that uses the morality system better than any other I have played, it is very clear how I am being good or being evil. This is completely absent in Metro 2033, and I think that hurts the game.

If you are not trying to replay through the game for the “other” ending, then I see no reason to replay the game at all, other than exploration and playing on a different difficulty (Easy, Normal and Hard are your options). There is no “New Game+” mode or anything, and if you start over, you are starting a brand new game; nothing carries over to a new game from your previous one. For me, I just didn’t find enough enjoyment in the game to play it over again.

Most importantly, there is no multiplayer mode in this game, which is very uncommon nowadays. Unfortunately, because the single player is lacking, I would have loved the addition of online multiplayer. This really hurts the replayability of the game, especially when there is so little actually helping this category.

The only thing that does helps this game’s replayability are the achievements. After beating the game, I have only unlocked about ten of the thirty-nine possible achievements. But, because I don’t usually care about achievements in a game, this is something else that I won’t be chasing. I do know, though, that many people enjoy unlocking achievements. This is a game where you will be forced to beat a couple times in order to unlock all the achievements, which, if that is your thing, adds to the replayability. Otherwise, well, you’re out of luck.

Replayability Rating: Very Bad


Metro 2033 is interesting in that the difficulty never really changes. You start and end fighting the same enemies for the most part. If you are having a hard time beating an enemy, you can usually just keep running away until the next area shows up. This isn’t a good thing, and helped make Metro 2033 less enjoyable for me.

Numerous moments after I died left me wondering things like “what is the point of having a hole in the ground there?” or “really, there’s no railing so I am going to fall to my death again?” It seemed like the team at A4 Games added in some elements to make the game last longer, and merely to frustrate the player. I appreciate when a game is difficult, but there comes a point where I feel the difficulty is artificial instead of intelligent, and that hurts Metro 2033. The game could have used smarter AI to increase playtime and add to difficulty, instead it added random holes in the ground to make things harder. This seems like an easy, disappointing way out.

The little progression of difficulty I found in the game was negated by the fact that I could just run away from the enemies most of the time, and it seemed like that was an intentional design choice by the team, not just me being a wuss. I even managed to beat the game while only killing one of the two most dangerous enemies (which are the demons and the librarians). The only reason I killed a demon was because I was forced to. This isn’t a good thing. Make me stay and fight these frightening looking creatures. If not, then stick with the stealth elements throughout the game. Either way, decide what type of game you are; are you a balls-out shooter, or are you a stealth-based FPS? Metro 2033 only manages to prove that it cannot be both.

I have seenMetro 2033 selling as low as $43, and as high as $60. Either way, I don’t think you are getting enough quality for anything more than a $30 budget title. You only get about two to four hours more of a single player story than something like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, and once you’ve beaten it, it’s merely trade-in material.

Balance Rating: Awful


Oh, what could have been! The story had such a great premise, and was very original, but failed to deliver. Fighting both against other humans and against mutant creature, and “advanced life forms” is unique, but ended up being lackluster. As a first-person shooter, Metro 2033 doesn’t break too far from the mold except the lack of a HUD, which ended up being tedious after awhile. So, while Metro 2033 receives points for originality thanks to it’s great premise, desolate setting, and cool use of currency, it is still just another FPS when all is said and done.

Originality Rating: Below Average


Let’s put it this way: if I wasn’t reviewing this game, I would have stopped playing it about three chapters in when I was already tired of not knowing where to go, or what I was supposed to do. I will admit, though, that the difficult parts of the game had me coming back for more every time I died. I hated that I couldn’t get past a certain part, and didn’t want the game to win, so I kept jumping back on the proverbial saddle to try again. Once I realized I could just run past everybody, that effect quickly wore out.

There is one part that didn’t allow you to use the “run and done” technique, and that part had me returning for more punishment death after death. When the game wasn’t using easy death tactics like holes in the ground, and I felt like I was actually being genuinely challenged, I was sucked into the game. Too bad these points were so very rare.

Addictiveness Rating: Dreadful

Appeal Factor

Metro 2033 is in a unique position. It is a FPS in a time when that genre is huge, but is lacks online multiplayer. That, mixed with the fact that the single player story is lackluster, makes me believe this game will be overlooked, and mostly forgotten in a couple of months. This isn’t Bioshock, folks. Although this game should have a huge built-in fan base, it shoots itself in the foot by not delivering on story, combined with not offering any form of multiplayer.

Appeal Factor Rating: Poor


It is a very rare occurrence when the PC version of a game is supposed to be superior to the console version nowadays, but such is the case with Metro 2033. According to reports found here, the PC version is supposed to be better than the 360 version, which makes me wonder what has changed. I do not own a PC capable of gaming anymore, so I won’t be able to determine this for myself, but if you do, and are dead-set on picking this one up, I would suggest sticking to the PC version. If there were any improvements, it would be worth it (and it is probably cheaper than the console version anyway).

One thing that I enjoyed about Metro 2033, aside from all the negatives, was the tension that was built in the different areas of the Metro system. I found my heart racing while I was turning dark corners with just my flashlight, and even jumped a few times because of enemies popping up. Don’t go in expecting your favorite horror movie, but there were some tense moments in Metro 2033 that, as a horror movie fan, I thoroughly enjoyed.

Miscellaneous Rating: Decent

The Scores
Story: Poor
Graphics: Incredible
Sound: Classic
Control and Gameplay: Poor
Replayability: Very Bad
Balance: Awful
Originality: Below Average
Addictiveness: Dreadful
Appeal Factor: Poor
Miscellaneous: Decent
FINAL SCORE: Below Average

Short Attention Span Summary
You figure there is one spot a game based off a novel will excel: the story. Despite that, the story in Metro 2033 starts off well, but quickly goes awry. As much as I wanted to, there were too many gameplay problems for me to fully enjoy this title. Thanks to poor AI, annoying death traps, inconsistency in killing enemies, and an awful stumble glitch that affects gameplay, Metro 2033 is a forgettable title that even the stellar graphics and tremendous voice-over work is unable to save. If you can find Metro 2033 in the bargain bin for $20 to $30, then you might consider picking it up. Otherwise, you’ll be wishing you had your $60 back. The good news? You still have video game series like Bioshock, Dead Space, and Uncharted out there for an excellent single-player experience.



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One response to “Review: Metro 2033 (Microsoft Xbox 360)”

  1. […] making it a game that clearly didn’t impress everyone, as staff reviewer Branden Chowen was generally not a fan of the original […]

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