At points Metro 2033's best qualities combine to produce stunning results, giving gamers some of the tensest and atmospheric sequences this generation of hardware has seen. But these moments are all too rare and the core combat feels clumsy to the point that it has a negative impact on the overall experience. While not the survival horror FPS classic it could have been, the mutant-filled disused underground tunnels of the Russian Metro system are still well worth visiting.
In 2013 the world is left devastated, with most of mankind annihilated and those who remain forced underground to escape the poisonous gas that fills the desolate wasteland. 20 years later, in Russia, mutants roam the land and colonies of humans have formed at underground Metro stations. You play as Artyom, a man born just before the apocalypse, but raised at the Exhibition underground station. After a new psychic menace is discovered, Artyom takes it upon himself to travel to the Metro's main station, Polis, to warn the inhabitants of the Dark Ones. There's more to it than this, but it's still a surprisingly simple tale - one that no doubt is nowhere near as complex as that told the novel it's based on.
This setup is perfect for some dark, creepy, atmospheric mutant blasting, and at times Metro 2033 delivers just that. 4A Games has created a game that's stunning - in places - and this is Metro's defining feature. The subdued lighting, great smoke effects and brilliant use of sound combine to make some truly terrifying moments. Part survival horror, part FPS, Metro is incredibly stingy when it comes to ammo, so your encounters with enemies (both hostile humans and mutants) are nervy affairs. You don't want to go in guns blazing, but at times it seems like the only option.
While this might sound good (and it is to a degree), the ammo shortages will frustrate many. You could argue that a lack of supplies makes every encounter tenser than they would have otherwise been, but the stealth system here is awkward, resulting in too many forced combat situations. Stock ammo, created by the inhabitants of the Metro system, is rubbish, but the good military grade stuff is so rare it's used as a currency to buy new kit. The problem is, when you're fending off waves of spawning enemies, saving these precious bullets goes out of the window in favour of just surviving.
Looting is the name of the day here. You need to search every body, every discarded gun, every open crate and all the supply cupboards to get your hands on ammo, med kits and oxygen masks. Going into gas-filled areas or into the outside requires you wear a mask, but these run out of oxygen and crack when struck by enemies. Too much exposure to the poisonous gas results in death, so it pays to have a few replacement canisters in your inventory. Perhaps due to the lack of exploration, this mechanic doesn't play as big a part as you might think. I died only once due to lack of air during my play through of the campaign, and because of this these sections don't add anything substantial to the game - it's essentially just the normal gameplay with a gas-mask graphical effect overlaid.
Things aren't helped by some imprecise combat. Fair enough, the standard ammo isn't up to much, but a shotgun blast to the face should send a human to the grave. At times mutants seem like bullet sponges, often not even reacting to being hit. Certain sections of the game end up with you circling round these beasts, getting off a shot and then circling round to their back again. It looks comical and is completely at odds with the game's gritty atmosphere. Human enemies show more sense than the mutants, but even they run around like headless chickens at times, seemingly unsure about whether to attack or take cover.