Last week THQ flew a group of game journalists out to San Fransisco to check out Metro 2033, their upcoming first person shooter. The game is based on a book by Dmitry Glukhovskyx which has sold very well in Russia and will be available in the US later this month.
Set in the post apocalyptic future the game covers the tale of those who survived the blast by hiding in Russia’s vast subway system. It is now two decades after the bomb blast and each station in the subway system has become a city state with its own political system and governing politics. The stations trade amongst themselves but relations are a bit icy given the diversity of world views as you'll run into everything from Neo-Nazi’s to Neo-Communists. For those of you who have never seen the Russian subway system it's a thing of beauty. Each station has it's own theme and artwork and is kept in near pristine condition. The stations are also buried deep underground so they could serve as a refuge against nuclear attack during the cold war. How deep you might ask? Well it takes you about 10 minutes via escalator to get from one platform to the surface.
You play Artyom, an orphan who was taken down into the subway after his mother and father were killed in the blast. Now a young adult he is finding out that he is a bit special. Like all games, you play the special character in the game because playing the guy who knows the special guy or the special guy's best friend isn't exactly a fun experience. The shelters have been under attack by the creatures who were mutated in the blast. Recently a race known as the "Dark Ones" has started to attack but instead of tearing apart the flesh of a person they attack the mind, leaving quivering bodies that rant and rave for three days before dying. Some of the survivors have called the Dark Ones the next version of humans but as one of the main mysteries of the game you'll find out why Artyom is the only one who is resistant to their attacks.
After playing for the game for about three hours I was left some definite impressions from the current build of the game. The first is how well written the game is. The characters feel fleshed out with real motivation that is expressed through fantastic dialogue. The world also feels rich and deep, even for a post-apocalyptic game. While Fallout 3 adds a bit of humor to the game to keep things light the world of Metro 2033 is bleak and depressing. There’s a real sense of hopelessness and oppression that permeates every crack of the game. Take the oppression of Half Life 2's City 17 and triple that if you're close to the level of gravitas in Metro 2033.
The second thing that stuck out about the game is how hard it is. I played the game on the Normal difficulty and hit several parts of Metro 2033 that were nearly controller throwing levels of frustration. At first I thought it was just me and that being up since 3:30AM for the early flight to San Fran had impaired my judgment but talks with some of the other journos and some of the PR folks confirmed that I wasn’t the only one having issues. Another indicator of the difficulty is that I couldn’t find anyone who completed the demo which is a bit odd as we were only given the first two to three hours of the game to play and four hours to play it in.
The biggest reason why the game is so difficult is because bullets serve as the game’s currency and are scarce in the early parts of the game. Sure you can scavenge it off some of the fallen enemies but it was a major shift in philosophy from most other FPS games where ammo is handed by the truck full. Instead of spraying and praying I found myself waiting until enemies were closer and I could guarantee that I would hit something rather than just pointing the aiming reticle in the general direction and praying that the bullets found their mark.
Complicating this is that there are two types of ammunition in the game. You have pre-blast manufactured ammunition which is of much higher quality and delivers more damage and is more accurate. On the other side is the hand made ammunition which is much more plentiful but not nearly of the same quality. There's a conversion system between the two but I didn't spend a lot of time trying to figure it out.
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