Why Metro 2033 is my Game of the Year

So far this year, there’s only one game that stands out and that is Metro 2033. It’s a little foreign title by 4A games, perhaps described as a deviated linear S.T.A.L.K.E.R, some of the same developers and tech are knitted together to create Metro. But what it makes it truly stand out is the way it tackles just about every game design philosophy that’s been set in stone. It’s shifted into Far Cry 2 levels of immersion but breaks walls from time to time to give breathing room. The game starts off with wobbly mechanics and horrible writing but sort of slides into a high quality romp through the deadness of the world.

The firefights are to be admired, since they remind me heavily of the Big Daddy fights from Bioshock. They’re crammed with tension, you can’t run and gun in the game otherwise you’re gonna get six feet under. There’s something to be said when a game makes you feel like you’re in a firefight, and you have to use cover more so than you do in a cover-based shooter. Ammo and resources are scarce, which adds flavour to the currency system in the game. You exchange pre-war bullets for weapons, home-made ammo and gadgetry; but the pre-war bullets do heavy damage. There was a section in the game in which I ran out of home-made ammo and had to use up all of my money. It’s sort of a new element of survival horror, except the horror is more psychological (which it should be, as fear is only what we imagine).

The story is taken from the novel its based on, and from what I can tell, daaaaaamn! The game goes from horribly written to best friends in tunnels to scary scary oh my god to gotta get dem rockets to a very satisfying conclusion. The choices in the game require actual sacrifice of resources or turning down empowerment in favour of being dis-empowered. It’s not alike Bioshock where it all evens out in the end, you will struggle by taking the ‘kinder’ path. The ending is ambiguous too, it’s not a kill everyone/kill no-one. It’s more of a… I don’t wanna spoil it. It’s VERY ambiguous.

The game feels trapped in its only gameplay mechanics (which, alike its environments, trapped in the metro system). The David versus Goliath mentality, survival of the fittest (which the narrative reflects literally). In most modern shooters it’s about progression with empowerment but in Metro 2033 it’s a stale colour of sliding from rags to less rags. It’s not really that much of a pretty game graphically, but the art style has to be appreciated. Once in a while after journeying out of the ruddy Metro (where most of the game happens) you’ll come across a high point in the map and through your cracked gas-mask and through the snowstorms, you see a flicker of a building. A flicker of the dead Moscow. It’s haunting and more subtle than giving you the fucking Washington Monument to explore in Fallout 3, it’s a damn lot more effective.

Its ideas of player identity are akin to that of Modern Warfare 2 of all games. It shares the player character with the narrative, having him being the core narrator but not narrating when the player is in  control. The story has twists and turns which adds duality into the mix, Artyom (the main guy) being ‘the character’ and Artyom being ‘the player’. The game never stops throwing ideas in your face, there is always something new in every level from Weeping Angels (from Doctor Who) alike enemies to a trek down into the depths of a missile complex. The development of this game must have been a love/hate relationship, it is screaming of indie but there’s a giant stench of mainstream sensibility.

The only downside to Metro 2033 is that the fundamentals aren’t there. The shooting is wibbly wobbly, some of the elements deserve a little polish and the music should be non-existent. Other than that, game of the freakin’ year. It’s without a doubt the most innovative shooter of 2010.

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