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Why Metro 2033 is the Best Game Ever
by Chris Hawke

"Best Game Ever" is totally subjective and will vary depending on personal opinion.

Russia is so cool. Admit it. Put your patriotic views on the Cold War to one side for the moment; if you wanted awesome, the Soviet Union was the place to be.

Nothing quite raises the hairs on the back of your neck like an epic piece of Russian Propaganda. No one can rock a coat like Vladimir Lenin. Never can the effortless creepiness of the Cult Of Stalin posters be matched. The ideology and politics are great (who doesn't like equality and comradery?!), but it was that atmosphere, that art style, that incredibe uniqueness that makes it truly stunning. And that's exactly what makes Metro 2033 the best game ever.

Metro 2033 is made in Ukraine. It was a part of the USSR way back, if you didn't know. The 'satellite states', to this day adorned with proud red and cold steel statues, still haven't shrugged off the damning effect Communism had on their countries; and poverty, unhappiness and vodka is rife. If America were in that situation, there would be revolts. If the UK were in that situation, there would be uproar. What do Eastern Europeans do? Stick their chest out, stoically survey their landscape and create some of the best literature, films and games the world has ever seen. And wear super awesome coats.

Metro 2033 is the very embodiment of the Soviet Spirit. Vast kudos has to go Dmitry Glukhovsky for his excellent book (immediately get your respectively translated version online right now), but words are just words, whereas games suck you in and put you directly in the experience. Set in the nuclear-proof Moscow Metro, the tunnels are the very embodiment of Stalin's reign of terror; claustrophobic, terrifying, dangerous and unavoidable. The endless darkness, unknown power and evil secrets represent the Russia of that period. You can go into as much detail of what represents what as you want, but at the end of the day, it's about the atmosphere. And Metro 2033 has the best atmosphere ever.

Yep. Even better than S.T.A.L.K.E.R, but only due to the massive graphical improvement. Crysis can go stick it: Metro has the best lighting in any game. Torches pierce the thick silence, kerosene lamps illuminate with a sickly orange flare, while the Moscow sunlight is as white and crisp as it is deadly. Dust hangs in the air, survivors' faces are wrinkled and harrowed, weapons are held together by string and tape; never has such in-depth and precise attention to detail been shown. Everything looks scared, in retreat, battered and broken - even the mutants look unhappy. The subtle points threaten to get lost in the total immersion it provides; gas masks freezing up due to lack of air and breathing slowly becoming heavier seems as natural and as the distant echoes of gunfire and shrieks. When you're not even noticing deft elements like those, it goes to show how totally involving the atmosphere created is. Nowhere in gaming will you feel as you do when there's 2 minutes of air left, screen covered in cracks and splits, cowering in a darkened Moscow apartment as footsteps of unknown beasts tread softly around you. It's brilliant.

From a gameplay perspective, Metro 2033 once again nails it. Weapons feel powerful, and loud enough to split Vin Diesel's ears. Monsters were hauntingly acrobatic, and looked pure evil without resorting to cliché. 4A Games did an incredible job of parrying boredom: one minute you'd be shooting creatures in the sewers, then trying to decipher an abrupt hallucination, only to sneak round a Nazi camp silently picking off guards, before finally crawling into the sunlight and surviving in the frozen wastes of Russia. The game changed objective, tempo, and setting often enough to keep you hooked for hours on end.

Of course, it isn't perfect. Two criticisms I had when I first played was that it was too short, and that enemies soaked up too much damage (anyone remember the Amoeba Spores in D6? I still have nightmares). Both of those were rectified on my second playthrough. Please, reader, if you have the game, put in back in your system and start a new game on 'Realistic' difficulty. Metro 2033 is one of those dying breeds that, on the highest level of difficulty, not only means you take less damage, but enemies do too. It's incredible. Nazis and beasts only take a handful of shots to kill, making the fighting so much more deadly and so much less frustrating. And, of course, you've got to be more careful than ever. I'm very happy to admit that Metro 2033 on realistic was one of the best few days of gaming I've ever had. You'll agree, I'm sure.

This is why the announcement of Metro 2034 (in 3D, no less) is even sweeter. Not only do we get to revisit this wonderful and chilling universe again, but we'll get to iron out the minor flaws (stealth was slightly botched, as enemies would somehow instinctively know where you were at random points). Also, the Librarian section, while amazing in theory (having to stand down a hulking beast and not running away/shooting it? Awesome), sometimes they'd just come at you and strike you down for no reason. Just a quick fix and Metro 2034 has the ability to become the GOTY.

For now, play Metro 2033 while swilling pure ethanol and wearing a kick-ass coat. Because it's just so damn good.

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- Chris Hawke

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