Friday, December 17, 2010

First Impressions: "Metro 2033"

Not to sound like the sort of PC Gamer who hates each and every inch of anyone who has ever touched a console, I love the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series. I feel that they are some of the only games since Crysis that have taken the PC and truly used the potential of the lumbering gaming beast. The downfall of PC gaming isn't that it's particularly hard to develop for, it's just that if you're going to take the time and effort to make a game for one platform in this generation of gaming, you might as well bloody make it into a console game. S.T.A.L.K.E.R., on the other hand, never did that, and rather than being a slightly more polished port of a console game, it was an atmospheric, innovative, and deep look at an alternate history following the Chernobyl disaster.
Metro 2033 is by (sort of) the same developers of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and its sequels, which was enough to pique my interest in the title, but not enough to actually buy it. But since a man I respect immensely (way too much than he deserves, perhaps) put it to me that Metro 2033 is the best game of 2010, that teared it. I was going to strap on the gasmask of beefed up video-card drivers and submit myself to the post-apocalyptic horrors of the underground Russian metro.

47 minutes later, I stopped playing and went to do something else.

Now, I have an unspoken rule that any game that cannot hold my attention for very long is ultimately not worth my time. I've never accepted "it gets better later" as an excuse for a sloppy hook, which ultimately the first levels should be. If I'm not clambering for more, that game has failed. Has Metro 2033 failed to hook me in? ...well, I'm undecided. So, for what they're worth, my first impressions of Metro 2033 - and I will draw heavily on comparrisons to S.T.A.L.K.E.R., which I feel is fair...

Now, Clear Sky is possibly the best-looking PC game of the past three years, and Metro 2033 continues the tradition of painfully well-rendered locations, weapons, and characters. I can only run the bloody thing well at DX10 on High, but I did manage to pump a few frames out of DX11 on Very High and I have to say that graphically, Metro 2033 is phenomenal. And that says something, because I very rarely notice graphics anymore, unless they're particularly awful. But great graphics mean nothing without an art design to back it up - and Metro 2033 certainly has that in spades.

But here's the thing. S.T.A.L.K.E.R. benefited by having its backdrop by the iconic imagery of the Chernobyl disaster. In Metro 2033, its developers (some Russian name I can't pronounce) have created a whole new, fictional, nuclear holocaust. In this case, while the scenery is incredibly well-rendered and designed, it still lacks the eerie familiarity evident in S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Which isn't so much a bad thing, as much as it is a back-handed compliment - Metro 2033 is beautiful and surreal, but it is a completely redesigned nightmare world. S.T.AL.K.E.R. was the nightmare of a place we've all seen in photographs - Chernobyl. Metro 2033 takes place inside the metro tunnels under Moscow, which have less of an impact than the lush, radiated fields and burnt-out playground husks from S.T.A.L.K.E.R.

The weapons, however, are notably better than those in S.T.A.L.K.E.R. It borders a sort of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare-esque gun-porn feel, with elaborate reload animations and technical correctness running through the spine of the combat - but while Call of Duty is larger-than-life, Metro 2033 is notably sober. The combat is all very realistic, the reload animations not long because they're showing off their hardware like Modern Warfare so often does - they're long because that's how long it takes to bloody reload that weapon. Realism in gun combat is so often rejected in the modern shooter, in favour of Die Hard-esque over-the-top action-movie fare. Which is fun, no doubt, but ultimately tiring. Yet Metro 2033 is rather sophisticated in its shooting, adding an oft-neglected edge of tactical strategy to the gun combat. It helps with the atmosphere to no end.

So, all that's left now is to answer the question - is Metro 2033 any good? Will I keep playing it? Was the man who suggested it was the best game of 2010 correct, or was he merely insane? The answer...

so far: very promising

Metro 2033 so far is atmospheric as hell and immersive to no end. Every single part of this game is well-crafted and designed - I just hope there can be some truly "wow" moments to make use of the graphics engine, because as spooky as the abandoned Moscow and Metro tunnels beneath ground are, there isn't yet a scenic vista to rival that within the similarly-veined S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series.

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