Metro 2033: Plot and Gameplay
The book and the game have the same protagonist called Artyom. And his goal is just as simple as that of most other heroes – in Fallout, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and now in Metro 2033. He must save the world. Living at the VDNKh station, the hero has to make a trip to a kind of the capital of the subway system that is called Polis and occupies four stations. This is where the cultural, military and spiritual elite of the underground world is. Besides everything else, they are busy studying pre-war books since one of the stations of the Polis is the Lenin Library. The primary goal of the hero is to find out if the Polis people can help VDNKh with the problem of the Dark Ones – mutants that are making attacks on the neighboring station. The mysterious Hunter goes first on this mission, getting Artyom’s word to go to Polis if Hunter himself doesn’t turn up the next day. It also transpires that Artyom was the cause of the Dark Ones as he had accidentally opened up a hermetic gate separating the neighboring station from the rest of the word some 10 years ago. Radiation breeds aggressive mutants – that’s the rule of the genre established by Fallout and carried on by S.T.A.L.K.E.R.
The Hunter doesn’t return and Artyom joins his friend who’s going in a party to the Rizhskaya station to lay out a phone cable and negotiate on joining it to VDNKh. Odd and inexplicable things occur to the party members on the way, Metro 2033 resembling the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series with its anomalies here. Still, the hero gets to the goal of the journey where he is asked to serve as a guide to the Sukharevskaya station. And then the story begins to unfold rapidly. We won’t tell you the whole plot. Suffice to say, the original novel released in 2005 has been a bestseller translated into dozen languages and published in over half a million copies. This makes up for a huge background worthy of a video game. The author Dmitry Glukhovsky hadn’t planned anything like that, of course, when he was contacted by a S.T.A.L.K.E.R. developer who suggested to use Metro 2033 as the literature source for a post-apocalyptic project. The writer agreed. The resulting game was officially released on March 16 in the USA and Germany and on March 19 in the other regions of the world.
Besides conveying the book’s original atmosphere, the game developers focused on technical innovations. Metro 2033 runs on 4A Games’ proprietary multi-platform engine codenamed 4A. It has nothing to do with the X-Ray engine installed into the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series projects and offers a broad range of features including:
- Advanced HDR with exposition adaptation and tonal shift that bring the image closer to the specifics of human vision.
- Advanced deferred shading that allows using hundreds of light sources in complex scenes.
- Fully dynamic lighting with special shaders.
- Accurate rendering of shadows and half shadows including complex-surface objects. Translucent shadows.
- Dynamic weather modeling including god’s rays effect and true-to-life light dispersion.
- Volumetric fog and lighting.
- Global lighting and dynamic reflections in real time.
- Parallax Occlusion Mapping and real-time geometric displacement maps.
- Hierarchal per-pixel invisible object clipping.
- Real-time color correction, depth of vision and film grain effects.
- Realistic blur of moving objects.
- Deferred reflections increasing the realism of such objects as water, glass, etc.
- Ambient Occlusion, both pre-rendered and real-time.
- Analytic antialiasing and deferred supersampling.
- Multi-core CPU optimizations.
- Per-pixel lighting, albedo, soft particles, etc.
- 3D stereo mode support.
That’s impressive indeed and we wonder if today’s GPUs can handle all this stuff. We’ll check this out soon enough. Right now, let’s learn more about the engine. Besides the advanced graphical capabilities, the 4A engine implements a complex physics model based on PhysX technologies. It can use any means possible to calculate physical effects: CPU cores, Ageia accelerators, Nvidia’s GeForce series cards. The following features are supported:
- Processing of material physics for all surfaces.
- Composite structures support.
- Destroyable environment.
- Behavior simulation for fabrics and liquids.
- Soft body physics.
- Physically accurate behavior of smoke, wreckage, etc (only with a hardware PhysX accelerator)
So, the developers have something to be proud about here but the brave experiments with the physical model can bring Nvidia’s solutions to their knees by utilizing some of the GPU resources for physical computations. We will see in our practical tests if this is indeed so.
Metro 2033 is positioned as a survival shooter with RPG elements, but in a few minutes of playing it we realized that the game did not have much RPG, actually. In fact, it is a regular first-person shooter, although without such typical elements as health and ammo indicators. This makes the game more realistic, but still you do get all the necessary info when you need it, including subtitles. There is a small crosshair sight which is enough to aim properly. The visuals are impressive, especially the fanciful play of light in the dimly lit underground stations. Despite being a multiplatform project, the PC version of the game has highly detailed textures, as opposed to many other multiplatform games whose developers reduce the quality of textures without any scruples.
Alas, Metro 2033 has linear levels because it follows the novel closely. The subway system itself does not give you much freedom: your movements are naturally limited by the tunnels and stations. Occasionally, the protagonist goes up to the surface to take a look at the dark sky of the nuclear winter.
You won’t find sunlit lawns in Fallout 3, either, but Metro 2033 is an even gloomier world, which is another point for a survival horror game. It abounds in stealth opportunities. You can destroy any light source that prevents you from moving stealthily. When in darkness, you can easily kill all the enemies who cannot see you unless equipped with night vision devices.
You won’t be able to carry lots of weapons with you as you did in the good old Doom. You can have a gun, a knife, one of the more serious weapons, grenades and custom-made weapons. Again, there is little of RPG in Metro 2033 but a lot of traits of a well-made post-apocalyptic shooter.
We now only have to check out how demanding this shooter is in terms of hardware. Its Xbox 360 version is simpler, but the PC one is not, despite the developer’s claim that weak configurations are supported, too. Let’s check this out right now.