Hands-on: Metro 2033

To say that our first experience behind the controls of THQ and 4a Games' post-apocalyptic Metro 2033 was "atmospheric" would be a bit of an understatement. To its credit, THQ picked a pretty neat venue for its hands-on event: A basement room of a San Francisco nightclub that looked kinda like an underground bunker. Pumping it full of fake fog and live DJ tunes, though -- not the most conducive environment for seeing or hearing a game.

Still, play we did, and though we only got a chance to take in the first couple of levels, we're getting a good (note: we didn't say "great") vibe from what we'd actually classify as "first-person post-apocalyptic survival-horror."
%Gallery-84705% Our play session actually covered a lot of the same (virtual) ground as our first (hands-off) look at the game from last November, specifically the player's introduction to some of the mutated beasts roaming Moscow and the tunnel cart sequence. Outside the environment of a controlled demo, we got a good feel for the basics of movement, using a gas mask outdoors and a headlamp when needed (along with the handheld crank generator used to recharge it). Making our way through the first area, an abandoned surface building, was fairly routine -- then the jump-scares commenced.

It was very much a horror movie moment -- surrounded by enemies, many of which we couldn't see, we found ourselves firing blindly, hoping to hit one.

The dog-like mutants we'd seen during our first look at the game broke through into the building's foyer, pounding on us from every direction. It was very much a horror movie moment -- surrounded by enemies, many of which we couldn't see, we found ourselves firing blindly, hoping to hit one. We survived and headed outside into the nuclear winter to rendezvous with some fellow Metro dwellers. Soon we were caught in the midst of a stampeding pack of the beasts, again overwhelmed to the point of firing at where they seemed to be and blasting the ones who were gnawing on our comrades.

Next thing we knew, we woke up in our room in the Metro and were taken on a tour of "home" by a friend -- the purpose of this sequence was clearly to show off the game's rich atmosphere (people going abut their business, some playing guitars, some running various stalls, and so on) and it was very effective. This is a pretty game.

The end of our tour saw us introduced to Hunter, a badass who'd just returned from scouring the surface for valuable pre-nuke loot. We'd liked to have heard more from him, but, wouldn't you know it, the same mutant "mutts" from earlier busted into the room and (wait for it) we had to shoot in every direction hoping to hit one. Really, this again?



We wrapped up by navigating through the Metro station unescorted, using a pop-up clipboard with objective notes and a compass (reminiscent of Far Cry 2's map) to reach our destination. It was the rail cart from our first look at the game. We hopped in and felt very much like we were on a theme park ride, needing to take the scary, forbidden tunnel since the nice, usual route was inexplicably closed. Surely nothing could go wrong, yeah? Then they were there: the muto-mutts. They were easier to shoot this time around, since they were coming at us from a single direction, every now and again leaping onto the cart so we could stick a shotgun in their "faces" and blast them off. Still -- more mutts, more shooting.

You're undoubtedly seeing a recurring theme here. Explore, ambush, explore, ambush, and so on. We know from our earlier look at the game that there are human enemies from other Metro stations and that stealth does play a part in the game, but at least for the first 90 minutes or so it's a shooting gallery -- admittedly a very moody, scary and pretty one. So, we're impressed by Metro 2033's atmosphere thus far, but we'll obviously need to sit down with our own copy to determine if there's going to be more to it than frenzied creature attacks and buying supplies using bullets (hey, it's a pretty clever currency).

This article was originally published on Joystiq.