The FPS market is immensely successful but it's also immensely full, so the first question on anybody's mind has to be: "How can Metro 2033 stand out from the crowd?"
No wait, let's be honest, the real question is: "How can Metro 2033 possibly stretch it's neck beyond the shadow of Infinity Ward's Modern Warfare?"
First of all, the story, which is an adaptation from one of those clever word books by Russian author Dimitry Glukhovsky. The year is 2033 (obviously) and the setting is a post-apocalyptic Moscow. Russia was bombed by the west, the nuclear fallout destroyed the o-zone layer and any survivors were forced to live beneath the surface in the underground Metro system, with pockets of people living in communities in the stations. You play as Artyom, living in your home station, 'VDNKh' or 'Exhibition'. Life is cramped and squalid, but by and large safe as long as you stay where you are.
The problem is you can't stay where you are. People have to go to the surface for supplies and although you're protected from the sun by a suit and you can counteract the toxic air with a gas mask, there's always a mutant or two waiting to gnaw you. First Person Shooters tend to revolve around shooting waves of soldiers, waves of aliens, or waves of alien-soldiers and in that respect Metro follows the pack.
There are two types of mutants; pterodactyl-like beasts in the sky or massive four-legged things with skin like tar and teeth that you don't want anywhere near your face. Worse still these mutants tend to find their way into the tube system, making anywhere but the Station-Cities a risk. As if that wasn't enough, hard line Nazi and Communist bandits control some stations and they're more than happy to open fire on intruders. The final layer on this cake of death is a new foe known only as 'The Dark Ones', a mutant with psychic abilities allowing them to kill you without touching you. They're the Derren Brown's of death.
After a short orientation prologue segment, the story flashes back and begins eight days later as you prepare to venture out of the safety of the station to Polis, the biggest community in the underground, to warn them of the new threat 'The Dark Ones' pose.
Here's where Metro starts to stand out. Artyom wakes up in the station and from there you're free to wander through the narrow corridors and the low-lit rooms. There's a real community here. People squeeze past, hang washing on lines. You'll see a woman chopping and cooking and a man talking with his son. Further along there's a bar, a dining hall, a group sitting around a fire, one of them playing a guitar. You can listen in on all of their conversations, and although they sometimes all bleed into one, with distance and volume not always proportionate, it means the whole place feels alive. There are remnants of Half-Life 2 here and the atmosphere has a Fallout feel, except it's tight and cluttered, and the people feel organic whereas Fallout was sprawling and somewhat static. The visuals are detailed and lush, if a little rough around the edges in places (it's clearly a PC port). Regardless of a few blemishes, Metro makes you feel part of something real.
To the armoury: a stand alone stall with a home-made shooting range, where you buy, upgrade and barter for weapons and med kits before settting off to the track where a small team are waiting to venture into the tube. The navigation system contributes to the feeling of really living in Artyom's body. There's no need to break the illusion with pause screens and menus to get to your map, the back button brings up a Far Cry style journal with a compass that points in the direction of your next objective.