Living in the subway system of a post-apocalyptic Moscow wouldn't be such a bad thing if everything was this pretty.
I'm sure I could cope with it. Metro 2033's dank tunnels are covered in a glistening sheen: it looks as though if you ran your finger across a masonry surface, it'd end up covered in thick grime.
No time to sit and marvel at the artfully distressed environments though - dawdle in the maze of tunnels under Russia's capital, and you'll become a snack for one of the hyper-aggressive mutants that also call the subway systems home. Or, if you're really unlucky, you'll find yourself at the mercy of the Dark Ones, described by some of the grizzled tunnel dwellers as 'Homo Novus' - new humans. Creepy.
I started the game in the relative safety of a subway station.
Re-tooled to house survivors after the apocalypse, Metro 2033's stations are its cities, hubs of activity where pre-catastrophe, military grade bullets are currency and everyone talks at once. My introduction to this environment was a hospital ward full of semi-eviscerated or insane soldiers. In making me tiptoe through this section of dying comrades, developers 4A have set the game's tone effectively. Later, as I exited through the station's hulking gate that kept the monsters out, I found myself hovering at the door, unwilling to enter the darkness where ghouls could separate a man from his spleen quite so efficiently.
While standard mutants are scary - I say standard, an eight foot wingspan and teeth like knives isn't really 'standard' - it's the Dark Ones that really look to spook. The first third of the early version I played doesn't contain much direct contact with the creatures, but with a number of unexplainable phenomena in the tunnels, and occasional glimpses of languid, gangly-limbed figures striding around on Moscow's blasted streets; they remain an underlying, unnerving presence.
Following an AI partner down a tunnel, we were forced to duck into a side-alley by a swarm of hungry mutants. Coming out in an impromptu underground graveyard - bodies lay all around in states of decomposition, a gate at one end - my character started to hallucinate. The screen was washed in a blue tinge, the Dark Ones showing me a vision of the same spot in some future, and making my partner sing uncontrollably. Few things are spookier than a heavily accented Russian singing songs about doors.
Bursting through the room's gate threw me out onto the streets of Moscow. The landscape is twisted; metal and wood entwining overhead as cracks in the pavement lead to radioactive pools of water below. The player character remarks it's his first time in the outside world, having been raised underground, but before I had time to get acclimatised to the new-look surroundings, I had to duck back behind cover as a 'demon' flew overhead. Stay in the open or the light, and a little LED on your wrist blinks red. Yellow indicates you might be seen, while green is the all clear. Ducking from the flying menace, I checked my watch and its handy hide-o-meter. It was green, and I was safe for the moment. The watch is viewed with a keypress, but if you want to look at it, you won't be able to shoot a weapon at the same time. It's a beautifully organic system, replicated in the game's quest log: rather than a pause menu, detracting from the immediate action, your character carries a clipboard with his pressing engagements noted on it. Too dark to read? Press the left mouse button, and you'll flip your lighter on to ease your strained eyes.