I've been meaning to write more review type stuff, so I'm going to kick off with a game that I finished earlier this month: Metro 2033.
I'm sure by now many of you have read reviews all over the place about this title, so I'll keep some of the rehash to a minimum.
You play as an inhabitant of post-apocalyptic Moscow, where the surface has been radiated to hell by nuclear weapons and is ravaged by all sorts of nasty mutant creatures. The surviving humans have created an underground world in the city's subway tunnels with stations ranging from small 'truck-stops' to full out military bases. Your 'village' - and many others - has recently been the target of attacks from a new, unknown threat known as the Dark Ones or Anomalies. You are tasked with traveling to the surviving military installation and requesting their aid in confronting this new threat.
The gameplay is a mix between FPS, scavenge, lite-RPG, strategy and stealth. What's nifty about all of these elements, is that you are not required to do them all, but rather they are options in how to approach different scenarios presented throughout the course of the game. This is a nice feature since the overall game is very linear, so it's nice to be able to choose stealth over run-and-gun in certain situations. The RPG elements come in form of weapons upgrades, as well as a few decisions throughout the game related to NPC characters that can affect which of two endings you get in the finale. The economy is based on ammunition, with high quality military grade ammo catching the most loot - but it also does the most damage against enemies when used in your guns. So there is the strategy: do you use your military ammo and be a powerhouse weapons specialist? Or do you save to buy critical weapon/ammo/armor upgrades to increase your survivability? Since this is post-apocalypse, there are plenty of dead bodies and piles of rubble to sift through to find loot to go towards the cause. The game definitely skews towards being more stealthy as the weapons you are using are either worn out, inaccurate or weak. Because of this, the shooting is a bit nerfed when compared to other FPS games, but it makes sense in the grand scheme of the world they built.
The design is where this game really shines. What it lacks in gunplay it makes up in spades with atmosphere. 4A Games have made a fully realized universe that immerses you in humanity's struggle to survive in a post-nuclear world. Each station that you visit has a unique feel and reflects the inhabitants who dwell there. And there are many inhabitants: regular folks, military, Reds, Nazis, ghosts, monsters. Oh my! The graphics are great, the voice-acting - while it suffers from slightly cheesy and off-base Russian accents - is excellent and well done, and the writing/story is engaging and mysterious. You can spend plenty of time just wandering certain stations and eavesdropping on conversations that folks are having to really flesh out the canvas that this game has been painted on. One particular aside that really hit home was a comment about the Reds and the Nazis: "I once heard that the Nazis were in a war with the Reds but they lost that one." A clear reference to WWII. The NPC characters that accompany you from time to time are also well written and each have their own unique personality. While they rely on classic tropes - the selfish bounty hunter, the mystical loner, the gruff military man - they are all well written.
Another element that increases the immersion is the gas mask. There are several areas throughout Metro 2033 that require you to filter out nasty toxins that are leftovers from the holocaust. When you put on your mask, your vision gets a bit blurred as you're looking through plastic lenses, and like Dead Space, your hearing gets muted and overpowered by your muffled breathing from inside the mask. As your filter wears out, the lenses get foggy with your labored breathing, and if you take damage in combat, the faceplate gets cracked, thus forcing you to forage for a new mask or suffer certain death.
As a testament to the immersion of this game, Nvidia is apparently using it as a demo for their 3D products, and there are plans to re-release Metro 2033 in 3D form, a la Batman GOTY edition.
I'd definitely recommend this game, as it's a unique shooter with an engaging story and engrossing atmosphere, as well as the recently announced sequel, Metro 2034. If you're on a budget, it's definitely a renter. I played through the campaign twice (to get both endings) in a 5 day period, and maxed out the full 1000GS to boot. They recently released a DLC pack which added new weapons, 'Ranger Mode' (which removes the HUD from the screen to increase the immersion of the experience) and and handful of new achievements. This can add a little bit of replayability, but not much as there is no multi-player.