The wait for Deep Silver's Metro: Last Light has been an excruciating one over the past three years to return to a nuclear-ravaged Russia with the traumatized soldier Artyom.  Despite a shake-up in publishers (it was originally a THQ project) and a few slight delays, it's finally making its way to retail next week.

Metro: Last Light has the same team behind the 2010 release, 4A Games, at the helm once again.  This crew knows exactly how to put together a realistic, atmospheric shooter  that delivers a more breathtaking experience than the usual run-and-gun shooters that the community is used to playing.  

Its setting is just the beginning – you actually have to work for your survival by conserving ammunition and using survival tactics, like activating stempacks.  Expect to use an oxygen mask in parts of the desolated city makes it impossible to breathe and wiping the sweat off your visor so you can maintain a clear view of everything that's happening around you.

In honor of Last Light's release next week, we've decided to take a look back at the strong points of the original 2033, which can be found for around $20 or so at GameStop or other stores for Xbox 360 and you can also download it through Steam or access it through OnLive, if you subscribe to its service.  If you haven't played it yet, you don't know what you're missing.

Fighting For Your Survival Is Key

4A Games set out to make Metro 2033 much different from other typical shooters.  You'll actually want to avoid large groups of trouble whenever you can, as an enemy will easily hone in on you if you've alerted them.  Case in point – when mutants attack you, they don't do it one on one, instead coming at you in packs.  This means you have to divert your attention to whomever is the closest threat, while watching the others to see what damage they're capable of.  Considering most of Metro 2033 is pitch black save for the spare lighting you find and the flashlight you have, it just adds to the overall experience.

Is Metro 2033 a hard game?  It's a little more difficult than usual shooters, sure.  But you're promptly rewarded with a realistic approach, breathing easy for getting out of a skirmish alive and actually enthused about finding survivors in hidden camps.  It's got that survival horror kind of atmosphere, blended evenly enough with first-person shooting to click in just the right way.

You're On Your Own

With Metro 2033, you have very little to assist you over the course of your journey.  Some people prefer the comfort of a map (which you won't have) and a health readout (which isn't provided) in order to make it through a game.  But 4A's baby, relying again on that unmatched realism, really pushes you to the brink.  Rather than counting on a health meter, you have to keep an eye on your heart rate in order to avoid going into overdrive and occasionally watching for blood splatters that indicate a large chunk of health lost.  Your health does slowly recover over time if you aren't taking any damage, but sometimes you won't have such an easy opportunity to recover so stay alert.

You'll also have to dig for supplies more often than you might expect.  Since ammunition is so scarce in Russia, you'll have to loot bodies and seek out bullets.  However, there are times you'll want to conserve the better military ammunition since you can use it as currency.  Lower quality bullets can be used in their place, though they do less damage.  It just depends on what you think you need more – that comfort of survival from buying utilities or using the "good" ammunition to stay alive in your current situation.

Gas masks also play a huge part in 2033.  As we mentioned above, you need to make sure you have a secure mask getting through poisoned areas and clear your view when you absolutely need to so you don't lose sight of enemies.  Gas masks only last a few minutes at a time, so you'll need to rush to find replacements.  Believe me, there are tough areas – especially on the higher difficulty settings.

The Moral Agenda

Artyom has some hard choices to make over the course of Metro 2033 and it's inevitably up to you how things to turn out.  Over the course of the game, you'll run across prisoners that require rescuing which serves more as a secondary mission to your main task of survival.  If you leave them to die, you leave more of a negative impact overall in the game.

This leads to two inevitable endings in the game – a good one and a bad one, depending how many prisoners you save.  We won't spoil them here,as this isn't an edition of our Spoiler Alert (we'll casually mention what happens when we cover Last Light in a few weeks), but they both have interesting paths regarding what's happened in Russia and the strange beings Artyom eventually encounters.  Though other games have had better moral storytelling (like Mass Effect and its conversational wheel and decision making), 2033 does a solid job of either making you feel like a hero…or total crap.

One of a Kind…Wait, Make That Two

Metro 2033 stands out in a way unlike most first-person shooters these days, trading arcade-like situations for a dark and harrowing ride into Hell.  That's probably how it came to build such a strong fanbase and not just one based around Dmitry Glukhovsky's original novel.  It's these fans that will come to appreciate how much this world expands with Last Light when it releases this Tuesday for PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.

Meanwhile, definitely check out Metro 2033 if you can.  It's a tough cookie, but tastes oh so good…