If you’re on my blog, then there is a chance you are aware the primary content is book reviews. Omnivorous, I try to read things that appeal from all areas, regardless of gender, height, hair color, favorite ice cream flavor, or religion. For whatever reason, Dimitri Glukhovsky’s Metro series has escaped my notice. (Perhaps because it’s more popular in European media than American or UK?) That is, until the video game Metro 2033. Solidly blending narrative and gameplay (with a few hiccups), I’m now looking for the books.
In Metro 2033, it’s a few decades into the future and mankind has finally pushed the button, setting off a nuclear war that makes living above ground impossible for what’s left of humanity. Mutant creatures now roam the Earth, attacking people, all the while another, more ethereal threat emerges from another reality, attacking peoples’ minds. Living in a grungy metro tunnels of Moscow is Artyom. A young soldier, he aspires to be like the Hunter—one of his fellow tunnel dwellers who is a master survivor and killer of the mutants. When Hunter disappears one day, Artyom decides to try to find him.
At its nuts and bolts, Metro 2033 is a first-person shooter that blends action and horror in a linear, rpg-esque, story-based experience. With a focus on realism, there is a survival mood to the game. Ammunition is sparing. Gas masks don’t last forever and require cleaning. Certain weapons need to primed and pumped. And so on. The game does not having the pace of a turn-based strategy game, Metro 2033 nevertheless does not let the player easily move in and out of battle, blasting and hacking like Doom or Destiny. Some calculation is required—when to reload, when to go quietly and stealthily, when to look for a new gas cartridge rather than continue fighting, etc., etc.
And the storyline itself—a critical part of the game, is equally unforgiving. Bad things happen in a post-ap world. Life can be cheap. Relationships can be set aside by circumstances. And good people die. A grimdark view, Metro 2033 doesn’t go easy on Artyom, or its NPCs. Along with the aforementioned survivalist elements, there are also spikes in difficulty. I was trundling along until meeting the Nazis (yes, there are Nazis in some tunnels), and had my ass handed to me—multiple times in a row. Moreover, there is not a lot of hand-holding. Some levels require the trial and error of investigation and exploration to get through, the mission objective vague.
This leads to a compliment about Metro 2033: its realism. Yes, there are mutant things with fangs, wings, and claws. Yes, there is some weird dream fantasy stuff which distorts reality. But the human side of things, particularly the inter-human relationships and the human reaction to the fantasy/weird elements is relatable. From tribalism and many people covering their own ass before covering another, to the almost sacred/religious aspect the irradiated elements take on, from the grunge and darkness, to the scarcity of things, it’s easy for the player to immerse themselves in the game’s world. Game mechanics only add to this. Gas masks and dying batteries are just some of the things players need to regularly maintain, no magic tool available which solves all their problems.
There are some aspects of Metro 2033 that are difficult to compliment, however. One would certainly be narrative flow and consistency. There are times that levels feel like isolated rays of imagination rather than chapters in an evolving story. This tunnel has Nazis, this one cult members, this one yadda yadda yadda. There is a semi-coherence to the whole given that Artyom is chasing after the hunter, in theory. But the sum is only partially greater than the parts—individual levels often holding more weight than the overarching story.
There is something about Metro 2033 Redux that would have a part of me inclined to say it’s the first cousin of The Last of Us. But I think that would be doing the game a disservice. The two hold a number of things in common (post-apocalypse, mutants attacking leftover humans, linear levels with upgrades, humans forming tribal groups, etc., etc.), but Metro 2033 is its own thing. This is primarily driven by the underground setting, but I think it’s fair to say that Metro 2033 is also more of a horror/adventure game than the realist, utilitarian experience which The Last of Us is. Like one, however, and there is a chance the other also appeals. Now to find those books…