Hindsight : Metro 2033
Cart: Metro 2033
Cab: Xbox 360 / PS3 / PC
Coin: 4A Games
2013 is sure to be a game of two halves.
On one hand we’ll all be eagerly awaiting the (probable) launch of the PS4 and Xbox3 but on the other we’ll have to make do with squeezing the last drops out of our current machines. You could easily forgive developers for putting all their eggs in the shiny new baskets but the release calendar for next year is actually shaping up to be very interesting indeed.
One title that has perhaps caught my attention more than any other is Metro Last Light. The sequel to 2010’s Metro 2033, this promises to continue with the original’s rather esoteric and claustrophobic take on the FPS action-adventure genre. Given this and the recent fire sale by THQ, it seems like an ideal juncture to look back at the original through our rose-tinted gas masks.
Rather uniquely, this is a game based on a book and I can’t help but feel that this simple fact is directly responsible for much of the game’s finer qualities. Set in a post-apocalyptic future where Moscow has been nuked and its remaining residents forced into the city’s metro systems for two decades, the plot (penned by a Russian author) drips with a deliciously sombre, heavy atmosphere and the developers (based in the Ukraine) have done a similarly brilliant job of realising this both on screen and in the palm of your hands. The book’s author, Dmitry Glukhovskiy, was an integral part of the development team and the final result has a sense of completeness and identity that few games can match.
Built upon an adapted version of the S.T.A.L.K.E.R engine, it’s fair to say that this is a game drenched in an Eastern European flavour from the foundations up and is a complete breath of fresh air as a result, even if fresh air is the last thing you’ll ever experience in the game. Free from the focus-group driven, buzzword fuelled Hollywood expectations of Western ideologies yet far grittier and familiar in tone than the slightly androgynous, manga inspired ones from the Far East, this inconspicuous gem sits comfortably and confidently in the middle of many assumptions that we take for granted in gaming today.
Taking the role of Artyom, one of the first-born after the apocalypse, you slowly make your way through the metro system on a quest to aid one of the more remote stations. A seemingly simple task in the first instance, the plot takes a good number of twists and turns and the gameplay evolves to suit. Much of the game takes place underground in eerie, dank and dark environments where enemies range from humans to mutants to beasts known only as the Dark Ones. In addition to this there are many spiritual overtones that are never fully explained but manifest in the form of apparitions and visions, some of which are playable, all of which are quite gripping. The open-ended nature of the plot leaves you begging for more. As gamers used to largely satisfying and conclusive plots, Metro 2033’s ambiguousness is a welcome change of pace and a firm nod to the Eastern roots of the game and its mythology.
An FPS at heart, Metro 2033 successfully incorporates elements of stealth gameplay and makes excellent use of real-time shadows and dynamic lighting, something than some of its more successful contemporaries have failed to embrace. Judging by the quality of both this and the Crytek engine, it makes me wonder why we put so much faith in Western ones such as the Unreal Engine that seem much less well suited to such endeavours.
The sense of immersion and foreboding in Metro 2033 is truly gripping and whilst it does have some rough edges (character animations, voice acting and textures), if you give yourself into it by cranking up the difficulty and removing the HUD, you’ll find an experience as absorbing and challenging as anything else the genre has to offer. As with Mirror’s Edge, a heavy focus has been placed upon keeping you ‘in-character’ and whilst Metro 2033 doesn’t go quite so far it’s much closer to it than your average FPS. Inspired little touches such as viewing the map held in your hand, having a zippo to see it in the dark, a hand-held dynamo to power your torch, a fragile gas mask with limited usage and ammo that can be used as currency all add up to create a game proud of its heritage and clear in its sense of direction. Couple this with razor-like controls and a lengthy and well-paced campaign and you can’t go far wrong. It’s completely devoid of multiplayer and is a about as linear as they come but it matters not, in fact it’s yet another sign of the game’s confidence in its convictions.
With Metro 2033 being one of the more forgotten gems of 2010, here’s looking forward to Metro Last Light getting the recognition it deserves in 2013.
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