Welcome to The Backlog, where I talk about games that I missed playing the first time they came out, and review them in a modern context. Today, I’m going to review the post-apocalyptic tale based on the novel by Dmitry Glukhovsky: Metro 2033. Specifically, the remastered Redux edition.
With the current global situation over the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve seen huge swaths of people put in lockdown, or how some people positively phrase it: they are put in “Enhanced Community Quarantine.” I am one of those people locked up in my house for over two months now.
To pass the time in between work and general existential anxiety, I picked up a game that’ll distract me from the general state of things around me. I’m playing a game set after a nuclear war, where people have been relegated to living in the Russian underground metro system, where venturing outside runs the risk of dying from radiation or attacks from mutated monstrosities.
A Harrowing World
The world of Metro 2033 is seen through the eyes of Artyom, a survivor of World War III who grew up in the tunnels of the metro. He has not left his home station of Exhibition. He wants to see the surface. So when an opportunity for him to travel arises, he takes on the opportunity. He has to deliver a message across the metro, to a man named Miller.
Seeing the world through Artyom’s eyes is quite literal, actually – this is a first person shooter, and this perspective adds to the claustrophobia that overwhelms you when you walk along cramped tunnels, with your vision impared by darkness and you can’t see beyond a couple of feet ahead. Mutated monsters and various human factions can pop up at any moment, and you end up fumbling with the awkward controls and deplete your already-low resources to fight off yet another attack.
I’m playing the Redux version recently released on the Nintendo Switch, and the game looks stunning despite any cutbacks made to make it run on a mobile chipset. The framerate has been cut from 60 to 30 FPS, and honestly, it’s fine. This is the remastered Redux edition, with the enhanced character models, better lighting, and updated UI, but it’s still a game originally from the PS3/Xbox 360 era, and it shows. Character movements can be janky, controls can be very finicky, and collision detection is comical.
But somehow it adds to the experience of living in a hostile world where you are plunged headfirst into a situation where you have zero experience in. Of course you’d struggle with guns. Of course the dark tunnels would contain a couple of things that’ll trip you and alert enemies to your presence. It’s not a perfect excuse, though – it’s frustrating to die for the fifth time not because you made a mistake, but because you were fighting the controls.
Supply Management is the Name of the Game
Metro 2033 is a survival horror game, and this means a scant supply of ammo and just three weapon slots. Shooting indiscriminately is discouraged, not just because of the limited ammo – enemies are quick and ruthless, and reloading animations are slow and tedious, and can be interrupted by a stray input. Going out of the tunnels and into the surface means you need to put on a gas mask with filters that last just a few minutes each, and you run out of them quickly. Being in the dark means you have to turn on your flashlight, which quickly runs out of battery and you’ll end up in the awkward situation of having to charge with monsters rushing you from all sides.
I was playing on the much easier Spartan mode, which patterns the game after an action shooter where you get more ammo pickups but you have more enemies to deal with. It’s still not a cakewalk though – if you’re not careful, you’ll end up with zero bullets and a bad case of death.
If there’s one big complaint I have about this game, it’s the overwhelming amount of cutscenes and how it takes away player agency at vital points. I have to wait for my companions to open gates, or just slowly walk behind them as they shamble from point A to B while they drop vital exposition for me to listen to. But when Metro 2033 decides to stop holding my hand, it’s glorious. There are multiple sequences where you can choose to take out your enemies stealthily, or go in guns blazing. One particular long tunnel where you are caught between the crossfire of two warring factions is a major highlight for me.
It was one of the most harrowing games I’ve experienced in a while, and it certainly reminded me of the current world we’re living in. We’re in a global calamity. It gets overwhelming, and we’re way in over our heads. We don’t know what to do in this brand new world, and we’re doing our best to get by. Are we even doing enough? Is the end of the tunnel even coming?
Yet, playing Metro 2033 is cathartic. I’ve learned to embrace the clunky controls, the limited guns and ammo, my equipment continuously breaking down, and the overwhelming sense of dread to see this game till the end. I’ve adapted and survived in an apocalyptic landscape.
I hope I can do the same for our world.