In a world where the entertainment industry is developing so rapidly, with the games industry as a big part of that, I find it strange that so much of said entertainment is so remarkably bland. Many ‘new’ games we see today are copy pasted with the exact same gameplay formulas and some slightly improved models and textures. We’ve been treated to the ‘delight’ that is Call of Duty for years now and with every instance it becomes more and more evident that Activision is merely banging the proverbial drum rather than truly innovating and coming up with something not only polished but exciting and new too. Take also, for example, the rampant simulator trend that has been growing over the last couple of years. Apparently all it takes to create a game concept is to “INSERT NAME OF GENERIC OBJECT HERE” and add simulator to the end of it. This trend is of course not a problem that lies solely in any particular franchise or specific type of game (hell it’s not even a problem just with the games industry) but in the entire entertainment industry as a whole. However, now and then you find rare glimpses of games that stand out far and above the rest.
Metro: 2033 and Metro: Last Light are not your conventional first person shooters. In fact they are to the FPS genre as Picasso is to art. If you take a glance at them they aren’t true representations of the real world. In fact, they’re some kind of strange fantasy but if you dare to look a little deeper, you’ll find them more grounded, atmospheric and expressive than anything else around.
First off, the Metro series is a creation of Russian author Dmitry A. Glukhovsky. He wrote the books Metro 2033 and Metro 2034 which the two games are based on respectively. They are both the story of one man’s journey through post-apocalyptic Russia and the story of the changing Metro. The storytelling in these games, whilst adapted, is incredible. It makes for a tight but well-crafted experience with the pacing on point too. The game gives you little bits of information as to the wider goings on in the world if you pause to listen, keeping you interested and in the know, but if you wish to forge ahead however the game lets you only take heed of what’s happening in the protagonist’s story directly. There is not only choice with taking in the story and lore; you can also choose, with a fair amount of flexibility, how to approach various combat situations. You can go through both games choosing not to kill any humans at all if you so wish. You can be ruthless and kill every last one too. You can kill them loud or you can kill them quiet. You can be a blade in the dark, a bolt from the blue or simply a barrage of lead but the choice is yours; what weapons to take, how to use them and when to use them are all things you get to decide. In Last Light and the Redux versions of both you even get to choose what modifications are on your guns (The original 2033 had guns come with static mods that couldn’t be changed). This makes for surprisingly varied gameplay and a decent level of replayability for a story driven series.
With this choice in play style also comes a further choice in difficulty. Fortunately like so many games it does not have the bad habit of trivially increasing enemy health as it rises. You can choose to play the game on easy, normal or hardcore. Each increase in difficulty makes ammo more scarce, resources harder to find and prices steeper. Being conservative is key. Enemies naturally do far more damage on hardcore and combined with a lack of resources it makes it quite the challenge.
Then there’s ranger mode split into two difficulties: Ranger Easy and Ranger Hardcore. Now, with the Ranger modes 4A Games have endeavoured to make the experience all the more realistic. Starting with Ranger Easy it removes the crosshairs from the HUD no longer allowing you to hip fire effectively, halves the max amount of ammo you can carry, makes weapons do around 3 times more damage making you more effective with your severely limited supplies but also increasing the damage enemies can dish out, oh and did I mention those limited supplies are limited further by the fact that any ammo you do actually find will usually only be one to five rounds per pick up? If this wasn’t enough then Ranger Hardcore ups this difficulty once more by making everyone and everything a glass cannon and also by completely disabling the HUD. That’s right. No more ammo count. No more key/button reminders. No hints. No nothing. It leaves you in the cold dark tunnels of the sprawling Metro and forces you to do everything visually. You can see just how many rounds you have loaded by looking at your gun. You can see how many medkits are left by looking at the box whilst you use one. However, pausing for this during a firefight, where one wrong move ends in death, is suicide. It truly keeps you on your toes. It’s tense and scary, sometimes annoying but all 100% atmospheric.
And that is Metro in a nutshell. It’s a game that wants you to be tense. It wants to be played on the hardest difficulty because that’s the best way to experience it. It is immersive in all that it does, from the gas mask slowly misting as your breathing gets heavy due to the filter running out, to the darkness that is truly dark. When these things come together, playing Metro is a wonderful experience. It feels like you’re a part of the world and that kind of immersive game, where attention to detail is everything for those making it, is something I want more of.