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Metro 2033

Entry updated 26 June 2019. Tagged: Game.

Videogame (2010). 4A Games. Designed by Andrew Prokhorov, Vyacheslav Aristov. Platforms: Win, XB360.

Metro 2033 is a First Person Shooter with something of the threatening ambience of a Survival Horror game, based on Dmitry Glukhovsky's original novel, Metro 2033 (2002; trans 2010). Following an apocalyptic global war, humanity is almost extinct. A few survivors linger in the remains of the Moscow subway system, ineluctably aware that they may be the last of their species. The Metro is a world lit by the red glow of emergency lighting, where the only currency is the superior prewar grade of ammunition. Below ground, the crowded stations fight pointless battles in the names of the obsolete ideologies which rule their tiny societies. Above, there is only deadly radiation, unending Nuclear Winter and the mysterious "Dark Ones", Mutants who may represent the next step in human Evolution. At the start of the game its protagonist has agreed to travel through the subterranean wilderness of the disintegrating Metro system to its centre, where he must warn the greatest of the stations of the threat posed by the Dark Ones' Psionic powers. This odyssey takes the player through a world of almost constant combat, where they must fight both human soldiers and packs of degenerate, animalistic mutants.

The game offers a detailed and convincing visualization of its dark and melancholy world. Its characters, however, are largely indistinguishable; almost universally, they act as either icons of suffering humanity or rough, manly comrades for the player. While the subway contains various caricatures of prewar ideologies, from Nazis to Communists to free-market capitalists, they are sketchily drawn; the player is generally unable to communicate with members of these micro-societies, but must instead try to eavesdrop on their conversations with each other. Gameplay is well crafted but generally difficult, with much time spent scavenging for scarce resources such as bullets and gas-mask filters, in an environment which is perhaps overly dark. Unexpectedly for an Interactive Narrative, Metro 2033 begins with a flashforward to the finale. As this suggests, the majority of the plot is highly linear. At the end, however, there are two possible branches. Typically, the player will reach a conclusion in which the Dark Ones are destroyed by prewar missiles controlled from a hidden bunker in the subway system. If, however, the player has taken a morally superior path through the game – by refusing rewards offered for saving innocents, by listening to the appeals of suffering tunnel dwellers, by avoiding conflict whenever possible – then it will be revealed that the Dark Ones are actually attempting to communicate Telepathically with the humans rather than to drive them mad; the player is then offered a final chance to abort the missile attack. The nature of the game's moral universe is thus, it appears, determined by the player's own actions.

With the release of the same designers' Metro: Last Light (2013 4A, PS3, Win, XB360) the game series diverged from its ancestor; the plot of this work, though primarily linear (with some minor multilinear aspects) is quite different to that of Metro 2034 (2009; trans Andrew Bromfield 2014), a sequel to the original novel, which was followed by Metro 2035 (2015; trans 2016). Last Light's design is generally similar to that of its predecessor, though there is more emphasis on stealthily bypassing enemies in the tunnels, and more time spent on the surface, where combat is inescapable. Characterization and dialogue seem markedly superior to those of the first game, however, though a few moments still lack credibility. Interestingly, the narrative – co-written by Glukhovsky – assumes that the player's character destroyed the Dark Ones at the end of Metro 2033, but then offers them a further chance at redemption. One Mutant, a child, has survived and during the course of the plot will be saved by the protagonist. If the player has behaved sufficiently virtuously throughout the game, that Dark One will then save them in turn; otherwise, their character must die to save the other inhabitants of the Metro from genocide at the hands of a fanatical group of Communists.

Related works: Metro: Last Light – Faction Pack (2013 4A, PS3, Win, XB360) adds several new missions to Last Light, while Metro: Last Light – The Ranger Mode (2012 4A, PS3, Win, XB360) makes the game more difficult (and potentially more immersive). [NT]


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