With Metro: Last Light finally being released in May, survival-horror and stealth lover Bill Boreham takes a moment to look back on the most atmospheric game ever made.
Metro 2033 is set, as the name hints at, in the metro. In 2013, a nuclear war erupts in Russia, after being hit with atomic bombs, radiation spread across the land. With nowhere else to hide, survivors were forced into the darkness of the underground metro stations. Those who did not make it into the metro, including animals, were left up on the surface, their bodies slowly mutating into the twisted, bloodthirsty creatures the survivors in the metro call “Dark Ones”.
We play as 20-year-old Artyom, a man born and raised in the darkness of the metro. After a brief tutorial, Artyom is introduced to a man named Hunter, a veteran Ranger. He warns Artyom that his station will soon be under attack by the Dark Ones, and that in order to save it, he must travel to the underground city of Polis in search of help. Having never left his station before the path that lies ahead of young Artyom will not be an easy one,but out of options and with the Dark Ones slowly closing in for the kill, he must brave the darkness and save his station, even if he must sacrifice himself in the process.
Before we begin our quest, we’re allowed to have a little walk around the station. Misery surrounds us – A child telling the tale of how his friend was eaten by the Dark Ones, a father explaining to his son why his mother is never coming back, a group of soldiers sitting around a campfire sharing what could possibly be the final drink they have together – It’s not a pleasant place, but then again, neither is the surface. After saying our goodbyes to both friends and family, we head to the armory, pick up a rusty assault rifle, and begin our journey into the heart of darkness.
Although you will often have different NPC’s with you throughout the course of the story, when you are alone, you really do feel alone. Walking down the empty tunnels, you feel as though you are being silently hunted. Although it’s a shooter more than a horror game, Metro 2033 is at its best when you are wandering around the dark tunnels of the metro by yourself, occasionally stopping and quickly spinning around on the spot, hoping to catch site of any mutants hiding in the darkness. Like all good horror games and movies, most of the time there’s nothing there, but every now and then… you get a nasty surprise.
One thing that really adds to this tension, is the fact that there’s hardly any music in Metro 2033. Music doesn’t build up as you’re slowly moving around a corner towards the screeches of nearby mutants with your gun pointed forward, nor does it suddenly turn up when you’re in the middle of a battle. Most of the time, it simply stays silent. Whether that’s a good or bad thing is entirely up to the player, but personally, I think it adds a lot to the world, especially to that bleak feel.
One of the most important things in any game, is the locations. Location, location, location. Well, Metro 2033 also delivers in that area. Both the tunnels and metro stations feel like real places. Walking around, you feel completely immersed. And because of the games linearity, you get to see some truly incredible sites, some of them really do take your breath away, particularly in the later sections of the game.
It’s not much of a spoiler to say there are sections where you will leave the metro tunnels and brave the ash filled streets up on the surface. These sections are both terrifying and beautiful. I would often find myself standing up on top of a destroyed truck, looking out into the distance at all the destruction, Artyom’s heavy breathing and the howls of the wind (and mutants) the only things keeping me company.
Despite the grim surroundings, Metro 2033 is a beautiful game. From its highly detailed settings, to its impressive character animations, it never fails to deliver on an aesthetic level. The voice acting, whether you choose Russian (with subtitles) or English, is some of the best you’ll hear in gaming. Soldiers sit around campfires singing tunes of their victories in the tunnels with voices so rough and broken, they will send shivers down your spine. And although the combat and stealth can be a bit hit-and-miss at times, it never fails to excite you – especially on the harder Ranger difficulty, where ammo and health syringes are treated like small treasures.
It’s a game that should be experienced by everyone, and with Metro: Last Light out in May, there’s never been a better time to start.
– Bill Boreham (Follow him on Twitter @AngEalsh)