Gas masks, radiation and mutants are some of the things that make the Metro series unique. It’s time to go back to Russia!
My relationship with the Metro games is actually a tale of coincidence. Back when I was discovering the wonders of the Xbox 360, I was looking for the first Darksiders in order to take a look at it. As a teen, I didn’t have money to spare, so I always bought used games. And then, I saw it: Darksiders. But it was bundled with a game I vaguely heard about, something called Metro 2033. I heard about the book written by Dmitry Glukhovsky, but I was completely clueless about the homonymous game. In my way home, I started to read the manual (I miss those…) of both games, and the one that tickled my curiosity the most was Metro’s small booklet.
After playing Darksiders and being bored to tears by its slow pace, I tried Metro 2033. And I fell IN LOVE with the game. Not only the premise was unique and pretty damn awesome, but it was also a really good horror title! You felt how everything outside the small cities was hostile and dangerous, and how creepy it was to explore the depths of the Russian metro. And they even managed to make a sequel! And… It sucked, but one step at a time. So get ready underground wanderers and rebels, because it’s time to take a deep look at the Metro series! Also, SPOILERS AHEAD, if you never played these titles go play at least Metro 2033 Redux, it’s worth it.
Metro 2033 (and Redux): Country railroads, take me home
As I stated before, Metro 2033 is my favourite title in the franchise so far (we’ll see if Exodus lives up to the hype), as I believe is the best one in terms of, well, everything. The pacing, the combat, the stealth, the deadly enemies… Everything wants to kill you in this game, and you are going to die for sure. But the first Metro doesn’t feel like one of those titles that throw tons of enemies at you in order to make you fight all of them (like Last Light but, again, I’ll talk about that one eventually) or that makes you do stupid things in order to keep going. It’s a linear experience that doesn’t want to stray far from the narrative, and it works wonderfully at that.
Regarding the story of the game, we control Artyom, a young man who begins a quest in order to find the man known as Miller and tell him about the situation of his station home, Exhibition. He will have to fight mutants, sneak (or kill) his way through human outposts and survive in the horrible tunnels of the metro. The game is quite harsh in terms of the life of the people under the surface of Russia. Political ideologies from the past are rising ready to fight once again a war without understanding the consequences (and the irony of having Nazi Russians) of that conflict. The Metro stations are a cruel yet realistic depiction of how humanity would devolve when they were no longer the most dangerous species. As Alex (Artyom’s stepfather) says at the beginning of the game:
Heard about “survival of the fittest”? Well, guess what: we lost.
The narrative component of Metro 2033 is something that I never get tired of hearing. Every single time you start a new chapter, Artyom narrates his experience so far in order to make the player understand what are his emotions towards the situation. But this is also something that bothers me quite a lot because you only hear Artyom’s voice in these sections. He’s a silent character, which doesn’t work really well on a game with a protagonist that has a defined personality. It’s not the same as in Half-Life, for instance, a game in which Gordon Freeman doesn’t have any remarkable traits inside the game. This makes the player feel more attached to his character, allowing the individual controlling the scientist become Freeman. Artyom’s personality is defined the moment you see his actions. You see a guitar on his room at Exhibition and some postcards on his wall, and you literally hear his thoughts in every single chapter. That’s why I think the choice of making him a silent character doesn’t fit well while playing, and it can hurt the experience at times. But nothing hurts the experience more than the biggest issue: the controls didn’t age well.
Granted, I’m talking about the original version of Metro 2033 right now (I’ll cover the Redux version in a moment) but yeah, the O.G. title doesn’t hold up really well nowadays if you are playing it with a controller (no problems if you are playing it on PC so lucky you, Master Race). The button layout is quite a mess, having to cycle between each weapon (you can have up to three firearms plus a knife and yes, you have to equip the knife to use it) in order to select the one you want to use. The game can be quite of a mess at times when you are trying to do certain things like changing filters and swapping secondary items. Also aiming takes quite a while, and you can only feel how powerful a gun is only on higher difficulty options like Ranger Mode, an experience that I really encourage people to try out if they want to take a look at this first entry. But if you REALLY want to play Metro 2033, play the Redux version of the first game, also known as “the version that killed the original one for good“.
The Redux version has basically the same graphics as the original Metro 2033 (which I don’t mind at all, the game looks pretty damn good for a game released in 2010), but they added the same control layout as the one present in Last Light as well as improving some aspects of the game, like having new areas with new weapons to try like the automatic shotgun (eats ammo like a f*cker but what a joy to shoot it against Nosalis). You can also enjoy new in-game cutscenes and read Artyom diary entries when you find them in every chapter, and they even implemented weapons customization which is just great! Even if takes out the interesting concept of having to survive with whichever weapon you find.
Metro 2033 is what happens when you get surprised by a video game you never heard about before. Its claustrophobic tunnels, hostile surface levels and the constant fear of not knowing what is waiting for you in the next area are some of the things that match quite well with its story and elements. The flaws of the game were fixed with the Redux version so I can only praise this game to kingdom come.
Too bad its sequel completely f*cked things up with awful choices that stained what its predecessor managed to create.
Metro: Last Light: when Deep Silver became Dipsh*t
I hate Last Light. I hate it so much I would need an entire article to talk about how much I hate what this game did to its level structure and the overall narrative meaning of Metro 2033. Last Light is what happens when you want to sell a game to a bigger audience by doing basically this:
And I know what people are going to say, that the Venice strip club is only a small part and you can just leave without paying for a lap dance. But who the f*ck thinks that’s a valid argument to defend the poor excuse of putting some damn boobies in front of the camera just “because”? And they fucked up with Anna too, making her shift from being a cold soldier trained to kill no matter what happens to “oh Artyom you saved me and now I want you to put your Shashlik in my Okróshka” and forget about her the moment you lock and load her Dark One. I’m sorry, I’ll stop with the metaphors now.
That is just one of the things that I hate about Last Light. Don’t get me wrong, the sequel improves some areas from the original game, like having a more straightforward stealth system (light goes blue they can see you, light goes off they can’t) and the already mentioned weapon customization I mentioned in the Redux version. Oh and you can wipe blood and mud out of your mask which is… a feature? It’s not that worth it if you ask me, but neither is this game to be completely honest.
Regarding the plot of Last Light, it completely screws up the good ending of the previous game. What’s that? You enjoyed how uplifting the good ending of Metro 2033 was and how they showed you that sometimes you have to understand things from a different perspective in order to grow as a human being? F*ck that noise, Last Light gives player choice the middle finger and makes you start with the bad ending of the last game. That’s right: The Dark Ones are now The Ashen Ones because THEY ARE DEAD. But of course, this is a sequel, so that must mean they improved the narrative with new tropes, right? Let’s see:
- In Metro 2033, Artyom leaves his safe heaven in order to fulfil a duty imposed by a Ranger and save his station from The Dark Ones. After some problems with the fascists and the communists, he manages to arrive at the place he wanted to reach at first only to be involved in a major mission that will change the future of mankind and how humans will interact with their new surface neighbours.
- In Last Light, Artyom leaves his safe heaven in order to fulfil a duty imposed by a Ranger and find the last member of the Dark Ones. After having some problems with the fascists and the communists, he manages to find the Dark One only to finally return and be involved in a major mission that will change the future of mankind and how humans will interact with their new surface neighbours. Also, Artyom has a son with Anna in one of the endings.
Now, try to tell me if you see any resemblance between both plots. Exactly: Last Light doesn’t offer anything new at all. There’s no redemption if you got the good ending in Metro 2033 because YOU REDEEMED ARTYOM IN THAT ENDING. You are doing the same things in Last Light, the only problem is that now the levels feel like a drag at times and the pace is not as good. Oh, and the game doesn’t really care if you enjoy the stealth approach, because it’s going to throw action sequences against you whether you like them or not. And that makes me talk about one of the worst levels of the game: Red Square.
This chapter has some of the worst things you can put in a video game: a small area in which you have to kill everyone in order to move on. No stealth approach, no alternative route in order to evade the conflict, just plain dull wave after wave of enemy. And the area is so poorly designed (you have some cars and planks of wood trying to work as cover but failing miserably) that you will die out of unfair enemy placement. You know they are going to ambush you, you know what it’s going to happen and you can’t do anything in order to make that part easier. This section is the part that completely destroys the fun I had with Last Light up until this moment. And that leads me to talk about the lack of polish of some areas of the game.
In Metro 2033, I felt connected to Artyom because he was someone that wanted to explore the outside world and see how life was out of his home station only to face how awful everything truly is. Last Light Artyom acts like a complete idiot at times! He gets kidnapped, intoxicated, almost burned alive and many other things for really dumb choices that are only there to make the devs tell the player “we need to make him travel to another station and we don’t know how to properly do it, so… Oh no, a thing happened! Who knew…”. You even have boss battles, and even those parts suck because these are a poor excuse of making the player waste ammo intentionally in order to make the next chapter harder. The first game had these moments too, but they were balanced alternating between human enemies and mutant enemies. You don’t want to kill humans? Save the ammo for the mutants. Hell, you can even sneak in some surface areas of the first game! Last Light throws mutants at your doorstep until they can’t fit through the door and it DEMANDS you to kill all of them. If you give players the choice of engaging in combat or sneaking its way through, DO NOT MAKE THEM FIGHT.
Metro: Last Light is what happens when you want to attract more people into your franchise and you don’t want to create something that feels like a true sequel in order to play safe. Oh, and the PC suffers from some serious issues even in 2019 like hard crashes while loading chapters or having some weird visual glitches (shoot the automatic shotgun constantly and you’ll see the empty shells floating on the air), so there’s also that. This game is not the worst thing ever made mind you, some chapters and moments are really good and I always have a great time replaying those moments. But as a whole, Last Light doesn’t hold up as a good sequel. It could have been something unique with a new character or a new story, but in the end, it turned out to be nothing more than just more of the same, and even worse at times.
Metro Exodus and conclusive thoughts
By the time of this article, the next entry of the franchise is still on the oven until February 15th. And this game could be the one entry that makes it up for the things Last Light screwed up. And that’s thanks to embracing the explorative nature of Metro.
Don’t be deceived, this is not a Metro MMO or something like that, this is more like a level of HITMAN: a big map in which you can run around and do some things, but it’s not the size of something like, let’s say, GTA V. And this works wonders, as the best parts present in Last Light were exploring areas of the surface in order to discover new things about the old Russian world. So far the gameplay shown doesn’t look like it’s going to feel too distant from what I’ve seen in the previous games, and that’s something I hope I’m right about.
Some stuff I’m worried about though is the plot and the mechanics. Regarding the story, I’m going to be honest: I’m tired of Artyom. Two games gave him a conclusion already, yet here we are once again having to deal with his silent hands (and now legs, because it seems it took them a while to give him feet) and some of the old characters from Last Light that… don’t look like the characters from Last Light, to be honest.
Miller, what the f*ck happened to you? Not only they gave you robotic legs (who the hell cares at this point, after having the ability to sense enemies thanks to a psychic mutant child) but you look like a grumpy sailor! And Anna doesn’t look like Anna at all! Why?!
At least I hope she does more than in Last Light, otherwise, I’ll be pretty mad. More than I usually am, I mean. Anyway, back on track: if the plot involves having to deal once again with Dark Ones and things I’ve seen in the previous two games, we are in for another boring trip everyone! And regarding the mechanics, I want to warn 4A Games: customization is always cool. Having different gear to approach enemies is also pretty awesome. But please, do not make players have to fight just because you can’t find a good excuse to make them waste bullets for the next chapter, that’s just lazy. If I have to end a boss fight in Exodus stabbing the boss in the butt with a knife just because you made me fight 20 mutants in the previous room I’m going to believe you don’t really care too much as devs and you don’t want to improve as such.
Overall, the Metro series is a franchise hard to love, yet even harder to hate. As much as I love Metro 2033, the game wouldn’t be as enjoyable if wasn’t for its Redux version. Last Light may be my least favourite, yet I have to give it credit when credit its due, as thanks to it, they introduced weapon customization and… Wiping your mask and being able to hold your lighter with one hand and your gun with the other. And regarding Exodus, I’ll try to keep my hype levels low just in case the game doesn’t live up to it, just like a certain indie game I reviewed recently. Am I excited for Exodus? Kind of. Am I going to feel really bad if the game arrives as a mess? You bet. But in the meantime, I think it’s better if we just keep seeking shelter within the metro tunnels.