While playing Metro 2033 I couldn’t help but compare it to Mark Twain’s novel Huck Finn. Racial themes aside, the rail system in Metro 2033 serves exactly the same purpose that the Mississippi river fulfills in Finn, in that it leads the protagonist to varied situations and characters that provide insightful commentary about our real world. Like the Mississippi, the metro system is wondrous and hazardous, but manageable when respected, and the further that the player moves away from the rails the worse and more dire the presented situations become. While the metro environment can be dangerous, the people on and around the system prove to be much more so, to the point that the confined, claustrophobic tunnels feel much safer than the husk of Moscow which can only be explored from the safety of a tight-fitting gas mask.
Metro 2033 is full of conflict. The first visible battle is man against nature in the tunnels, specifically mutants that threaten the way of life that the inhabitants have built for themselves in the wake of nuclear apocalypse. Some characters predictably con and cheat each other as they try to get rich from the bounty of the tunnels and the wastes above ground, while others help fellow travelers and make true sacrifices. Eventually the player finds their way into a continuance of the Eastern Front of World War II at a much smaller scale between the communist Soviets and the fascist Nazis taking place underground.
One of the things that I really like is that the Exhibition station, which serves as a home village to the protagonist Artyom, isn’t a part of the ideological war replaying itself between the two diminished powers. Instead, it’s a loosely governed congregation of people working together voluntarily for mutual survival. The protagonist sets out to get the help of a non-governmental group called the Rangers to help stem a mutant invasion. That such organization happens after government wars have destroyed the world as we know it seems logical, inspirational, and ultimately human.
The concept of using ammunition as currency is also something I enjoyed. Not because seeing your money fly out of a barrel made combat any more or less interesting, but because it made more sense than Nuka Cola bottle caps or paper currency. Bullets have tangible uses in any world, and thus have real value to them. When trusting in God is hard because the world is shot to shit, it’s good to see lowly, uneducated humans in the future taking a more pragmatic approach to economics than contemporary idiots from Harvard do.
As gorgeous games go, Metro 2033 can be counted amongst them and as a result is very system-intensive. It really ran my computer through its paces on multiple occasions, like when waves of giant rats were running at an outpost of ragtag soldiers trying to buy time for people evacuating a station. Seeing toxic, radioactive fumes rising up from the ground is just as an effective notification to equip your gasmask as is hearing your character gasping for air. The mutants are gross looking, and some are downright disgusting as they make sneak-attacks before darting off into burrow holes and preparing to strike again.
At some point after playing longer sessions of Metro 2033, I started to get bouts of motion-sickness. There’s a part where you encounter a kid alone in the middle of an overrun station and put them on your back which makes your gun tracking incredibly floaty. Normally I’d really like something that’d affect the gameplay like this, but it was too much for me to handle, especially with the game’s insanely low default vertical FOV setting of 45. I’d recommend checking this handy site for a recommended setting and then modifying your config files accordingly if giving Metro 2033 a shot.
Metro 2033’s gun feedback wasn’t very clear, and it seems nigh impossible to say how many shots are required to take a given creature or person down. Sometimes it takes one shell to the head of a mutant while other times it takes two or more. Normally something like this would frustrate me to the point that I wouldn’t bother continuing the game, but in the case of Metro 2033 the experience as a whole is so great that it makes the inconsistency of the combat a real non-issue. Getting robbed of some shots and expending ammo unnecessarily is a small fare to pay to see the story play out and travel through the metro, not knowing what will be past the next loading screen.
Even in the bittersweet end I got for not finding enough good deeds to do, Metro 2033 is a convincing story of mankind’s stubborn persistence in the face of overwhelming odds, and it inspires a strong feeling of hope in me. For as big and overcomplicated as we can make things, life comes down to interactions amongst individuals. When people are willing to work together and help each other, anything can be accomplished. Rarely can such a positive outlook be found in dark corridors and tunnels being seen from behind the barrel of a gun.