Catching the metro

As first person shooters continue to dominate all but a few video game genres, a relentless stream of developers endlessly try to carve out a space in this highly competitive and demanding market. Earlier this year, a relatively small Russian-based team attempted just that with Metro 2033 and one writer believes that its one of this year’s shamefully overlooked titles. Stephen Totilo of Kotaku fame brought my attention to Slate.com‘s Gaming Club where credible wordsmiths discuss games and gaming with a recent topic being the game of the year. Five-time author Tom Bissell proclaimed his love for the post-apocalyptic FPS calling it intense and atmospheric and described its effect on him: “I’m not generally that into sci-fi, and if I never see another post-apocalyptic video-game world that would be fine with me, but this game wormed its way into my dreams in a way no game has since good old BioShock.” Now that is high praise indeed as Ken Levine’s shattered utopia was a truly brilliant and a landmark title for video games. If Metro 2033 can instil the same kind of euphoria as BioShock, then he needn’t say anymore. But does: “What I love about Metro 2033 is that it takes the power fantasy tropes of the first-person shooter and effectively Russianizes them. In Western shooters, typically, you progress through the game, unlocking deadlier and more accurate weapons and cooler and ever-more-neato technology. Metro 2033 says, To hell with all that. Your sniper rifle is pneumatic. You actually have to pump the thing up manually before firing it. Your bullets suck. Really good bullets are the gameworld’s only currency; they’re literally what you use to buy stuff. This means that, when you switch to the good bullets to fight, you’re losing money. Ammunition’s expensive in real life, of course, and this was the first shooter I’ve seen that tries to explore that fact. Also, you’ve got a miner’s light on your helmet for use in the gameworld’s underground Metros (where most of the action takes place), but the battery sucks, and it’s constantly running out of juice, and, yet again, you have to manually pump a hand-held generator to brighten up the light again. This is a shooter imagined by the heirs of a resource-scarce culture, and as such it’s a culturally revelatory experience. Metro blew me away.”

The experience was a little different for me when I played through almost the entire game (which becomes important later). What I loved was the thick and sometimes terrifying atmosphere and how believable the world felt. You travel between broken shanty towns and refuges for the few remaining humans that are ironically rich in life. They’re still down-trodden and beaten but you get the sense of being part of the community even if it’s for a limited period. I agree with Bissell about the unique weaponry with its piece-together look and function that adds a neat element of strategy to combat, however I do think that these less than perfect guns you eventually accumulate are actually quite cool in their own unique ways. While they may not provide the steadiest of aims, there is still a desirable charm about them. What soured me enough to stop playing when I was so close to completion was the slight lack of polish to gameplay. For example, enemy AI floated between good and moronically annoying, ultimately driving me away from an otherwise great game. That being said, all this talk of Metro 2033 has reignited my interest and the fact that you can pick the game up for under £20 nowadays is reason enough for FPS fans to give it a try. I’ve just got to persuade my mate to give me back the copy I leant him!

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