I have a strange obsession with games that immerse me in post-apocalyptic nuclear wastelands. It’s a weird fetish, but an undeniable truth about me nonetheless, dating back to my fascination with the first Fallout game. Immersion might be a bit of a buzzword, but in the case of Metro Redux, it’s a well-earned label and a key part of what would otherwise be a fairly average FPS.
Immersion in video games is typically discussed in relation to large open-world RPGs, where you choose your own character and make decisions based on how they would react. The two games included in Metro Redux—Metro 2033 and Metro: Last Light—don’t fit this mold. They’re linear, you don’t make any story decisions, and you play as a fixed character. However, with a minimal HUD and small details such as cleaning your gas mask and changing your own air filters, the Metro games manage to be some of the most immersive I’ve ever played.
Both games present a depressing view of the world twenty years after the start of World War III. When the bombs fell, Moscow’s citizens fled to its underground metro system for shelter. Over the next twenty years, the survivors gradually built a network of underground stations, complete with pig and mushroom farms, coastal ports, and even a theater district. Fierce competition for resources and control of the metro stations led to the formation of factions such as the Fourth Reich (Nazis), the Red Line (communists), and Hansa (capitalists).
Artyom’s only allegiance is to his own metro station—Exhibition—which is about to be attacked by mutated humans known as Dark Ones. In 2033, Artyom must seek help from the Rangers of the Order (a small militia) to defeat the Dark Ones before they can destroy Exhibition and the entire metro system. The story of 2033 hints at supernatural elements which are further built upon in Last Light, however I’m still unsure if these threads are leading anywhere. Whereas 2033 was based on the novel Metro 2033 by Dmitry Glukhovsky, Last Light goes its own way and the storytelling is stronger as a result.
Most of Metro Redux is split into two distinct gameplay styles: stealth against human enemies and action against mutated animals. One minute you’re sneaking around a dark room, knocking out Reds and throwing knives into the backs of Nazi’s heads, and the next you’re fending off an infestation of nosalis or trying to defeat hoards of watchmen on the irradiated surface before your gas mask breaks. There’s also the odd set-piece thrown in for good measure, including a terrible turret section and a few boss battles.
Regardless of whether you’re in the tunnels or on the surface, the levels are fairly linear corridor based affairs, with exploration limited to poking around through lockers or small rooms off to the side. This is frustrating when you’re on the surface, as you’re limited to following the path of wrecked cars and other debris to get from A to B, however that same claustrophobic feeling is a crucial part of making the tunnels appropriately oppressive.
While you can go all guns blazing against human enemies, stealth is highly encouraged and every encounter has a path that lets you ghost your way to the exit. There’s something incredibly satisfying about creating your own darkness by unscrewing light bulbs and sneaking through vents until you make it to the end sight unseen. The only minor drawback is that this is typically too easy. Artyom doesn’t have any stealth abilities as such and therefore sneaking through a level is just a case of finding the right path. You never have to distract enemies or do anything particularly challenging.
Stealth in Metro Redux is based on a light/dark system whereby if you are standing in a light source you are visible to enemies and if you’re in the shadows they can’t see you. While straightforward, the obvious downside is that you can stand right in front of enemies and they won’t see you if you’re technically in a shadow. It can give rise to some ridiculous looking situations.
It’s the small details that make the Metro games truly special. Most guns are cobbled-together from spare parts and the common ammo you pick up is of poor quality because it’s made from scrap. Pre-war bullets are more powerful, but they are also the currency of choice throughout the metro system. If you fire these expensive military rounds then you are literally shooting money at your enemies. A “money shot,” if you like.
Small features, such as being able to wipe the blood off your gas mask or the way you sway when carrying a small child on your back, do a phenomenal job of making you feel like you are Artyom and not just playing as him.
Both above and below the surface, the atmosphere in Metro Redux is grim depressing. While humanity is just about surviving in the metro stations, most people are one nosalis attack or flu virus away from being wiped out. Sure, they have tea and vodka, but both are made with mushrooms (which I hate). On the surface, you always need a gas mask equipped with a supply of air filters. This creates a phenomenal and tense survival atmosphere in the world, although you may need to restart a chapter if you get caught without enough filters to make it to the end.
The Redux version of both games contains no fewer than eight different difficulty modes and playstyles to choose from. It’s all a bit of a mess and unnecessarily intimidating to first time players. First of all, you’ll need to choose between Survival and Spartan play styles. Survival is described as playing like the original 2033 and Spartan is the original Last Light. As far as I can tell, the major differences are faster movement and reload speeds in Spartan.
In addition to standard difficulty modes, you can also play ranger mode and this is where the Metro series comes into its element. In ranger mode, Artyom is weaker, but so are enemies. Resources are scarcer and you don’t have regenerating health. HUD elements are also cut back which helps keep the screen clear of clutter although it’s annoying not to know how much ammo you’re carrying.
I never played the originals, so I can’t comment too much on what the redux version changes. The PS4 version runs at a lovely 60 fps and Last Light is still one of the best looking games around. Metro 2033 has had a significant graphical update as well as improved stealth takedowns, but Last Light appears to be much the same.
Both games are good although I have to give the nod to Last Light as my favorite of the two. The storytelling, in particular, is vastly improved in Last Light with the exception of how it depicts women, which is cringe-inducing at times.
Next year’s Metro Exodus looks phenomenal and I suspect there are a fair few people who haven’t played 2033 and Last Light yet. The Redux collection is the perfect way to fix that problem before diving into what could be one of the best games of 2019.