I first played Metro 2033 as a rental on my 360. I liked the slow-building opening chapters, but I didn’t play very far into it. I could tell this was a game I wanted to play on PC instead. It’s not just a matter of graphics and controls. This is a real lean-forward game – something that benefits from being played with headphones and close to the screen.
Like I said, I love how slow the game is to open. After the tutorial, there isn’t a traditional “move forward on foot” shooter level for quite a while. Instead, the game takes the time to show off its post-apocalyptic underground society. It’s cramped and dirty and noisy. But it’s also a world worth fighting to try to save, filled with people trying to make the best of a bad lot (and the usual few greedy, evil bastards – people are alike all over). Between the villages, there’s traveling through the tunnels. Even though the encounter rate is pretty low, and the path is not that much narrower than a lot of comparable shooters, they feel dangerous and claustrophobic. And then the game goes outside, and it’s a whole other world.
Strapping on the gas-mask and stepping out into the ruins of Moscow is a revelatory experience. I’ve talked about Mirror’s Edge as a game that did a brilliant job of making me feel like I was in the body of my avatar. Metro, instead, makes me feel like I’m inside my avatar’s head. The laboured breathing, the layer of frost on the mask, the sound of distant gunfire, the glint of the snow, and the feeling that something sinister might be about to jump out from the shadows. It’s nerve-wrackingly intense. Knowing that I have to keep pushing forward or I’m going to run out of filters for the mask, but at the same time that I need to be thorough to search for more filters. Seeing the cracks accumulate on my mask, and knowing if things go wrong and it breaks I’ll have a terrifying 30 seconds of suffocating in which to find a replacement.
It’s an empty world, yet one that’s filled with menace. It’s alien, and yet familiar. I know, logically, that it’s just graphics and sound and a more or less linear shooter level. But it feels like so much more than that. It’s such an amazing accomplishment.
It’s a shame that, at least thus far, the shooting itself hasn’t felt all that good. I understand that these are crappy, jury-rigged guns, and I don’t expect them to be particularly accurate or powerful. But I feel like they should have more punch to them. Give them more recoil. Make the enemies react more to getting shot. There were times where I shot at an enemy point-blank with a shotgun and I couldn’t tell if I hit or missed. Encounters with monsters devolved into circle-strafe-fests.
I’ll talk about the moral choices that the game imposes some more once I’m done and have seen how they play out, but for the time being I’ll say that I’m intrigued by their presence, and that I particularly like how subtle they are. Just a little flash, a brief moment of connection with another person, or with the world that’s been lost, and then the game moves on.