Just last month, I sat 65 meters below Moscow in the heart of one of many fallout bunkers that lie dotted along the city's vast subway system. Dust fell softly from the meter-thick steel that lined the bunker as subway cars rushed by, only notable thanks to a small hum that could be heard and felt by myself and fellow journalists. And it's there, deep in this subway system -- a true relic of the Cold War -- that I was first introduced to the inspiration for "Metro 2033:" mankind's worst fear, carried out, leaving the rest of humanity (in Moscow at least) fighting for survival in these very pits that I now sat in. Did the setting provoke the right tone for the game? Certainly. But let me start with the basics.
This isn't Fallout gone "Red"
"Metro 2033" certainly carries some overtones from the post-apocalyptic wasteland we've most recently seen from "Fallout 3," but it's not the same beast. Where "Fallout 3" spread humanity thin, working toward a future in the grim expanse of the Wasteland, "Metro 2033" only has the very subway system that saved humanity from the initial fallout to call home.
With the topsoil caught in a persistent nuclear winter, the world of "Metro 2033" -- the subway system -- is as cramped and brimming with life as the entirety of "Fallout 3" sardined into the tiny expanse of Moscow's subway system. Stations that sit at checkpoints across the subway system are veritable cities packed with voices, bodies, and the bleak outlook for a better tomorrow. Set 20 years after the initial nuclear attacks in 2013, "Metro 2033" provides a glimpse at lives too cramped to maintain, while the outside world plays host to a number of unimaginable dangers with a taste for human flesh.
Meet The Writer, Dimitry Glukhovsky
No, this isn't the main protagonist's name (that's Artyom), it's the name of the author of "Metro 2033." Based on a (now-series) of Russian books, "Metro 2033" was a breakout success in the world of free internet fiction. Glukhovsky, while struggling to find a publisher for his post-apocalyptic novel, turned to the internet community for support and feedback and quickly found himself a break-out success.
Despite the fact that the novel has been published in Russia (as well as a number of countries, including it's upcoming release Stateside) Glukhovsky continues to allow readers access to both the original novel and it’s recently published sequel for free online.
Known for his critical views of Russian politics, Glukhovsky's "Metro 2033" novels are also brimming with satire revolving around the countries largest city. In the first novel, a massive tentacle ridden creature lures weak-minded souls into the depths of the Kremlin with Russia's greatest icons, the sickle and star. One can only imagine what a creature like that would look like in the context of the game.
What To Do...Other Than Shoot Stuff
From my very first moments with the game, it was clear that there's more of a cinematic element involved with the minutiae of traveling around Moscow's subway system. Quick action sequences, as well as slower moments like climbing every step of a ladder are handled with the clear intention of making characters truly embody the hero-character Artyom.
Players are subjected to a HUD-less gameplay experience where their very survival rests on their ability to take time to evaluate their situation before continuing along their journey. Whether you're taking the time to pull a map physically out in front of you or checking the gauge on your watch to check how much time remains on your equipped gas mask filter, there's a forced break to the action that requires players to make the right choices at any one given time.
You Won't Find Jared In These Subways
Perhaps my favorite part of my hour-long session with the early chapters of the game were the moments that the title strayed from action. The cities, scattered across the subway stations, are brimming with structure and life. Voices assault you from all directions while multiple characters try to interact with you on some base level. There's so much going on -- knit between makeshift housing and market booths -- that it's easy to become both lost and overwhelmed in these sections. It's like stepping in from a cold winter night and discovering that all your family and friends are their to welcome you home. You want to stay, but you have to plod on ever forward into the murky depths of the subway and beyond, out into the frozen streets of Moscow.
Ammo is Money
While this may be the one section of the game that requires some serious balancing (yea, I can't describe how awful it feels emptying all your clips to buy a new weapon you have no ammo for), it also proves the most interesting of the concepts on offer from Ukranian-based 4A games. In a world where currency is meaningless, it only makes sense that your most valuable pieces of equipment is so closely linked to you moment-to-moment survival.
There's a very interesting mechanic at work here, and it forces you to constantly search the subway tunnels for bodies and weapons for just a few bullets of ammunition. During my time with the game, the system needed a ton of balancing, but there's just so much possibility there that I'd love to see it work out.
Currently, "Metro 2033" is slated for a 2010 release on both the Xbox 360 and PC platforms.