There are three times in my adult life that I can confidently say I almost peed myself.
- When I found out the Arctic Monkeys were releasing a new album in 2018.
- When the giant ass space alien jump scared me from behind a looking glass in Prey.
- The entirety of Metro: Redux.
It’s not that Metro was scary, mind you. It’s just so god damn tense. Every single second of the game, every corner you walk around, you feel like something really really bad is about to happen. And nine times out of ten, it does. A communist jumps out and hits you with the butt of their AK. A nazi patrol turns up right in front of you and takes you captive. Or, even better, a giant mutated metro rat scampers past you at the sight of your flashlight. Where’s he going? To get reinforcements, no doubt.
Metro: 2033 and Metro: Dying Light were both released for last generation consoles, PS3 and Xbox360. I never played them, mostly because I was too busy playing RPGs, but once I heard about the upcoming entry in the series, Metro: Exodus, I just had to pick up the remastered copies. You’d be a fool not to. Individually, the old games cost just as much as the remastered copy, and look…well, they look just plain awful.
But the remaster, aptly named Metro: Redux, is utterly gorgeous. The lights, textures, shadows, and facial animations have all been upgraded to take full advantage of the PS4’s massive processing power, and offer the user a spectacle that’s got to be seen to be believed.
Usually when a game asks me to set my brightness (“Move the cursor on the screen until the X on the left is barely visible”), I turn it up quite a bit. I understand the suspense aspect of the game, the shadows they’re trying to convey, but usually developers just use darkness for darkness’s sake. But not the team at Deep Silver. No, they use darkness as a tool. Not just as a way to build atmosphere, but as a way to build a world. It’s almost as though they actually started with darkness and worked there way out, creating a world only after the shadows were filled in. I highly suggest you play this game dark. Wait until it’s night. Wait until everyone’s gone to sleep and the only thing you have in your stomach is two glasses of whiskey. That way, your guard is down, you’re vulnerable, and numb to fear.
These games are all about the world. Immersion is the name of the game in Metro. The team has gone to great lengths to take Dmitry Glukhovsky’s masterpiece and make you feel like you’re actually there. There is no safety. There is nowhere to hide. Only brief moments of humanity exist outside the long, dark passageways in between the squalid shantytowns that humans now call home.
I didn’t understand how good of a job Deep Silver actually did until I started reading Metro 2033. The book takes place in, you guessed it, 2033 after some sort of unspecified nuclear holocaust. The world is in ruin, and life in Moscow has moved underground. Artyom, the main character in both the game and the book, is tasked with alerting the main station, Polis, of an impending invasion of the metro from above ground. As he goes from station to station, he encounters all sorts of terrors. Sometimes it’s fellow humans. Sometimes it’s monsters. Sometimes it’s nothing at all. But no matter what Artyom is running away from, there’s always a feeling of impending death. No matter what, even if he’s just jumping at his own shadow, the book does such an amazing job of building anxiety, tension, and fear.
It’s not until Artyom sees the light, dim glow of a campfire off in the distance that the anxiety begins to lift. But nowhere is safe. Not even the stations. Whether it’s human monsters…or those from above.
The game obviously has an easier time world building since it has visual and audio cues at its disposal. But it does it so well that you really don’t even realize what’s happening. You’re always on the edge of your seat. From the second you push start to the time you put down your controller, adrenaline is pumping through your veins. It’s a strange feeling that I haven’t had from a game in a long while, probably since I last played through Resident Evil IV.
Originally, I was going to skip over gameplay. You can only say so much about mechanics and movement, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that this was another thing that made Metro so great: the attention to detail.
Take the gas mask, for example. Every time you step outside, you must wear a mask. The mask restricts your field of view for a number of reasons. 1) It takes up the sides of the screen. 2) The more you wear it, the more condensation builds up on the inside. 3) The more enemies you kill while wearing it, the more blood shows up on the outside of your mask. (You have to wipe it off. How cool is that?) 4) The more damage you take while wearing your mask, the more cracks and chips get taken out of it. If it becomes too damaged, you can’t wear it at all and slowly begin to suffocate.
This is only one mechanic. One tiny, minute detail that the developers could’ve just left on the cutting room floor. But instead, they made it an integral part of the game. But you don’t even notice, that’s the best part. It works so seamlessly with the rest of the game that it become second nature. ‘Ah crap, I have to replace my gas filter.’ ‘Uhp, can’t see. Better wipe off my mask.’ In the words of Todd Howard, ‘It just works.’
The only gripe I have with the two games are the amount of loading screens. The first game wasn’t quite as bad as the second, but it seems like every five minutes, I was waiting at a loading screen. Even a tiny cut scene that lasted a whole 45 seconds was preceded and followed by long, annoying loading screens. For a game that cares so much about immersion, so much so that they have a game that removes the HUD and any button prompts, this was a glaring problem that got really annoying by the end of the game.
But that was a small price to pay when I think about the overall experience. Both games in Metro: Redux were an absolute joy to play. And this is coming from a guy who’s probably the biggest critic of survival horror there is. I don’t do scary. I don’t do anxiety. I have enough of that in my real life. I don’t need it in my video games. But the feelings of joy I experienced from Metro more than outweighed that. Exodus doesn’t know what’s coming.