Metro Redux

A PC game review by Bobulous

Metro Redux is a bundle which offers both Metro 2033 Redux and its sequel Metro Last Light Redux, both survival horror games which combine FPS action with critical resource management.

Metro 2033 Redux

Born a few years before nuclear war has poisoned Earth's surface, and raised in the relative safety of Moscow's network of underground metro railway tunnels, young man Artyom suddenly feels the call of duty when a ranger of the Order asks him to get an important message to the Order's headquarters at Polis train station. You play Metro 2033 as Artyom, and see the world through his eyes as his journey weaves below and above ground, sometimes guided by people who know their way through the dangerous underworld, sometimes alone.

screenshot: A view through a water-specked gas mas visor along a narrow duct lined with rusted pipes and luminescent green mushrooms, your guide crouching as he moves through the cramped space ahead of you.
Your guide leads you through a duct between tunnels

The tunnels between stations are teeming with inhuman life, most of it hostile and aggressive such as the large, fast "nosalises" which climb the walls and hurl themselves at you. And many of the stations are populated by hostile human forces. It's not long before you're making use of whatever weapons you have to hand. Combat operates on a damage cool-off basis, so if you get bitten/rammed/shot you gradually see your vision pulse red and diminish to show you're close to death, but this will wear off slowly if you stop taking damage. In moments of crisis you can use a medikit to heal yourself instantly, which is handy when enemies surprise you and inflict a lot of damage before you can put them down.

The weapons are pleasingly varied, including the usual assault rifles and shotguns, but also throwing knives and cheapjack, post-war weapons such as hand-pumped air guns which fire ball bearings with lethal force (so long as you remember to keep them pressurised). Talking of cheapjack, most of the ammunition you find and use has been manufactured after the war, but pre-war "military grade" ammunition can still be found. If you choose to fire military-grade rounds you'll find they're more powerful than the post-war rounds, but because of their rarity military-grade rounds have become the currency of the metro society. When dealing with human enemies a headshot will finish almost any opponent, so firing military-grade rounds is a waste. But in the face of bigger beasts, or when you've simply run out of all other ammo, being able to turn this currency to good use can be a lifesaver.

Assuming you make it to a safe station with some military-grade rounds to spare, you can spend them to buy better weapons and to customise your weapons with add-ons. A laser-sight is handy to help you aim when shooting from the hip. A silencer turns an assault rifle into a stealth weapon at the cost of higher damage falloff, while an extended barrel improves the range of shotgun blasts. An extended magazine allows more shots before reloading which is very handy when facing the largest beasts who don't fall easily. A scope is vital for efficient sniping. And a bigger stock can reduce recoil and improve accuracy on certain weapons. These upgrades make a real difference and have a strong effect on how you approach combat.

To aid you in the subterranean world you also have a lighter (handy for burning through sticky cobwebs which obstruct your path) and a flashlight powered by a battery you must recharge periodically with a hand-grip charger. If you look in the right places you might also find night-vision goggles (powered by the same battery as the flashlight) which are excellent for stealthily approaching or avoiding enemies in dark places.

screenshot: A view towards broken escalators bathed in daylight, a human silhouette just ahead of you urging you to 'Move it, kid!'
About to ascend out of the tunnels and into the light

As dark and fraught as the tunnels and abandoned metro stations are, things are even worse when your route forces you to venture out onto the surface. Nuclear fallout still makes the air poisonous so while walking the surface you rely on a gas mask which needs a constant supply of fresh filters.

At this point it's worth mentioning that Metro Redux offers two modes of play in each game: Survival mode and Spartan mode. Metro 2033 originally only offered Survival mode so I played Metro 2033 Redux in this mode and found that air filters were so rare that you become obsessed with finding the next filter. At one point in the game I stupidly assumed that I'd be able to come back to the trading post before leaving the current metro station, but never got the chance. Without having stocked up on filters I spent the remainder of the game on the verge of choking to death and this did reduce my enjoyment. But Survival mode is designed to offer limited resources such as filters, ammunition and medikits, so this sort of struggle is a big part of its atmosphere. The tension becomes far worse when you face the ape-like "librarians" around whom you must remain calm and still because they will ignore you if they deem you harmless but will tear you limb from limb if they even think you're going to attack them. Standing completely still and staring into the eyes of a snarling "librarian" is not easy when you can hear your breath gasping through a depleted gas mask filter.

Something that did feel unusual was the total lack of hand-holding the game offers. When you are separated from your guide, or travelling alone, the user interface gives you no clue at all as to which way you should be going. In reality there is only one way through each level, but when you're on the surface, lost in amongst the overgrown ridges and shattered ruins, you often can't immediately see where to go next. So you have to hunt about for a safe path, dodging the talons of huge, flying beasts the locals call "demons", and listening out for the hefty "watchmen" that howl and charge about over the open ground. While being lost in such a hostile place is unpleasant, it was refreshing not to have a game spoon feed you with clear directions at every step.

Your progress is saved by a checkpoint system. You can only ever continue from your last checkpoint, and cannot choose to create your own save positions. This generally works fine, with checkpoints well placed before and after bursts of danger and action. But occasionally it is frustrating to realise a checkpoint has just saved your progress when you did poorly and have very little left in the way of ammunition or filters. On many occasions it felt like the checkpoint had doomed me to total failure, but each time it turned out there was just enough time to find the next spare filter or get to the next safe breathing zone. I suspect it is possible, however, to get things very wrong and inadvertently create a checkpoint save when you really do have zero chance of surviving.

The path through Metro 2033 Redux is entirely linear, but this is fine because you are following a clear story through to its end and each chapter introduces new elements of interest. Plus, depending on how you have behaved throughout the game, you might be offered a choice of ending. Again the game offers no explicit hints but if you do good deeds you earn moral points; do bad deeds and you lose moral points. You never see your moral standing during the game but if you've scored high enough at the end of the game you will be offered a choice of ending; otherwise you get the standard ending. The game does not spell any of this out so I didn't know any of this until I'd finished the game and read about it afterwards. It's another nice example of the way the game does not spoon feed the player.

To complete Metro 2033 Redux took me around thirteen-and-a-half hours. It didn't feel like a long game but it was enjoyable.

Metro Last Light Redux

Last Light picks up a year after the events of Metro 2033. Now a respected ranger of the Order you learn that your mission of a year earlier was in fact not completed fully and you are sent out to finish the job.

To avoid being on the verge of respiratory failure the entire time I opted to play Last Light in Spartan mode, which makes ammunition and filters readily available so that you can focus on combat rather than struggling to survive. And Last Light offers a lot of opportunity for combat. Whereas Metro 2033 spent a lot of its time on Moscow's devastated surface amongst the mutated beasts, Last Light spends a great deal more time in stations heavily populated by factions who feel they have reason to want you dead.

Pleasingly, Last Light offers you a choice when dealing with human enemies: lethal or non-lethal. If you get close enough to an enemy soldier without being detected you can hit your action key to perform a non-lethal takedown (in other words, you can Deus Ex them). This is made easier courtesy of two things: firstly you wear a watch which indicates when you are visible to enemies, and secondly the enemy are as night-blind as a cheap phone camera. Even when you can clearly see your enemy in the shadows without night-vision goggles, your enemies will walk right past you and let you walk right past them so long as you stay out of bright light and don't use your flashlight or lighter. This does seem a bit odd, but it does make stealth a lot easier. And the game features a number of achievements which are only awarded if you complete certain levels without killing anyone, so stealth is vital for those who don't want to use lethal force.

screenshot: Looking up at a grand brick tower, out of whose ruins stare large, hairy beasts, staring and snarling at you.
A pack of watchmen growl defensively at your approach

Another upgrade is that your watch now shows a nice, clear, digital display of the time remaining on your current filter, so you know when it's nearly time to replace the filter on your gas mask. (To be fair, your breathing also becomes laboured and noisy as the current filter begins to clog under layers of toxic dust but seeing a digital timer is much clearer.) There are also some new weapons, including a sniper rifle so huge and powerful it can tear through metal.

In many ways Last Light is little different to Metro 2033: you push yourself forward on your quest through tunnels and stations underground, and ruined wastelands and shattered buildings on the surface. But the game is a little longer (taking me sixteen hours to complete), offers far more combat, and tells a far greater tale. It makes Metro 2033 feel like a warm-up, and Last Light feels like the payoff. By the end of the game it feels like you've been on a hell of a journey, having encountered combat, conspiracy, plague, deception, ghosts and revelations, and having experienced camaraderie, lust, betrayal, and, if you're lucky, forgiveness. The atmosphere is intense throughout and the variety of situations, scenes and encounters leaves a strong impression. And the material is stronger than before: now harsh language is used frequently and there are several scenes which involve female nudity, including a brothel where a topless lap dance is available for the price of one military-grade round, and a sex scene. This time it feels much more like you're living through a long movie.

As in Metro 2033, in Last Light you gain and lose moral points based on how you choose to act throughout the game. This time, however, the ending you get is simply determined by your final moral standing, and you don't get a final choice. I thought I'd been perfectly behaved throughout the game (aiding people in need, being merciful when deciding the fate of major characters in the game, obeying the advice of wise beings), so I was disappointed to reach the end and discover that I did not achieve the morally superior ending. Looking at online guides now I realise that the ways to gain and lose moral points are numerous and subtle. (And it turns out that accepting the offer of a lap dance counts against you.)

Even without the morally superior ending I thoroughly enjoyed the journey through Metro Last Light Redux.

Metro Redux as a whole

screenshot: Two rangers of the Order sit talking by a fire, over which hangs a kettle, all lit by the flickering orange glow of the flames.
Listening to the tales of others earns you moral points

Technically these are two separate games. (If you buy Metro Redux in Valve Software's Steam platform you'll notice that you have to install each part separately.) But playing them back-to-back it's easy to consider them a single game. Put together as a whole, the two adventures offered in Metro Redux provide a rich world rife with danger and populated with interesting characters, flowing through which is an intriguing story and a real sense of purpose.

The graphics in Metro Redux are the best I think I've ever seen. Nothing about the tunnels, the stations, the surface wastelands or ruined buildings looks artificial. Foliage invades tunnels in ways that look natural, with no hint of lazy repetitive copy/paste design being employed; structures and interiors are detailed and realistic; humans look authentic and move naturally; and the outdoor scenes are breathtaking with clouds that move rapidly to offer bright sunlight one moment, followed by overcast skies which quickly turn moody dark as a torrential rainstorm begins, bringing hurricane winds which hurl loose debris while heavy rain makes it difficult for you to see through the visor on your gas mask.

All in, this is one of the best gaming experiences I've had, and I'd recommend it to anyone who likes an FPS ride through a strong story in a bleak but exhilarating world.