Look at all the dust around here jeez… does no one know what a feather duster is anymore? Anyway, We are back people! Things have been a little bit hectic recently but hopefully we can put everything back on track! For starters, I’m going to start this recurring theme of articles called “Games you should have played” so we can get some more ideas flowing around here. Hopefully some other people will start posting original stuff, or they can add on to this article theme! Either way, the general idea is to talk about great ideas from games that maybe are a little out dated now, maybe did not really get the media attention they deserved, or maybe are just super cool! I don’t want to spoil any plans, so I’m just going to lead by example with Games You Should Have Played: Metro 2033.
Metro 2033 came out in March of 2010 and was developed by 4A Games in the Ukraine. Metro is based off of a novel of the same name written by Dmitry Glukhovsky, and as you may have guessed, is about a post apocalyptic Russia where a nuclear winter has set in, and the people have fled to the metro system to find shelter. Metro 2033 takes the form of a survival horror first person shooter, and uses some really interesting elements to help emphasize the survival aspects and themes so prevalent throughout the story.
For example, after nuclear war, money in the metro hubs has become obsolete, so people barter for goods using bullets. Further there is an exchange rate, so you could trade say ten pistol rounds for five shotgun shells or something like that. This can lead to some difficult decisions even inside safe hubs. Sure, you could buy that shiny new AK-47, but you would have to spend three fourths of your stock of pistol rounds to do it, and then where are you going to get AK ammo? Using ammo as the accepted form of currency really emphasizes the survival aspects of the game. In other post apocalyptic games, its easy to make everything look deteriorated, and often times, for the first couple hours the player must ration resources carefully, but after that they are a walking ammo house, carrying enough ammo to travel around with their R-Trigger tapped down and think nothing of it. That is not to say that you don’t eventually feel conferrable with the amount of ammo you have in Metro, but for large portions of the game ammo rationing both in combat and in trade is very important, and that is something that should be incorporated into more survival games.
One of the other awesome features of Metro 2033 is roaming around outside of the metro stations. The reason of this is the fact that the outside world has been rendered almost uninhabitable, and travelers must dawn gas masks to help protect themselves from the harsh environments. Not only do the gas masks distort your vision when you are hurt, becoming cracked, and eventually breaking, but also you must change the filter on your gas mask every so often to stop it from fogging and completely blinding you. While it may be a small task, only taking a couple of seconds, if it happens during a particularly intense shooting sequence, or during a mutant battle, making the decision between changing your filter and fighting on could be a decision between life and death. As with the ammo in Metro, these gas mask filters are also very precious, so the player must decide when to switch the filter out to not get too impaired, but not switch them so frequently that the player runs out of filters before reaching an underground station. Going along with this idea of having to perform an action to maintain your gear, all electronics in the game, night vision goggles, headlamps, things of that nature are powered by hand crank generators, which the player must crank occasionally to recharge everything’s batteries. Again, it is easy to see how the player must be alert, as if for instance your headlamp looses power while you are fighting in the subway; it is easy to see how death may quickly follow.
In survival games especially, little details like what should be used for money, how should we force the player to ration goods, should we make items that degrade in quality, really impact gameplay in great and meaningful ways, and can further emphasize the struggle facing the character in such hostile environments.
Another one of my favorite aspects of Metro 2033 is how the game lets you decide how you want to deal with enemies. Because of all of the previous survival problems I described earlier, it is easy to see how avoiding conflict would be much more advantageous to the player than trying to Rambo through every obstacle. While sometimes it is impossible to sneak by enemies, especially above ground, Metro 2033 offers a couple of tools for the players who are more inclined to move around undetected. For one, there is a very basic stealth meter on the player’s right wrist, it uses three colored lights to indicate how visible the player is, green is invisible, yellow is partially visible, and red is standing in light. To accompany this detector, the player is later given a set of night vision goggles to help maneuver in the darkness. Finally, there are assortments of silent weapons available both for purchase, and to find in the open world, things like silenced weapons, pneumatic guns, or my personal favorite, throwing knives are all available for a price. The combination of all of these elements allows the player flexibility to conserve ammo at the risk of being caught with their metaphorical pants down if they are spotted.
On the subject of fighting enemies, Metro made one of the best in game decisions I have seen in a long time in terms of enemy design. They included one subtle detail that really worked well, specifically, if you shoot at an enemy who is wearing body armor in the places he has body armor, it takes way longer to kill the enemy than shooting him in places where he is exposed. Simple as that! Sure, some would argue than many games do this by making headshots instant kills, and I agree with this, but Metro 2033 goes further than that. It may take say a full magazine worth of ammo to take down an enemy when shooting center of mass, but it will take less if you, hit them in the more exposed arm region, or in the back, or on the side perhaps. Either way, it is very obvious that some enemies are armored, and than the armor is not just simply aesthetic to the character model, but actually an important feature of the enemy. Again, I’m emphasizing the little things that this game did right because they really stand out to me, and I believe many other games could learn to incorporate simple mechanics like the ones I am describing, or take them into consideration when trying to create an immersive world for the player to experience.
One final thing I would like to point out is one sequence in particular for Metro was the Library level near the end of the game. This level really drove home the idea that the characters were surviving, not thriving in their environment because of the enemies faced in this level, the “Librarians”. The thing about the Librarians is that you could try and kill them, but you would get through maybe three out of ten before you just outright run out of ammo, and then good luck taking them on with a knife. What the creators did was overpower these enemies so the player is forced to run from them as they chance you, powerless to do much in terms of defending yourself at any reasonable cost. The developers made a decision for this part of the game to create an enemy that was unbalanced for the expressed purpose of eliciting an emotional reaction out of the player, not to tell the player how much the characters are struggling, but to make the player feel the struggle of the character through the relationship between the enemy and the character. This scene in particular is still with me today because of its power, and the message it sent through a gameplay experience, and not direct narrative, or cutscene. Metro 2033 may have been relatively small in terms of development and marketing to the greater public, but it really does pack a lot of interesting ways to bring descriptions of a novel to the player, and if given the chance I would highly recommend Metro 2033 as a game you should definitely play.