Why “Metro 2033” is such an important development in the world of video games
By Nick Reed
The idea of video games being an artistic medium to be taken seriously by major news outlets has not always been widely accepted. Since the days of “Pong” and Italian plumbers jumping, video games have more often than not been seen as unimportant brain candy, a filler to keep you entertained but not to be taken seriously.
Over the decades, this began to change. With some video games pushing the envelope of storytelling and visual effects, opinions began to change. Today video games are often widely regarded by news outlets as a medium to be taken seriously.
Some games, such as “Red Dead Redemption 2,” received accolades for its fantastic visuals and incredible storytelling, with the New York Times going as far as to call it “true art” and saying, “The season’s best blockbuster isn’t a TV show or movie. It’s a video game.”
However, much like in the worlds of music or film, the perspectives explored in art are usually similar to my own: western and white. It’s not often that a non-English speaking artist rises to the top of the world charts or a movie reaches audiences outside of its own country.
This obviously has no impact on the validity of non-western artists; there are many important pieces of art from every corner of the world, and I think it is important for people to explore these on their own. It is important to shift our perspectives from those comfortable to use to see the world through another lens.
While names like Haru Nemuri or BTS come to mind in the world of foreign music, I myself can’t name many video games I enjoy that didn’t come from a western (or Japan by extension) source. Although not well-versed in the world of video games, I thought I could at least come up with something.
Many gamers have heard of Bethesda Studios famed “Fallout” series, a game set in America after the events of a nuclear armageddon. With this, many have wondered what is going on across the pond.
That’s where “Metro 2033” comes in. Produced by Kiev and Malta based studio 4A Games, Metro examines exactly that perspective from a uniquely Russian viewpoint.
Set 20 years after a nuclear apocalypse, “Metro” follows protagonist Artyom, and his fight to save his home. What makes this game unique, however, is its setting. “Metro” is, unsurprisingly, set in the ruins of the Moscow metro system, the only place safe from the radiation and hellfire.
Within the winding metro system come several factions. The factions of the communist Red Line and the Nazi Fourth Reich, which are both explored more in depth in the following game “Last Light,” are pitted in a constant war for seemingly no reason, an allegory all to familiar to us and especially impactful for the people of Russia whose country experienced this first hand.
This is one of my favorite elements of “Metro.” The futility of the conflict and the constant fighting for no end goal. Although showcased before, coming from a Russian perspective this has a different impact. It is important to realize that Russia lived through this exactly, and the political allegory that 4A is trying to tell is heart wrenching to say the least.
As well as this comes the Hanseatic league, the de facto America of the metros. A giant in both size and might, Hanza often treads over its own people to accomplish its goals.
One of the most fascinating parts of “Metro” is its unique gameplay. Artyom often finds himself sneaking through winding tunnel systems, fighting his way along the tracks and narrowly surviving the mutant hoards. Along with these segments come the above ground segments as Artyom navigates across the surface of Moscow, donning a gas mask with a finite amount of oxygen, which severely accentuates the anxiety that comes with the game.
This anxiety cannot be downplayed; this is a horror game after all. The dark winding passages often have monsters, and even humans, lurking around every corner. Every bullet and gas mask filter seems to count as they dwindle from your inventory, and the oppressive darkness of the tunnels only drive home the loneliness and isolation you feel as you navigate toward your end goal.
Above all these elements is the narratives 4A tries to tell with “Metro.” As Artyom had wished his entire life to see the outside world, even plastering his wall with postcards, he often finds reality confounding his dreams. Flashback segments play throughout the game, such as in an above ground apartment as you watch people living and breathing within their homes, all before it fades back to an empty, long abandoned wreck.
Artyom has never known a life outside of his tiny station on the frontiers of the metro. He dreams of leaving, of experiencing something else. The game showcases just how much more he got then he had bargained for.
He sees his friends and allies torn to shreds, entire stations massacred, an endless war being waged for seemingly no reason, and he begins to question every decision that is made. Artyom begins to way his decisions, who he saves and who must be left behind. He learns truly of what mortality and sacrifices for the greater good really mean.
“Metro” is a truly unique game. It cannot be stressed just how important it is to pay attention to non-western developers in the world of entertainment. So many fascinating stories can be explored, and many of them simply could not be told by a British or American or even Japanese developer. “Metro” is a story that can only be told by this group of Russian developers.
Russia is a country we think about a lot, as it is in our news constantly. However, I would ask you how often you look at Russia with a sympathetic eye and not with contempt or judgment. Russia is full of people, just like you or me who live their lives day-to-day.
“Metro” is not the story of any government, of any faction of any group. It is the story of people, of the Russian people. A people who are often not showcased in art. No American story would feature vodka so heavily; no British studio could so accurately depict the stations and life of the Red Line; and no Japanese person could so thoughtfully engineer the boxy Soviet architecture of Moscow.
It is too easy to ignore other countries in the world of art. This is a trope you can’t fall into. Explore other countries, look into the film, drama, music, and especially the games of other countries. You’ll learn something new a documentary could never have told you.
I advise anyone who feels tired of the meta with first person shooters to go out and experience “Metro” for themselves. This truly unique and fascinating take on the world of video games is simply not one to be ignored.
Featured image: Metro 2033 Redux Review PHOTO CREDIT: BagoGames