There really aren’t enough games set in Russia.
There are so many games now set in New York or other parts of America that when a game developer takes us out of our comfort zone and puts us somewhere different, it’s a refreshing change.
Enter “Metro: Redux” -- a collection of two highly lauded first-person-shooters set in post-apocalyptic Russia, namely 2010’s “Metro 2033” and 2013’s “Metro: Last Light.” Both are based on the book “Metro 2033” by Russian author Dmitry Glukhovsky.
In a world destroyed by nuclear war, the remaining Muscovites have been forced underground to live out their days in the old subway stations away from the radiation and the mutants that live above ground. Adding to the horror is that the monsters and ghouls often venture underground and come looking for the subway-dwellers.
Making things worse is that the old divisions between the Nazis (who have created a Fourth Reich) and the Communists are back in play, triggering a civil war within the underground.
You play Artyom, a young man orphaned during the nuclear devastation and raised in the underground. Under the guidance of a grizzled veteran, he looks to discover the secret of “The Dark Ones” -- a supposedly ‘evolved’ but also extremely deadly form of humanity, who lurk underground, have mysterious powers and the ability to get inside people’s minds and silently destroy entire stations.
The concept is the game’s strength, although occasionally the minor parts of the plot slow it down. Being based on a pretty hefty novel, the game tries to fit a great deal of the political intrigue in between the various action scenes, which can often come across as garbled and leave the reader struggling to work out why this particular station with the long Russian name is important to the plot.
However, the concept overrides that, and the developers have done an excellent job of portraying the poverty, fear, despair, and uniquely Russian atmosphere that seeped out of every pore of Glukhovksy’s novel.
Going into the various ‘towns’ that exist in the underground is a treasure trove of little stories and anecdotes that give color to the dark and dreary world you are inhabiting. Unfortunately, the sound remains glitchy and it’s still common to hear multiple characters speaking at once, especially annoying given that what they have to say is often quite delightful.
Most of the gameplay takes place in the tunnels or on the Muscovite surface -- both are terrifying, with all kinds of awful creatures lurking around every corner waiting to cut you to ribbons in seconds.
The majority of the game is relatively standard first-person-shooter fare, but it does bring in some original elements. A lot of these are gimmicks that can get in the way, but some do add to the experience.
For instance when you go above ground, you must don a gas mask to protect yourself from radiation. Filters, however, are in short supply. So the moment you put on your mask, the counter is ticking down. When it runs out, you die. However, the “Metro” games are no run-and-gun fests. Both require you to take your time, time you don’t have. Also, being an apocalyptic scenario, ammo is in short supply, forcing you to barter and trade at various weapon stores. So, stripped of ammo and time, it leads to a very tense experience.
In the remake however, you can pick either “Survival” or “Spartan” modes -- the former leaning the games toward the survival horror tone found in the original and the latter offering more of a shooter experience. Offer two slants is a nice feature, and I wish more games would follow this lead.
The graphics have also been given a notable upgrade for the next-gen consoles. However, because the graphics are often dark interiors of muddy tunnels, it is often tough to see the difference. Only in the character models and the outside sections can the upgrade be seen.
Yet what makes “Metro: Redux” an example for other games to follow is that it isn’t just a graphical upgrade, but a serious gameplay overhaul too, specifically the first game, which has been reworked to include all the improvements that were found in the sequel, such as better artificial intelligence, easier switching between weapons, better controls, handling, and other tweaks to make the whole thing run better.
It adds up to a smoother experience, and also feels less like a cash-in and more like a genuine attempt to make the best version of the game possible, especially as “Metro: Redux” is two games in one and comes to $10 less than a normal retail game.
Although “Metro: Redux” can’t overcome the handful of flaws that plagued the original games, developer 4A Games has done a great job in tweaking and polishing the game, and ironing out some of the kinks that have made the originals age. “Metro: Redux” is a gold standard for remakes, and should be studied carefully by developers looking to remake their classic titles.
Metro: Redux is available for Xbox One, PC and PlayStation 4. The Entertainment Software Rating Board rating is M -- Mature.
Retail Price -- $49.99 or separately for $24.99 each.