A franchise that has always been compared to S.T.A.L.K.E.R. quite a lot, Metro can truly stand on its own right as an excellent first person horror/survival game. Truthfully, even the shooter part plays second fiddle to the narratively-driven gameplay that you’ll find in this franchise. Helping along is the truly compelling world of a post-apocalyptic Moscow, and how humanity has managed to forge a way, as humble and meek as it is.
With the recent release of Metro Exodus, you might be wanting to play it but are ultimately worried that you won’t really understand the lore and the world without playing the first two games. Well, luckily I’ve put together a quick overview of both the gameplay and the story for the first two entries; Metro 2033 and Metro: Last Light.
Be fairly warned though, there are some heavy spoilers that have been demarcated below, so be aware of them so that you don’t spoil the story if you do want to play them fully.
#1 Metro 2033
Considered one of the best first-person shooters, Metro 2033 is set in the ruins of a nuclear-devastated Moscow and tells the cautionary tale of a world gone mad. Driven from the surface, humanity, or at least the humans of Moscow, have been driven deep underground to the train tunnels beneath the city, in an attempt to eke out their survival while the world fixes itself.
Even though the game takes place 20 years after the nuclear bombing, the world is still bleak, dark, and horrifying.
While lots of people look at Metro and think of it as a shooter, the truth is that the linear shooting aspect of the game is just there as a vehicle to move the interesting plot and gameplay forward. In fact, there are large portions of the game where you’re not doing any sort of combat but are instead exploring the weird and oftentimes claustrophobic tunnel system that people have made their homes.
That being said, you don’t have tons of really cool weapons to pick from, and they definitely feel as if they’ve been put together in a world where modern manufacturing techniques don’t really exist.
One interesting thing about weapons, and more specifically the ammo, is that a certain type called ‘Military Grade Ammo’ is used for currency. This currency can then be used to purchase health, weapons, ammo, or any other items, like clothing, that can come in useful while you’re out and about doing your thing. So why not just use Rubles or some other currency?
Well, because you can actually use this military-grade ammo in your weapons for extra damage and literally fire your money away. It offers an interesting little choice you have to make every time you get into a fight, especially ones that are pretty darn difficult.
Of course, one of the most important things that you’ll need is the gas mask and air filters, which are a must in the sections you leave the Metro and explore the bleak world above. Frustratingly, the filters don’t last long, so you’re always under time pressure to move forward and get to the next area, without spending too much time exploring.
This can often be difficult though, due to the monstrous abominations that have been transformed by the radiation, and which are actively trying to kill you.
There’s also a different kind of monster though, and that’s human beings, who you’ll also be coming up against. While you can always go in guns blazing, you’re actually better conserving what small amount of ammo you have and trying to stealth instead. Unfortunately, the stealth in the game is a little bit buggy, and if you don’t carry out the stealth section perfectly, you’ll end up in a shootout anyway.
Aside from how deadly humans can be with weapons, the other thing that makes them deadly is their ideologies, and in this circumstance, you have a lot of factions that are vying for control. In fact, the majority of the game intertwines with a near-constant fight for control between the Communists and the Neo-Nazis. There are also bandits who are more than happy to raid, steal, and even kidnap to stay alive.
It’s in this world that you get born into (sort of), as Artyom, the silent protagonist of the game. One day while trying to survive in Exhibition, one of the stations of the metro, it gets attacked by these strange beings referred to as ‘Dark Ones’, who wreak havoc and devastation. As the station commander’s adopted son, you are convinced to leave Exhibition and try to get help from Polis, a sort of informal capital of the metro stations.
[HEAVY SPOILERS AHEAD]
The man who persuades you to go is called Hunter, a member of the elite Spartan Order, a group of soldiers. Unfortunately, he does disappear after going hunting for the Dark Ones, but he does give you one of his dog tags to present at Polis to convince them.
The following day, you join a convoy to a nearby station called Riga, but you are, of course, attacked by mutants, as well as a psychic attack, but you do manage to get to the station and inside its defenses.
Inside Riga, you meet a man who’s called Bourbon, who’s immune to these psychic attacks and agrees to help you reach Polis, such a nice guy! Of course, the journey is fraught with danger as you traverse dark tunnels and even the ashen world above, and predictably, Bourbon gets killed by a bunch of raiders.
Thankfully you do get saved by another gentleman by the name of Khan, and you make your way to another station, which is under attack because that’s basically life now. You fight off the attack and Khan decides to stay with the survivors to give them a helping hand, but does tell you to meet his contact ‘Andrew the Blacksmith’.
Unfortunately for you, Andrew lives under the Red Line, which as you might have guessed, is a super-communist (read Stalinist) regime.
After meeting Andrew and getting some help to evade and escape from the Red Line, you, unfortunately, get caught by the Nazis, so you’re out of the frying pan and into the fire. Thankfully, your plot armor kicks in when Pavel and Ulman, two members of the Spartan Order, come to save you. Unfortunately, Pavel dies along the way, and Ulman goes to do his own thing, so you have to go at it alone for a while.
As you reach closer to Polis, you run into some survivors who are fighting off an attack by a mutant horde in the hopes of stopping them from getting to Polis. Unfortunately, you all fail, because again, that’s just life now, but you do manage to save a kid named Sasha. As a thank you for saving the kid, these survivors help you get to the surface where you meet up with Ulman again, and he takes you directly to Colonel Miller of the Spartan Order.
Of course, as is usual for politicians, they refuse to help Exhibition, but luckily for you, Miller has a back-up plan in the form of a missile silo called ‘D6’, who’s missiles you can use to destroy the Dark Ones. Frustratingly though, you need to find a map that tells you where it is, so you’re sent to the Moscow State Library to find the aforementioned map.
Of course, you end up fighting pretty much every mutant and scary thing that wants to kill you, especially the creepy librarians, but at the end of the day, you manage to find the map.
Given your success, Miller recruits you into the Spartans, and you and the group go to D6 to reactivate it and prepare it for the launch. Once you succeed in that, you are finally able to go set up a missile guiding laser and finish up the game.
As far as endings go, there are two; a good one and a canonical one. In the good ending, you realize at the last minute that the psychic attacks by the Dark Ones were just them trying to communicate and weren’t malicious, so you knock the missile-guiding laser down and spare them.
In the canonical ending, you still realize that they were just trying to make peaceful contact, but you let the missiles hit them regardless.
[END OF HEAVY SPOILERS]
All in all, Metro 2033 is a pretty excellent game with such an amazing atmosphere, especially for a game that came out in 2010. You can even make it more realistic by choosing to keep the audio in Russian, which adds a layer of authenticity that you don’t see in a lot of video games.
Add to it the action-packed sections, the compelling storytelling, and the environments you traverse through, and Metro 2033 is a truly iconic game.
#2 Metro: Last Light
If you loved Metro 2033 then you’ll absolutely love Last Light, as it basically picks up where the previous game dropped off. Essentially more of the same, this sequel takes everything that made Metro 2033 great (and not so great) and expands on them to give you a more thorough and dark experience of this post-apocalyptic world.
While there certainly is a lot of the previous game here, there is a bit of a departure from the straightforward linear pathing. Instead, you do get the option to explore and even sometimes take an alternate path to get to where you want to go. Granted, it neither gives you an open world nor an unlimited choice as to how you move forward, but it’s still nice to get the options here and there when you can.
Combat has been expanded in terms of the set-pieces, and while at times it may feel as if you’re just on rails and a passive observer, the game does a better job of putting you in difficult situations. While you do have a choice of going silently or guns-blazing, there are certain situations where you don’t get a choice, and the game suffers somewhat for it.
This is especially true in the portions where the game just throws waves of mutant enemies at you, eating up the resources you’ve carefully collected previously.
Of course, the gunplay is still great, and the put-together-from-scrap looking weapons have made a comeback and are even more awesome. One of the best parts of Metro is the visual feedback that the game gives you with your actions, and seeing the guns change as you add or remove parts from them is still a lot of fun.
Military-grade ammo also makes a comeback as the currency for the game, along with the option to use it for better damage instead of saving it to buy things (which I wouldn’t suggest you do).
In terms of story, the game pick ups one year after you killed off the Dark ones. You are now a full-time and respected ranger in the Spartan Order, which has moved into D6, a largely unexplored military bunker. Unfortunately, as we all know, rumors spread fast, with the Red Line and the Fourth Reich being informed of the possible riches in D6, they are both interested in taking it no matter the cost.
In the midst of this possible precursor to a metro-wide war, you, as Artyom, have begun to wonder if the killing of the Dark Ones wasn’t such a good idea after all.
[HEAVY SPOILERS AHEAD]
At this point, Khan makes a reappearance and informs you and the rest of the Rangers that a single Dark One survived the missile strike and that it will play an important role in humanity’s future. Miller, being the military man that he is, wants to destroy it, which isn’t shocking in the slightest. Of course, you and his daughter Anna, one of the best Ranger snipers, get sent to the surface to go hunting for it.
As ever-resourceful as Artyom is, he manages to actually find the Dark One, which turns out to be a child, but then they all get immediately captured by the Fourth Reich. Thankfully, you and another man named Pavel Morozov (not the same Pavel from the last game), manage to escape.
As a Red Line soldier, Pavel convinces you to escape to the Red Line, but unfortunately, when you reach there, it turns out he’s actually a high-ranking officer and they immediately capture you in the hopes of learning more about the Dark Ones and the Spartan Order.
The plot armor kicks in again and you manage to escape, and race to find both Anna and the Dark one. As it turns out, they were kidnapped by a Red Line spy and ex-member of the Spartan Order by the name of Lesnitsky. As is the case with extreme governments, you end up running into a contingent of Red Line soldiers massacring the inhabitants of a station, ostensibly to keep some mysterious disease at bay.
As it turns out, this disease is actually a weaponized form of Ebola that Lesnitsky stole from D6 when he was a ranger. Unfortunately, both you and Anna get exposed to it and are forced to enter quarantine.
Luckily, it turns out that you’re both absolutely fine, let go, meet up with Khan and continue your search for the Dark One. When you do find it, you experience a series of flashbacks where you learn that a Dark One once protected you, and thereby created a psychic link between yourself and the Dark One species. Vowing to protect this remaining Dark One, you head to Polis where a peace conference between all the factions is taking place.
Once there, the Dark One uses its psychic powers to make the leader of the Red Line, Chairman Moskvin, confess that the peace conference is just a diversion to distract everybody while the Red Line tries to assault D6.
None of that should come to you as a surprise at this point.
Racing back to D6, you are all ready to make a last stand when the Red Line literally crashes a train into the defenders, incapacitating many and basically causing you all to fail.
At this point, just like the last game, there are two endings you can have; The bad ending and the canonical ending. In the bad ending, Artyom destroys the D6 bunker as a last-ditch attempt to stop the Red Line from getting their hands on all the horrible things that are inside the bunker.
In the canonical ending, you get stopped by the little Dark One just before destroying the bunker and get surprised with the information that there were Dark Ones in the D6 bunker all along. Those Dark Ones single-handedly defeat the Red Line army.
Regardless of the ending, all the Dark Ones leave to find some form of peace and rebuild themselves, promising they will come back someday to help humanity rebuild itself.
[END OF HEAVY SPOILERS]
Metro Last Light is an excellent sequel to the original, taking all the best parts of it and making it better. The atmosphere is darker, the combat is more intense, and the linearity is scaled back to give you a little bit more freedom. More importantly, the narrative and story are truly excellent, and a great addition to the lore of the franchise.
So yeah, if you enjoyed 2033, you should absolutely play Last Light.
#3 Metro Exodus
Metro Exodus takes a really big leap in terms of the franchise, bringing with it a new semi-open world gameplay style, several new environments, and much less supernatural stuff, with a focus on interpersonal human relationships.
Unlike the previous two games, where the story and the environment are very linear, Metro Exodus provides you with 3 new open-world areas to explore, covering different seasons and environments. That’s not to say that there still aren’t the cramped and dark areas to explore as you could before, but now you have much more freedom to go about the main objective, which is still very linear and story-driven.
All of this is facilitated by Aurora, the train that you take to traverse Russia on your ultimate goal (more on that later).
Another interesting change is the doing away with the military-grade ammo and replacing it with a simple crafting system. What’s really great about this new system is that aside from workbenches, you also carry around a backpack which acts as a sort of makeshift workbench, allowing you to not only craft some things on the fly but also modify your weapon wherever you are.
That latter part is incredibly convenient, as you can pretty much stop anywhere and change your weapon’s loadout to fit what you need, such as night vision scope, or a suppressed barrel.
As for the story, it picks up two years after Last Light, with Artyom being somewhat disillusioned by all the infighting that’s going on in the metro system. This disillusion drives him to look for survivors outside of Moscow, and using a ham radio, he attempts to do just that.
[Heavy Spoilers Ahead]
Go along with Anna, who is now your wife, you both go out into the wastes of Moscow City to prove Artyom’s dream true. In the process, you do actually discover some other life in Moscow, but unfortunately, that life comes in the form of not-so-friendly soldiers who capture you and then subsequently leave you for dead.
Driven by your love for Anna and the fact that you’re a nigh-unstoppable killing machine, you track Anna down to a military base, only to find out that its primary purpose is to act as a jammer for radio signals, explaining why you could never pick anything up. In fact, for the short time you disable the jammer, you hear radio calls from all over the world, proving that a large portion of humanity has survived.
Your happiness is short-lived though, with you and Anna being forced to flee in the form of stealing a big ‘ole train called ‘Aurora’.
The Spartans are called in to take control, and when they board you are confronted with Miller, who realizes that now you know the truth, you will all be put to death. So of course, he does the logical thing for one and helps you all escape Moscow, along with himself.
After leaving Moscow, Miller informs the crew that the war never really ended, with Nato still working towards capturing Russia and that there are occupying forces all around. In the midst of his explanation, the train gets a radio transmission from the Russian high command with orders to rally at Yamantau Mountains, a sort of secure bunker for the Russian leadership.
Stopping at the Volga River to prepare for their journey to Yamantau, you and the rest of the crew explore the area and come face to face with the cultists who control the area. Unfortunately, during this exploration, Anna gets exposed to some form of toxic gas in an ammo dump, which becomes a problem later.
Leaving the Volga River, you reach Yamantau and the base, only to discover that everybody there has turned into cannibals, and there is no more Russian high command to speak of. In fact, the whole Nato occupation/army thing is another lie to keep everybody in check, and there’s no presence on foreign troops on Russian soil. Deciding that the only option now is to try and settle somewhere, the Spartans decide to go to the Caspian Sea where a satellite station hopefully has some imagery of radiation fallout in Russia.
Reaching the Caspian Sea, you find it completely dried out (no surprises there), and you also run into the Baron, a leader of a sort of post-apocalyptic, Mad Max society. Of course, he doesn’t play nice, so in the process of finding the map, you end up killing him, as well as getting your hands on some oil and water supplies for the train.
It’s at this point that Anna’s condition takes a super-hard turn for the worse, although there’s still hope that the fresh area and relatively clean area of the Taiga forest might help. Unfortunately, it turns out that the area is basically uninhabitable due to a dam that’s about to burst, potentially releasing thousands of tons of radioactive sediment. Similarly, Anna’s condition gets even worse, and we learn that there may be a potential cure in Novosibirsk, so we head there next.
Unfortunately, it turns out Novosibirsk is ridiculously irradiated, about 8 times more than Moscow, and the metro is even more shallow to boot, so it barely offers any protection. Nonetheless, you and Miller set out to find a cure, entering the city and seeing all the insanity that took place there.
You do end up managing to find a cure, but it, unfortunately, costs Miller his life. Thankfully the cure does work though, and the crew manages to reach Lake Baikal, a place completely free from radiation, and about a year after they first left for Moscow.
Like the previous two games, Artyom’s fate depends on the actions you take in the game. In the bad ending, you end up dying from radiation poisoning and end up spending eternity in a dilapidated and run-down Aurora with Millar and the others that have died along the way.
In the good ending, you survive, Miller’s body is buried and you take over his position as leader of the Spartan Order. Also, there are hints that Artyom wants to go back to Moscow to free the rest of the people, possibly setting us up for a sequel.
[End of Heavy Spoilers]
Metro Exodus is a great capper to the Metro trilogy, taking the game from its humble beginnings inside the dark and must metro lines to the open and clean air of Lake Baikal. With the new crafting system, the semi-open world sections, and the continued focus on narrative and storytelling, I’d definitely recommend you play this game even if you chose to skip one of the other two.
Special Mention: Metro Redux
Metro Redux is a remaster (not a remake!) of the original two games; Metro 2033 and Last Light. For the most part, Redux applies a pretty significant graphical update to Metro 2033 to bring it to Last Light’s standards, and the storytelling has been structured slightly differently but remains the same for the most part. Interestingly, you can apply the scarcity of Metro 2033 to Last Light if you wanted to play that way, which is pretty cool.
The best part is that it doesn’t add a bunch of extra resource-hogging, so you won’t need to have the best gaming PC to run it.
For the most part, if you haven’t played the games before, you should probably start with Redux, since it adds all the DLC as well, and overall makes it feel as if you’re playing just one whole game split into two parts, rather than two separate games.
There you have it folks, the three games in the Metro franchise (well, four if you count Redux, but I don’t). It’s honestly a really awesome, compelling and often dark game that truly elevates the medium, even with the bugs and issues you’ll find in the mechanics. If you’re a fan of games with a dark atmosphere and post-apocalyptic worlds, then you absolutely must play this.
Oh, and if you do decide to play all the games, make sure to leave some air filters behind for the rest of us!