Published May 28, 2013Alternate-reality games are all the rage right now, but three-year-old first-person shooter Metro 2033 (the debut effort from Ukrainian studio 4A Games) took a novel approach in its alt-future, basing it on the titular novel by Russian author Dmitry Glukhovsky. Both the book and game are set in Russia two decades after a nuclear war occurred at the end of 2013 that forced survivors down into Moscow's metro system. This may sound silly to those of us hailing from nations that were never once part of the Soviet Union, but the Moscow subway system was actually constructed with this very purpose in mind. The deeply sunken metro stations double as massive fallout shelters intended to house the city's population in the event the Cold War turned hot.
Of course, in this future, the Commies are again a thing and the Nazis are back, too, both factions taking control of different metro lines. Oh, and there are mysterious supernatural creatures known as Dark Ones roaming amongst the mutant people and animals above the ravaged surface. Or at least there were.
The first game involved the destruction of the Dark Ones via deus ex bomba, despite a last-minute realization that maybe they weren't evil after all (d'oh!). This return trip below Moscow, "guided" by Glukhovsky, but penned by 4A, follows that missile strike with the revelation that at least one of them survived.
You once again play Artyom, one of the first underground-born Muscovites, who also just so happens to be immune to the mental manipulation abilities of the Dark Ones. Everyone else wants to kill the last Dark One, but you want to find out what they want. And you have to accomplish this while navigating a civil war that's breaking out between the various "station-cities," as the humans set about becoming their own worst enemies and hunt for a doomsday weapon because, I guess, you can't have too many apocalypses.
Split between dangerous underground tunnels and deadly over-ground wastelands, a reminder of how humanity's hubris could easily make the planet turn against us, this incredibly specific and perfectly paced game is as bleak as any ever. While that means it can sometimes take a mental push to play it at the end of a hard day, it's worth it because your difficult day pales in comparison to the horrors haunting Moscow's subway survivors. (4A Games)