What makes a game worthy of being remastered? Epic console-selling titles such as The Last of Us or Halo would have you believe grandeur and status warrants a spit-shine and a re-release, while late bloomers such as Sleeping Dogs, Tomb Raider or Diablo III are all striking while the iron is still relatively warm before they fade away altogether. But if 2014 is going to go down as the year of the remaster, then perhaps there’s another title worthy of championing the trend that seems to be all the rage these days in the gaming industry.
Metro 2033 doesn’t seem like the most likely candidate to be bestowed this honour. A grungy, post-apocalyptic first-person shooter based on the novel of the same name by Russian author Dmitry Glukhovsky, the game was praised by critics for its style and atmosphere, but was lost somewhere between the free-roaming adventure of Fallout 3 and the intense Call of Duty genre-defining multiplayer hitting its peak. A single player experience through and through, it earned enough of a reputation to become a cult favourite, earning a sequel in 2013 subtitled Last Light.
For those who aren't aware why the world of Metro became a cult favourite, particularly amongst PC gamers, let’s recap. Twenty years after a nuclear apocalypse, the survivors of Russia’s capital have retreated to the Metro systems in order to avoid radiation poisoning and hideous mutations on the surface. Artyom is one such survivor, and learns that his home station is under threat from strange surface dwellers known as the Dark Ones. He must embark upon a quest that will take him across the Metro system, facing rival ideologies, bandit hordes, and his owns fears in order to save his home and the last of Russia's subterranean refugees.
Developed by 4A Games, creators of the PC favourite S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series, the game has often been used to benchmark test graphics cards for PCs but there’s more to this package, particularly the first game, than a simple paint job and a few tweaks. Graphically, the first game has not only been given a complete overhaul to bring it in line with the sequel, but gives both titles a much needed current-gen boost, putting what’s under the PlayStation 4 bonnet hard at work. Character models have been vastly improved, while the in-game HUD and rusted weapons blend in with the shadowy atmospheric nature of a post-apocalyptic world. As far as remasters go, it still has some catching up to do with other titles, but there’s enough of a change to appreciate the amount of work and effort that’s been put in in order to make the game appealing.
Upon starting the game you’ll be given the choice of playing either game in one of two modes – Survival or Spartan. Natively, Metro 2033 was of the Survival variety, limiting your ammo throughout, giving the game a bleak, but by no means boring feel. At times you’ll have to ration what little ammo you have in order to take on the waves of jaw-gnashing mutants, crafty bandits and ideologically-fuelled nutcases that roam the subway passages and irradiated surface in order to survive. It won’t take long for you to realise that Metro 2033 has more in common with a survival horror game than your typical first person shooter.
At times, it’s better to use the shadows and stealthily avoid your enemies rather than waste reams of bullets on enemies that take quite a beating before eventually dying. In the event that you do deplete your supplies, the game also has some military grade bullets that can be used as currency to upgrade your armoury, or as reserve ammo. Unless playing on one of the harder difficulties however, you’ll rarely need to resort to this, with the same attitude applying to first-aid kits or gas mask filters required for surviving on the surface.
A quick rummage in an abandoned train car, or taking down a few bandits is usually all it takes to restock your pantry. Visiting the game’s various and diverse locations also gives you a chance to modify and upgrade your guns. Still, even that doesn't take away from the game’s atmosphere, as you carefully tread into the shadowy catacombs of the Moscow metro, or cautiously avoid the abominations that wander on the surface. As the cast of rampaging beasts and villainous Metro dwellers grows, so too does the sense of danger as you increasingly journey further out of your comfort zone.
Metro: Last Light however, chooses to adopt a more fast-paced typical first-person-shooter approach, perhaps in an attempt to make the game sound more appealing to the Call of Duty generation. Spartan mode may substitute action over style, but there are still plenty of horrific moments and atmospheric terror to be had. Ammo, along with the game’s enemies are certainly in more of an abundance at times, but it doesn’t devalue the game’s difficulty. It’s not all bullets and bangs however, as there’s plenty of opportunities to explore the Metro system during some pretty meaty side missions, as well as putting more moral dilemmas in play during the storyline, something which the first game only tested you with on one occasion, at the very end of the game.
Still, if you’re a fan of Metro 2033’s pants-wetting atmosphere, then it’s advised that you carry Survival option on through into the sequel. It also maintains a sense of continuity between the two games, even if you have grown accustomed to the dangers of the Metro by the time you boot up the second game. In both games you can now look at your watch to see how long a lifespan your gas mask filter has before changing it, while ammo is once again in short supply, and enemies are much harder to take down. The game’s storyline does remain unchanged but it certainly makes for a much more interesting challenge, particularly if you enjoyed the moments of fear and terror that the first game channels so well.
Given that the game was originally released just over a year ago, not much work was required to tidy up the presentation of Last Light. Still, the game benefits from a PlayStation 4 makeover. If you’ve played either game before, you’ll notice how much more detailed and sharper character models, weapons and even the environments look running on your new machine. Throw in the added bonus of the Last Light’s DLC and you’ll begin to realise just how much affection 4A Games have for this series, with this definitive version of both games finally giving both entries their chance in the limelight.
If there’s anything bad to be said about either game is that at times, both resort to re-using similar set-pieces over and over. Helping fellow refugees defend an outpost, or rattling full throttle in a train car while shooting enemies does become rather stale and tedious at times, but doesn’t take long to formulate a strategy in order to overcome these obstacles, and you can whizz past them in no time. While neither game has a multiplayer mode, it’s no bad thing as the dedication towards crafting a meaningful, memorable single-player story shines through on both occasions.
Released at a budget price, there’s really no excuse for not giving Metro: Redux a whirl. Most console owners may have overlooked these games in the past, but at a time when new games for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One are in short supply, this package is both great value for money and a rather unique gaming experience that will leave you sleeping with the lights on for days to come.