A work of Artyom
Let’s be honest, 4A Games’ classic shooters Metro 2033 and Metro: Last Light are probably not two of the more topically appropriate games to be playing right now, but they’re absolutely two games that deserve a revisit following their recent release on the Nintendo Switch. Confession time – we’re a bit late on our review for this set, mainly because we wanted to give these super impressive ports the time they deserve, but also because that time got somewhat extended thanks to the world going to hell relatively quickly (hello, reader from the future – I do hope Covid-19 isn’t still a major thing!) Still, here we are, and here’s why the Metro Redux collection on Switch is an absolutely essential purchase for shooter fans who own the little hybrid console.
The Metro series has seen enough re-releases since the launch of Metro 2033 in 2010 that it’s still fresh in the minds of gamers, even more so since 2019’s release of the third game, Metro: Exodus. For the uninitiated, the games are based on Dmitry Glukhovsky’s post-apocalypse sci-fi trilogy of novels, Metro 2033, Metro 2034 and Metro 2035. In the games, as in the novels, nuclear war has ravaged the world and, in Russia, survivors live in the Metro tunnels under Moscow, fending off violent gangs and mutated creatures in an attempt to survive. Players take on the role of Artyom, one of the survivors, who becomes embroiled in events both inside and outside of the Metro system in a plot which builds in elements of the social struggle these communities face, as well as a seemingly supernatural menace that is emerging from the wastelands.
The games build on straightforward FPS mechanics to deliver some experiences that still feel fresh in 2020, from limited resources including ammo for your guns and cartridges for your oxygen mask, an essential item when adventuring above ground, to side quests which subtly affect the games narrative and large stealth areas which welcome multiple means of approach. While the stories are, on the whole, fairly linear, there is a sense that your choices matter, not only in how you approach each area, but how you interact with the NPCs and how you choose to upgrade your equipment. As resources are scarce in the Metro, exploring areas to find crafting materials is an essential part of your adventure, as is careful consideration on how you apply them to your weapons. Do you want to go stealthy and put a silencer on your AK-47, dealing with reduced damage, or do you want to steady your aim with a better stock? These customisations make your loadout feel very personal, but they are also applied to enemy weapons you can pick up meaning carefully searching bodies after a firefight is essential – you may just find that perfect shotgun you were looking for!
While 2033’s sequel, Last Light, leans slightly away from the stealthier elements of the original, these are still incredibly tense games, and the environmental design plays a lot into this. Most of the locations you’ll adventure through are dark, illuminated only by your wind-up flashlight that you’ll have to keep stopping to charge up. Keeping an eye on various meters like this and your O2 supply, removing your oxygen mask when you don’t need it and deciding when is most appropriate to fire off your weapon, when it’s best to stealth through an area and when to just go hell for leather and hoon it to the next objective. A careful and gradual approach is always best, though, and taking time to get your bearings in each new section is critical. The downside to the somewhat more linear approach of the game, however, is that it is easy to box yourself into a corner with limited resources or a poor choice of upgrades, leading you to either think on your feet or reload the start of a mission to take a completely different approach. This can be frustrating, especially if you’ve spent time getting to that brick-wall point, but it does teach you early on to be more considerate with how you play.
This new port for Switch lifts the Redux editions of 2033 and Last Light which released in 2014 for PS4, XBox One and PC, featuring updated textures and models, and reworked mechanics and areas. It is, frankly, an incredible achievement. Worked on by series developers 4A Games, rather than being farmed out to a third party like most Switch ports, the engine has been recoded from an assembly level to be as close to the big boy console releases as possible and, for the most part, it completely and amazingly succeeds. There are some concessions, obviously – frame rate is locked to 30fps, texture and geometry detail is noticeably lower, particularly when playing on a TV screen, but none of these things are completely detrimental to the experience. The game implements the same kind of dynamic resolution shifting seen in most Switch games including Nintendo’s own Breath of The Wild and Mario Odyssey games, but in Metro it’s done using a touch of upscaling so that the actual resolution maintains either 720p or 1080p, depending on the screen you’re using. This allows for some clever post-processing to be implemented to filter the resulting image allowing it to appear less low-res than it actually is. While this can, in some rare moments, lead to some fuzziness in the image, on a whole it creates an experience that is as close to the original releases as possible.
As light plays such a huge part in the games it was critical that 4A got that part over as intact as possible and this is probably one of the more impressive parts of this port. While there’s a noticeable reduction in detail, dynamic shadows, light sources and light rays are all present, as are the dust and HUD effects from the other Redux releases (blood and mud splashes on the screen, for example). For a game that relies so heavily on its atmosphere, retaining these things makes you quickly forget about the other visual shortcomings and immerse yourself into the story – with one possible exception. Because of the reliance on dark areas and having to carefully choose when to turn on your flashlight, the Metro Redux games can quickly become unplayable in portable mode when in a brightly lit room. I have (okay, HAD, now that we all can’t leave our house) a regular trip to our local bowling alley every Saturday morning to accompany my son for his coaching sessions in the local junior league. As this mostly involves me sitting in the bar area while he gets on with it, I always take my Switch with me to catch up on some gaming. In those bright bar lights, I found one particular area of Metro 2033 impossible to play on the portable screen as the darkness left me squinting; in the end I had to wait til I got home to put it on the TV before I could make out what was going on. It’s not a massive deal breaker, but it’s certainly something to consider if you’re a gamer who predominantly plays their Switch portable or uses one of the Lite models.
Another area that lets the game down is its loading times. Okay, so the Switch isn’t exactly known for its blisteringly fast load times in visually challenging titles, but there are some areas of Metro Redux that just feel inordinately slow. One early part of 2033 saw a load time of nearly 2 minutes(!) between areas, a point at which I genuinely thought the game had froze. Fortunately load times on death are almost instant so once you’re in a new area you don’t need to worry about having to go and make another cup of tea should you die.
One final point of contention, however, is one that haunts a lot of Switch ports of older games – the price. Known as the “Switch Tax”, these ports which are objectively technically inferior to other systems, are often sold at a higher price. A case in point is that at the time of writing this review, both games retail for £22.50 a pop on the Switch eShop, while on PS4 you can pick up BOTH of them for £25. That’s quite a significant markup; sure, you can save a bit of money by plumping for the cartridge release which gives you a double pack for around £42 (current price on Amazon) but any multi-console owners will gravitate immediately to that cheaper double pack. So why should you buy Metro Redux on Switch? The obvious answer is convenience. If you play your Switch on the go, even just around your house, you’ll know how convenient it is to be able to pick up and put down a game at will without having to find time to sit in front of a screen with a controller in your hand. If you have that time, absolutely go for the technically better version. If you want flexibility and don’t mind the visual downgrade, or if you are a gamer who only owns a Switch, then this super impressive port is absolutely worth your time.