THQ’s eagerly-awaited Metro 2033 (XBox 360 & PC) is based on a self-published science fiction novel by Russian journalist Dmitry Glukhovsky. This is unusual in itself, as videogame developers traditionally only seem to consider Hollywood’s mega-budget output as worthy of adaptation. Games are frequently adapted from books, but this is usually only done off the back of a successful Hollywood movie in the interim, and the few genuine novel-to-game adaptations (like the numerous and perpetual Agatha Christie spin-offs) tend to have minuscule audiences and ambitions to match.
But Metro 2033 is aiming high, and zavvi.com was invited along to London’s uber-swank members-only Paramount club to take a hands-on look at the main game which, although touted as being mere preview build at this stage, both looked and sounded complete. Commendably, THQ also gave everyone present an introduction to the very man who created Metro 2033 in the first place.
Dmitry Glukhovsky probably cuts an unusual figure at the best of times, but here, under the dimmed halogen of this freakishly expensive high-rise hangout, he seems almost as if he’s arrived from another planet. During quite the most refreshing presentation imaginable, Dmitry disarms everyone in the room with offhand, stream-of-conscious banter that candidly reveals the personality of a man who probably has more things to say than there are minutes in the day.
He speaks about wanting to be given an opportunity to show the world that Russians aren’t all evil; and whilst he appreciates and shares our laughter at this comment, he is also deadly serious about it. He speaks about the intensive brainstorming sessions that allowed Metro 2033 to blossom into a novel; all of which took place on his daily four-hour commute to school on the Russian metro as a child. And he talks about his completely unorthodox views on internet piracy, but coolly offers up the figures to back himself up.
The original Metro 2033 was self-published by Dmitry in 2002 on a dedicated internet page, and within two years it had been read by approximately two million people. When the novel was published in print in 2005, it went on to sell over 500,000 copies in Russia alone. Dmitry passionately believes (with perhaps good reason) that giving his work away for free on the internet has done nothing to dissuade fans from going on to buy the physical article. “Don’t be greedy,” he says, “let those who can’t afford your book read it for free.”
Glukhovsky is such a passionate and engaging raconteur that it isn’t difficult to completely forget that we’re all attending an event being held to launch a new videogame. You’d expect to see a presentation as impulsive and personable as this at the launch of a new novel or art exhibit, but for an industry in which the talent often chooses to stay silent and hidden, this makes for a disorientating change of pace.
So Metro 2033 is a most unconventional piece of intellectual property. A ‘first person shooter set in a post-apocalyptic setting’ may sound like something dreamt up solely to put hardcore gamers to sleep, but this title’s literary origins shine through rather brilliantly. This feels like a story first and foremost, with a terrific game hanging on top of it. Rather than the other way round.
Our lengthy hands-on with Metro 2033 – in which we played through most of the game’s opening hour – revealed a game that has a praiseworthy respect for some of its more esteemed forbears. When any gamer gets his or her hands on a new piece of IP, they inevitably end up scratching for homage and similarities to seminal works in the same genre. And Metro 2033 brings only a couple of other games to mind – namely Bioshock and Half Life 2. These two luminous classics bear comparison not merely because Metro’s world is so brilliantly convincing (and it is) or because the gameplay is almost entirely bereft of intrusive cutscenes (and it is) but because it is a steadfastly adult piece.
After an action-packed and occasionally nerve-racking prelude (in which there is as much action as there is horror) you begin the game in your underground bedroom, deep within the Moscow metro system. As you walk around your dilapidated home ‘town’, you catch (and are free to dwell on, if you wish) snatches of the conversations going on in the box-like rooms around you. A wife lambasts her husband’s lack of hygiene. A young father sits by his bedside and speaks to his son about the boy’s deceased mother. And a ragtag bunch of bearded yokels sing loudly around a small fire, as a group of shaven-headed young men stand a few feet behind them, getting riled-up by a political rally being delivered from the top of a giant wooden box.
After gathering some weapons – all of which are either ancient or makeshift combos made from the used parts of other guns – you’re off on your first adventure, alongside three other members of your town’s community, all heading for an undisclosed destination elsewhere on the Moscow metro, and all for very different reasons.
To reveal any more would involve spoilers, but rest assured – this is shaping up to be something truly outstanding. Newbie development team 4A Games have been frank about the lack of a multiplayer mode (they didn’t want to lose focus on the main story) and at this stage, that decision appears to work massively in the game’s favour. The gunplay is robust and satisfying, the voice-acting is superb, and for people who really want to get sucked in to the world as originally envisaged by Dmitry Glukhovsky, there is an option to have all the dialogue delivered in Russian, with English subtitles attached.
Whether the full game is as compelling as the opening section remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure – from this vantage point, 4A seem to have crafted a immensely satisfying FPS. But more importantly, in addition they appear to have remained totally true to the original novel, and have done their very best to bring out the richest and most appealing aspects of it. Their biggest fan? Dmitry Glukhovsky.
Watch the Metro 2033 (XBox 360 & PC) trailer here…