Games

The Frightening and Uncomfortable World of 'Metro 2033'

Metro 2033 creates a world that is both claustrophobic and empty.

Most of Metro 2033 takes place underground in the dilapidated tunnels of Russia’s metro system. Normally this would be a poor setting for a game since metro tunnels are by necessity a repetitive environment. However, while many big budget games take great pains to send the player all over the world during their single player story -- to the snow level, the desert level, or the jungle level -- Metro 2033 proves that such grand gestures aren’t necessary. Repetitive scenery isn’t repetitive if handled correctly, and Metro 2033 handles it correctly: The tunnels may stay the same but what fills those tunnels is very different; by contrasting the overpopulated metro stations with the desolate tunnels, the game creates a world that feels both claustrophobic and frighteningly empty.

Metro 2033 makes excellent use of a limited space. While the tunnels may be dangerous, the stations are hubs of activity and life, filled to the brim with people. Unlike Fallout 3, in which even the major cities look sparsely populated, each metro station looks like a full city crammed into a tight space. These are lively places with many people doing a variety of things that show off a realistic community. Multiple conversations are happening around you at once, listening in on one means missing out on another. Tables and stools are filled with people drinking, eating, and talking. People are shopping for food or ammo. Some are sleeping. No one is just standing around waiting for you to talk to them. In fact, most people ignore you. This lack of direct interaction with the populace actually works in the game’s favor since it reinforces the idea that you’re just some guy who wandered in from the tunnels. The simple truth is that most people don’t want to talk with you.

The attention to detail fully sells the world. People are selling rats as food and the animals aren’t treated as something disgusting; it’s like buying a chicken and that casual attitude to an animal that we associate with everything nasty tells players all that they need to know about the standard of living in this world without using any dialogue or exposition. Guns are laid out on a table in front of the shopkeeper, allowing you to browse without actually going up to a table and activating its menu. Of course you have to go into the menu to get details about each weapon, but even then, the camera just zooms in on the guns on the table. There are beds lining the periphery of the station, consisting of whatever item or items can be put on the floor to soften it. Actual mattresses are stacked on top of one another as bunk beds. Rooms are rare, and even then, a room is just a bed with 3 walls and a drape. Altogether it actually looks like there are enough places for everyone to sleep. The stations look livable.

Then you leave stations and go into the tunnels. In most games these metro tunnels would feel cramped, but compared to the stations, the tunnels are practically spacious. The tracks stretch into darkness in both directions, making them seem endless. Even above ground in the wasteland of post-apocalyptic Russia, the tight ruins are broken up with wide open courtyards.

A lot of the tension in Metro 2033 comes from contrasting the small populated places with the bigger spaces because the bigger spaces are almost always empty. The activity in the stations gives those places a powerful sense of life, and without that activity, the world feels dead. It’s the stillness that’s frightening, not just the emptiness; these are places people do not go.

Between the cramped stations and the lonely tunnels, Metro 2033 never allows you to feel comfortable in its world. You might feel safe in one of the stations, surrounded by other people, but you’ll never feel so comfortable and secure that you won’t want to keep moving forwards.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Books

'World War 3 Illustrated #51: The World We Are Fighting For'

World War 3 Illustrated #51 displays an eclectic range of artists united in their call to save democracy from rising fascism.

Music

Tiphanie Doucet's "You and I" Is an Exercise in Pastoral Poignancy (premiere)

French singer-songwriter Tiphanie Doucet gives a glimpse of her upcoming EP, Painted Blue, via the sublimely sentimental ode, "You and I".

Music

PM Picks Playlist 3: WEIRDO, Psychobuildings, Lili Pistorius

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of WEIRDO, Brooklyn chillwavers Psychobuildings, the clever alt-pop of Lili Pistorius, visceral post-punk from Sapphire Blues, Team Solo's ska-pop confection, and dubby beats from Ink Project.

By the Book

The Story of Life in 10 1/2 Species (excerpt)

If an alien visitor were to collect ten souvenir life forms to represent life on earth, which would they be? This excerpt of Marianne Taylor's The Story of Life in 10 and a Half Species explores in text and photos the tiny but powerful earthling, the virus.

Marianne Taylor
Film

Exploitation Shenanigans 'Test Tube Babies' and 'Guilty Parents' Contend with the Aftermath

As with so many of these movies about daughters who go astray, Test Tube Babies blames the uptight mothers who never told them about S-E-X. Meanwhile, Guilty Parents exploits poor impulse control and chorus girls showing their underwear.

Music

Deftones Pull a Late-Career Rabbit Out of a Hat with 'Ohms'

Twenty years removed from Deftones' debut album, the iconic alt-metal outfit gel more than ever and discover their poise on Ohms.

Music

Arcade Fire's Will Butler Personalizes History on 'Generations'

Arcade Fire's Will Butler creates bouncy, infectious rhythms and covers them with socially responsible, cerebral lyrics about American life past and present on Generations.

Music

Thelonious Monk's Recently Unearthed 'Palo Alto' Is a Stellar Posthumous Live Set

With a backstory as exhilarating as the music itself, a Thelonious Monk concert recorded at a California high school in 1968 is a rare treat for jazz fans.

Music

Jonnine's 'Blue Hills' Is an Intimate Collection of Half-Awake Pop Songs

What sets experimental pop's Jonnine apart on Blue Hills is her attention to detail, her poetic lyricism, and the indelibly personal touch her sound bears.

Music

Renegade Connection's Gary Asquith Indulges in Creative Tension

From Renegade Soundwave to Renegade Connection, electronic legend Gary Asquith talks about how he continues to produce infectiously innovative music.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.

Books

Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.

Music

PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.

Film

'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.

Music

Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.

Film

Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.

Music

Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.