In Why I Love, PC Gamer writers pick an aspect of PC gaming that they love and write about why it's brilliant. Today, Tom savours the tactile excellence of Metro's machinery.
If you're into atmospheric FPS games and haven't played Metro 2033 or Metro: Last Light then you're in for a treat. These maudlin shooters are set in the aftermath of an apocalyptic event that's driven humanity into the Moscow metro. The series is largely set in these gorgeous tunnels, dripping with irradiated gloop, inhabited by strange misshapen creatures and tolerated by a populace of hardened grumps.
Both games are beautiful—especially since 2033 received the Redux update—and both use the transition between underground and overground areas to pace your journey through the wasteland, exposing you to a series of carefully framed scenes of extraordinary destruction—a crashed airliner in the rubble of a skyscraper, a huge concrete wound that exposes the mangled platforms of a once-buried station. It's hard to compress the strange cocktail of melancholy and amazement these scenes inspire into a single phrase. Let's go with "misery-awe".
Metro is so effective because it uses its props to embody you in its world. Metro's guns are creaky analogue things that need to be cranked and punched into working order. Your keep your light alive by pumping the handle of a manual battery. Your pneumatic rifle uses a little circular meter to let you know how much power it has in the tank. The dial is rusted and wobbly, and the little dial inside looks like it would quiver convincingly if you gave it a flick.
You're always seeing your hands manipulating your gear, and these animations sell the heft of these rusted old weapons brilliantly. Everything seems oddly robust, as though assembled by a pragmatic hand. It feels like the designers know how each gun or tool works, and could almost build you one if they had the right parts. There's a terrific machinegun that sends the clip horizontally through the body of the gun. You don't need a fancy ammo counter or UI device to know how many rounds you have left, you can just count them.
The gas mask might be Metro's greatest triumph. You need it to breathe the deadly atmosphere on the surface, but wearing it is oppressive. The entire soundscape becomes muted and your breathing becomes loud and harsh. As your filter wears out, you start to choke. The scratched visor becomes damaged as you fight, and can be dirtied by blood and radioactive dust. There's even a button that lets you wipe it down, with a perfect little plastic squeak of course
It's one of the most reactive and tactile objects in games. You can tell it's effective, because it's a real relief when you're finally allowed to tear it off. Even thinking about it makes me want to take a deep breath and be glad of this lovely breathable air. Metro could do the same for you, too. I recommend it.