Metro Series #1
Gollancz; April 1, 2011
3.5 / 5 ✪
A metaphysical journey combines with a thrilling, coming-of-age adventure. A post-apocalyptic Russia overrun by mutants. With the addendum of a mysterious enemy, Metro 2033 is complete. And yet… in joining these three elements, Metro just can’t decide what it wants to be.
I’ve played the game—a few times, in fact—but none of them prepared me for the journey Dmitry Glukhovsky weaves. Actually, I read through a good portion of this book while playing Metro Exodus, though none of this caused me to lose touch with the tale. Part of it has to do with Exodus; the story element isn’t as strong as it’s been in the previous two games—but I’ll have to review it to talk about this. Which… maybe? Anyway, one of the main reasons I was able to get through a related, though distinctly unique game while reading 2033 lies in what it is as a story. And just what it tells.
Metro 2033 tells the story of Artyom, a young man trapped in the Moscow Metro. Above him, the world is gone. Ruined. Changed by nuclear war. He was but a boy when the bombs fell, but remembers their sound and fury well. Even better than he remembers the world before. Better still than he recalls his mother’s face, her voice.
Since then he has lived in the metro tunnels, along with but a fraction of the human race, those few that survived alongside him. When he was young still a rat swarm overran his home station, Artyom alone saved when his mother pressed him into a soldier’s hands. At the start of 2033 he lives in VDNKh with his stepfather, Sukhoi, the very soldier who led him to safety all those years before. It is not an overly safe life, the constant fear of being overrun by rats, mutants, fascists, communists, or succumbing to either starvation or radiation—but is a quiet one, nonetheless. And one that is shattered with the arrival of Hunter.
Long story short, Hunter gives Artyom a mission—to deliver a message to Melnik at Polis—should he not return to the station within a day. While the reason for this wasn’t super clear at the time, from the context of later conversations (and the game, of course) it becomes clear that VDNKh is close to being overwhelmed by an unknown threat. What follows is the story of Artyom’s journey, a meandering trial of terror and tears, set in a destroyed world, populated by the remnants of humanity. He is witness to the best and worst and most human of humanity: smugglers, cannibals, killers, survivors, the faithful as well as the deceived. All and more.
While 2033 was quite the tale, it wasn’t what I’d call… engrossing. Sure, there was a story. A really good one, at that. It just wasn’t what I expected. Instead of a post-apocalyptic action-thriller, I’d classify 2033 as a metaphysical experience set in a post-apocalyptic world, with elements of mystery, thriller and scifi epic.
Stories dominate the text. The main, overarching one is Artyom’s. But his is not alone. Instead, imagine if you had a main story that was constantly interrupted by other legends, lore and second- or third-hand tales of the metro, all told by people the lead character meets in his own journey. Tales that often interrupt the main story—and while providing interesting lore—accomplish little more than distracting from the primary adventure itself. This is what 2033 gives the reader. A muddied, confusing jumble of tales that somewhere at its heart bear a diamond core.
The deep, thought-out world is more than enough of a reason to read Metro 2033. It’s more than just an adventure, a thriller, a mystery, yet somehow, as it tries to include all of these elements, loses all of them. It is certainly worth reading—I did enjoy the book more than the game (helped by the fact that I didn’t die every couple minutes and have to repeat a section)—though nowhere near the experience I was hoping for.