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Metro 2033 Is The Perfect Holiday Game For 2020

I’ll bet if Sammy Cahn saw the frozen, irradiated wastes of post-war Moscow, he’d think twice about asking for more snow. The stuff is everywhere in 2010’s Metro 2033, a chilling and chilly horror game set in the fallout of a 2013 nuclear war. While a game where violent mobs and bloodthirsty creatures try to maul you in a Russian apocalypse might not seem like the coziest game for the holidays, 4A’s stressful survival sim is actually a great thing to bundle up and get lost inside of this winter.

A large part of that has to do with the environment itself. In the first game, players venture above ground only a few times, but that’s enough to get a sense of how cold and desolate Moscow is. Giant icicles hang from surfaces like menacing stalactites, and a thick layer of snow blankets the burnt-out locale. This city is frozen and dead, with only mutated monstrosities there to greet you – and eat you. The few times you visit the surface are some of Metro 2033’s most impactful moments, as they drive home just how cold and miserable the game’s world is.

A little below ground, though, things aren’t much better. The majority of Metro 2033 takes place inside the titular metro, a sprawling underground network of interconnected train tunnels. These tunnels are dark and dreary, not fit for human life. Yet this was the only place that Moscow’s people had to go, and so they ventured into the metro in search of a new life. In the years that followed, several microcosmic societies began to crop up, ushering in a brave new world of subterranean life for the survivors.

Much of the game is a scary, stressful experience where the player is barely holding on by the skin of their teeth. Your good bullets double as currency, enemies can kill you in one or two shots, and you can’t see anything clearly to save your life. It’s a game that makes players feel disposable, like their life is cheap and meaningless. That’s only part of the time, though. Because when protagonist Artyom isn’t mowing down giant rats or sneaking past Neo-Nazis, he’s walking around underground settlements and trying to hold on to some semblance of normality.

These are the moments that prevent Metro 2033 from being an overwhelming bummer. As Artyom passes through different settlements, he catches small glimpses of what life is like there. Some are better off, and have small economies and governments presiding over an orderly group of people. Others are more desperate, trying to eke out whatever living they can, living a nomadic lifestyle and camping out in threadbare housing. Wherever Artyom goes, he takes time to talk to the people there, and often chronicles his interactions with them in a notebook.

This is how players meet some of Metro’s most memorable figures, like the wry and grizzled trader Uncle Bourbon. Bourbon is just one of the game’s many eclectic characters, but even with a relatively small part in the game, his seedy charm makes him a standout. Artyom’s conversations with the traveling “huckster” give players the impression that their friend isn’t exactly the most standup guy, and indeed, there’s always reason to believe that he’ll sell you up the river without hesitation. But in spite of this, his presence is a comfort during the short time he travels with Artyom.

Characters like Bourbon are comforting because they remind Artyom that he’s not alone. Even shifty and untrustworthy people are still people, and when most of the people you know are dead or dying, you’ll take what you can get. Forced together by circumstance and not much else, most of Artyom’s comrades throughout the game aren’t the decent sort, but they’ll do in an indecent world. When you’re huddling around an oil drum’s dying embers, trying to drink and distract yourself from the fresh hell all around you, it doesn’t matter if your companions are patron saints or thieving bastards – they’re people, same as you.

That sentiment is one that hits home during the 2020 holidays. In the past year, a pandemic has kept us isolated and shut up in our homes for our own safety. These homes have become our corners of the Metro – our own little microcosmic worlds, existing in stasis outside of the rest of society. Our friendships have fallen into disrepair, many of our loved ones have been claimed by Covid-19, and life will likely never go back to what it once was. And yet, in a cruel kindness, we’re alive and therefore have to continue living. We’re left to pick up the pieces of the world, then put them back together and hope something like this doesn’t happen again in our lifetime.

With that being what it is, then, the 2020 holidays are a time to cherish the ones we have left. These don’t have to be your family if you’re not on good terms with them, and if you’re alone, it can be friends you made on Twitter or Discord. Whoever it is, take the time to have a meaningful conversation about life, the world, and everyone living in it. Check in with each other – ask about their lives and talk about yours. Cherish the little jokes you share, the questions you ask, that tiny glimmer in their eye when they get excited over something. These people are likely not perfect, but if they’re people you choose to have in your life, they’re there for a reason, and it’s worth cherishing every moment you get with them while they’re still here.

Much like Artyom’s journey after Metro 2033 took him in strange and unforeseen directions, there’s no telling where society is heading after 2020. Things could change for the better, or things could get a hell of a lot worse. Whatever the case may be, holding on to our humanity during these trying times is the only thing that’s going to keep us sane. So this holiday season, regardless of what you celebrate, take the time to cozy up to somebody you care about and talk about life. Be vulnerable. Listen to each other.

It’s the only way we’re getting out of this alive.

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Next: Why Skyrim (Now On Game Pass) Is The Perfect Christmas Game

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  • Metro Exodus
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Bella Blondeau is a lovable miscreant with a heart of gold… or so she says.

She likes long walks in dingy arcades, loves horror good and bad, and has a passion for anime girls of any and all varieties. Her favorite game is Nier: Automata, because she loves both robots and being sad.

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