Nothing brings people together, nor, conversely, divides ideologies like a tragedy, and what tragedy could be greater than the nuclear obliteration of our entire world? Metro 2033’s survivors exist in such a world—a world of close-knit communities and conflicting ideals. Perhaps it is the socialist roots, but while North American’s apocalypse survivor seems intent on shooting their neighbour in the back for the sake of their own doomed survival in fictions such as Fallout 3 and (to my understanding) The Road, Russia’s survivors are hell-bent on rebuilding society and returning to the surface. Sure, humans still fight humans, but over ideologies and principles, not a handful of bottlecaps. In this post-apocalypse, people are willing to help others, to risk their lives, for more than mere payment. Metro 2033 is a world of heroes.
Artyom, the playable character, is but one of these heroes. I do not mean ‘hero’ in the simple way we often use the word to mean ‘main character.’ Niko Bellic is not a hero—he just wants revenge; the mercenaries of Borderlands and Far Cry 2 are not heroes—they are in it for the treasure. Bioshock’s playable character is doing what he is ordered to do, and Master Chief is doing what he has been constructed to do. But how many playable characters are truly heroes? How many playable characters aren’t extraordinary beings but simple, ordinary people doing extraordinary things for the sake of someone else?
I cannot think of many, but Artyom is certainly one of the few. He is no biological super soldier; he is not a brainwashed killing machine; he is merely a young man, no different from every other young man on Exhibit Station. No different, except that he does not think twice about disobeying his stepfather and risking his own life in a seemingly suicidal trek across the Metro to save his home and the people he loves. He does not do this for fame or glory; everyone surely assumes he is dead before his journey is anywhere near complete. The thought that no one even knows he is out here is gut-wrenching, but that is what a hero must deal with. It makes the going harder, but as every tunnel, every station, every mad dash across the toxic surface takes Artyom further from home, I remember the faces of those back at Exhibition and push on.
But Artyom is not the exception—the Metro survives on the blood of heroes. Artyom would be dead and Exhibition lost many times over if not for the numerous men that help him on his journey—men who have never been to Exhibition but risk their lives for Artyom anyway. Sure, the threat to Exhibition Station will eventually threaten the entire Metro, but for now, these men are risking their lives solely for the people I care about. ‘Love’ is a word I have never before considered using for a non-payable character, but I love these men that risked their lives for my story. From the old man on the caravan to Riga Station that holds back the flamethrowers until he can pull Artyom behind the barricade, to Bourbon’s(sometimes unfortunate) connections, to the poor communist whose name I never learnt and was in the company of for mere seconds. Each of these men cared for me, in their own way, and I was saddened when we had to part ways.
Most of all, though, Artyom and I would have been doomed without Miller and his Rangers. When everything seemed helpless, they came with us on our suicidal mission to D6. Some died, inevitably, and Artyom and I mourned every life sacraficed for our home. We could never repay the debt these brave men earned, but they always knew this—they weren’t doing it for fame and glory, and that is what made them heroes.
Despite its bleak post-apocalyptic setting, its bandits, its civil wars, its mutant monsters, Metro 2033 felt warmer and more optimistic than many games I have recently played. While elements of humanity still seem eager to slaughter each other over ideologies, there are still men (and women, I don’t doubt) willing to give up their own lives for someone they have never met. These heroes of the Metro are some of the finest gentlemen I have ever had the privilege of knowing. I think the future is going to be just fine.