I just finished reading the book Metro 2033 by Dmitry Glukhovsky.  I had already played the video game of the same name last year.

I was initially put off from the book because of the post-apocalyptic setting, which frankly I feel has been done to death at this point.  But the foreign element–it’s set in the Moscow subway system–made it feel fresh to me. The idea is that after a nuclear war, people settled in the Metro, using the various stations as towns of sorts.

The story is about a man named Artyom who sets off to get help for his home station when it is being attacked by monsters.  It is very much a “Hero’s Journey”/Odyssey type of story, that follows Artyom as he stops at many stations within the haunted metro and meets assorted characters who provide their observations and musings.

Although it has many (very well done) horror and thriller elements, the book is actually very philosophical, and there are some sections that are just long speeches, conversations or debates.  But it’s never overly didactic, and it never became dull or tedious for me.  In particular, there is one conflict towards the end that concerns the meaning and utility of religion in society that I think is absolutely brilliant.

As you can gather, I enjoyed the book very much and highly recommend it.  I felt there were a few weak points–Artyom constantly being pulled from Death’s door by Some New Character got a bit repetitive, though usually the character was interesting enough to make me excuse it.  Also, there were no really notable female characters, but this isn’t necessarily a problem per se, since the setting sort of implies that the women and children are deliberately kept in the towns, and most of the story takes place in the dangerous Metro tunnels. (I have more issues with how female characters are handled in the video games–maybe I’ll do a post about that.)

The main problem I had was the translation from the original Russian.  There were times when the dialogue was rather awkward sounding, and unfortunately the errors become more widespread as the story reaches its otherwise brilliantly-executed climax.  There was one key line on the last page where they apparently couldn’t decide whether to write “understand” or “understood” and settled on “understandood”.  It kind of killed the tension of the  moment, which was superbly built.

All told, I think it is a terrific book, and I actually gained new respect for the game having read it.  It is a tough story to adapt to a video game, and I think they did about as well as could have been hoped.

I’ve been playing the game Metro 2033 lately.  (I saw they were playing it on Spoiler Warning, and I realized I should finish it myself before I watched the series.) It’s an interesting game, and appropriate for the Halloween season, when I always try to play as many horror games as possible.

The game is based on a book, which is fairly unusual in itself.  I have not read it yet, but I want to. The post-apocalyptic wasteland setting is pretty played out, in my opinion, but this game does about as good a job as it can making it interesting.  I suspect that the book would be more frightening than the game, though; since most of its scares are of the monster-jumping-out-at-you variety. I wish the game gave you more of a chance to savor the spooky atmosphere of the haunted underground tunnels.

The other problem is that the game uses a checkpoint save system.  This means it’s very easy to accidentally be running blindly through a tunnel, with no gear and no weapons and bumble into a save point from which you cannot hope to escape in your condition, at which point you’ll have to go back and start the whole level over again.

This would be annoying in any game, but it’s dreadful in a horror game.  Nothing kills horror like having to do it over and over again.  I’m assuming the book won’t make you go back and re-read it if you read one section wrong.

That is the problem with horror games. (Well, one of them.)  Ultimately, games are about the player (protagonist) succeeding, whereas the horror genre is about engendering fear and often even a sense of hopelessness. The two goals are at odds.  You have to be very confident to make a game that doesn’t let the player somehow “win”.

Still, it’s a decent game.  It has intrigued me enough that I want to read the book, at least.