Leaving the Books Behind Means the Best Metro Game is the Next One
The Metro saga is a long and winding road. Russian author Dmitry Glukhovsky's post-apocalyptic story began nearly two decades ago, in 2002, before receiving its first English translation and video game adaptation in 2010. Since then, we've seen two more books and two more games.
The world of Metro has never been bigger than it was in 2019's Metro Exodus. Literally. It's the first game in the series to offer sandbox sections, but also narratively, it's the first story to take our returning, silent hero of the metro to new places.
After the best game in the series and two vital DLC chapters, 4A's Metro games have skirted a line between retelling and reimagining the books all the way to their finish line, which means the road ahead has never been more compelling.
Note: This article contains spoilers for the Metro series, including the books, games, and DLCs.
If you're unfamiliar with the Metro series, here's the SparkNotes version: the world has collapsed under the cloud of nuclear winter. Mutants roam the scorched earth above, while factions of surviving humans in Russia fight for scarce resources (mostly) underground. Ammunition is both a vital part of your arsenal and a makeshift form of currency.
In the first two games, the hero, Artyom, follows in his literary counterpart's footsteps, though never step for step.
Instead, the books have always been used as a compass for 4A Games, which worked closely with Glukhovsky to adapt his novels to consoles and PC. Undoubtedly, though, the books have always been there, keeping the gears of the series fluidly moving.
Metro Exodus, meanwhile, presents a more drastic change to the methodology, as the video game threequel is more like a reimagining and a continuation. The grand reveal of the third book, Metro 2035, is that the rest of the world remains more intact than Artyom and others were led to believe.
In the books, Artyom is stunned as virtually everybody either doesn't believe his discovery or they simply don't care to act on it, a biting social commentary on some modern problems, no doubt. But in Exodus, this same discovery becomes the catalyst for the best Metro game so far. Diverging from the books, the third Metro game sends a band of heroes off to explore this brave new world.
As Artyom and his crew of Rangers and other allies move through Europe on a salvaged train car, players get to see more of the world than we ever thought possible. This was a series happily confined to dark subway tunnels and vile sewer pipes for half a decade, but Exodus showed us something grander, that even in its decay managed to look stunning.
It didn't end there either. Last year, the first of two DLC chapters, The Two Colonels, told the story of the final days of the metro station Novosibirsk, as modern-day Colonel Miller retraced the steps of those who died below ground.
The DLC is a short but necessary chapter acting as a clever reversal of the rest of the series. Until then, going above ground meant almost guaranteed death while staying in the tunnels meant a dire way of living. But here we see it's those left below ground who were the first to go extinct. The Two Colonels felt like an epilogue to the subterranean world of Metro, like filling a ditch with cement.
And if The Two Colonels was the epilogue, the second DLC, Sam's Story, may have been the prologue of what's to come.
In Sam's Story, the perspective pivots to one of Artyom's American allies, who got stuck in Russia when the world fell apart. It's been years since Sam saw his dad, and he has no idea if he's alive or dead, so when he hears of a submarine that may get him to the U.S., Sam decides to try and hitch a ride. Of course, it's always more complicated than that.
Though the DLC offers two vastly different endings, they both allow players to peer into what may be the series' future, and it was in this final scene where I realized Metro's enormous potential.
I chose the "bad" ending and hitched a conflicted ride to the U.S. For the entire five-hour expansion, I was invested in Sam's struggle, so curious as to whether or not he'd really make it home. So when the final image pulled back, and I saw Sam standing on the sub, docked by the Golden Gate Bridge, my jaw dropped.
Some part of me expected Sam to fail, and I'd already prepared myself for that eventuality, that the series wouldn't actually dare move away from its integral setting of Russia. But there Sam was, looking out at the iconic California landmark.
It's a seismic shift to the series which comes by way of several tremors.
For one, if the next Metro game decides to follow Sam, we'll have a setting so vastly different that it will almost feel like a new game. Metro is Russia. If the next Metro is anywhere else, it will be as starkly different as BioShock moving from Rapture to Columbia.
Secondly, Sam talks. In 2010, Artyom's silent protagonist act wasn't so out of place, but it sticks out much worse a decade later. Maybe Sam or someone like him should lead the next act, as that will allow for a more cinematic experience that Metro otherwise already delivers so well.
Lastly, and most importantly, none of these changes would be as fascinating if 4A Games still had more groundwork to build on from the books. Whether or not it's Sam we play as again in the likely fourth Metro game doesn't matter as much as the fact that the developers are clearly willing to take big chances to tell compelling stories.
I'd expect the next game to carry forward some of the series' staples, like its survival elements. However, the details in the setting and story and characters may prove to be new and more exciting than ever.
Though fans have appreciated the adaptations and how they've remixed some book elements while retelling others, there's a certain freedom that comes from hitting the end of the books you're adapting.
Now 4A gets to do it their way. No books ahead, no guiding hand. There's only a world of possibilities.
And though Game of Thrones fans may warn that such a prospect isn't as enticing as it sounds, I believe Metro Exodus and its expansions already show us that the series is in great hands, and I can't wait to see where this train is heading next.