The Metro series of videogames are known for putting players in a truly immersive first-person shooter experience. Set within the post-nuclear war Moscow metro system and beyond, players have to deal with a dangerous world where resources and ammo are limited and the only thing that will keep them going are their wits and skills. Throughout their journey in the metro and the wasteland of a surface there is one key tool in their survival and is an almost given tool that the player will have available at all times. The trusty gas mask.
When Metro 2033 released in 2010, players entered a videogame world unlike any other. Not only was it dark and deadly but it required new levels of attention that many gamers were not expecting. The single player experience was designed with gameplay systems that encourage players to play the title how they wanted. Not only were a variety of different weapons and items included to give the player a range of playstyles but the option to employ stealth to evade or kill enemies without being seen was also present. The main challenge however was the resource management. You see Metro made players rely on two funderment items; ammo and their gas mask.
Ammo was an interesting gameplay system for two reasons. Firstly, it was the main way players would combat the dangers of the Metro. Second, it was the currency of the world. Higher grade bullets were used to purchase much needed items but were also a more powerful combat option. Balancing this resource was important but it was nowhere near as stressful as keeping up your supply of gas mask filters. You see, when players encountered an area covered in radiation they would need to put on the iconic facewear and with it, enter a new stage of immersion.
So what makes the gas mask such a powerful element within the Metro titles? Well for starters it is a lifeline for the player. Without a gas mask and a good supply of filters, players cannot progress forward with ease. It helps to counter one of the main causes of death within the world but it also provides a narrative reason for allowing you to survive in this post-nuclear hellscape. What made this so immersive however was the way the gas mask changed the behaviour of the player along with the audio and visual cues that the player experiences.
When entering an area that requires a gas mask the player will promptly put it on and a timer will begin on their wrist watch. This states how long the filter will work for before it will need changing else the player dies. As soon as the mask is on the sounds of the world change and the player becomes more aware of their breathing. This breathing now becomes another indicator of how the player’s health is holding up and can sometimes be one of the first signs that something is wrong. For example, when the mask becomes foggy with condensation and the players breathing increases it is a signal that the filter has run out, proving the player with less than a minute to change it. Considering there is a serious lack of HUD in the Metro titles, this visual cue is so important and a brilliant way to deliver the information to players.
One feature that was added in the release of Metro Last Light in 2013 was the ability to wipe the visor of the gas mask should it become covered in liquid. This obscuration to the player’s vision will naturally disappear over time but the option to do it at the press of a button furthers the gameplay experience and adds a physical contention between the player and their character. This was most likely to happen during those close quarter moments when an enemy gets the jump on the player and the resulting gunshot causes ‘coverage’. Once more, should you be unlucky and take any damage then you might end up with cracks in your mask which over time will result in players needing to find a new one altogether.
These systems all work together to enhance the gameplay experience for players and aid in helping them become more immersed within the world of Metro. With the release of Metro Exodus less than a month away, it is no surprise then that many fans are looking forward to the return of their old friend the gas mask. With new environments to explore and plenty of hazards to overcome, Metro Exodus will be sure to test players and their gask masks to new heights. When that in mind, here's to you old friend. Thanks for keeping us alive.