This is a first-person shooter, based on the novel Metro 2033, in which players engage in combat amid the shattered subway of a post-apocalyptic Moscow. Players assume the role of a young survivor who traverses the underground tunnels and above-ground remnants, battling humans and mutant creatures along the way. Players use pistols, shotguns, automatic rifles, crossbows, and pipe bombs to kill enemies lurking in the darkness. Melee attacks involve close-up hand-to-hand combat using knives and bayonets. Large plumes of dark blood splash out of humans and mutants when injured; blood may also stain walls, floors, and players' screen (the visor). Characters sometimes use profanity (e.g., "f**k" and "sh*t") in the dialogue.
During the course of the game, players may encounter a prostitute character whose dialogue is sprinkled with sexual innuendo ("You like what you see?," a "special price," and "I'll show you a good time," etc.); though players may follow the woman to her room and exchange currency, the sequence is pre-empted by an in-game event. The game includes a sequence in which players can approach a vendor who states, "If you're here for the dope, I've got plenty"; players' character can then inhale from a hookah and experience drug-like effects—blurry vision, losing balance, vomiting.