Despite being similar to submachineguns in size, weight and tactical purpose, this weapon is classified as an assault rifle due to the fact that its internal mechanism is identical to that of the AKM 74/2. The weapon is notable for its mobility in close quarters and high armor-penetration capacity, while its drawbacks are its short effective range, despite the relatively long bullet range, a tendency to overheat and high ricochet propensity. - Call of Pripyat in-game description
In Shadow of Chernobyl, the AKM-74/2U is overall underpowered. It has the lowest accuracy and damage rating for any assault rifle in the game, but it is light due to its compact nature, and boasts very good handling, coupled with an above average rate of fire. These two advantages make this weapon the most easy-to-handle rifle in the game, as even when firing at full auto, the weapon remains largely easy to control at close to mid range. It is also rugged like the AKM-74/2 and starts to inconveniently jam only when 1/3 damaged. Regardless of its shortcomings, it is a very useful as a player's first fully-automatic weapon. It's caliber also allows it to punch through light and medium armored enemies.
It is the earliest assault rifle to acquire, and possibly the easiest to get. It is held by Major Kuznetsov in the Cordon, along with all of the military stalkers in the area. It is a valuable weapon at this early point in the game.
The AKM-74/2U is considerably less accurate than it was in Shadow of Chernobyl when not upgraded and somewhat lacks reliability and overall stopping power, though it's cheap and easy to maintain and upgrade and is reasonably useful and powerful. The AKM-74/2U does not have many upgrade options as it can only be upgraded for either better firing rate/less recoil or better damage/accuracy, though not to the extent of regular assault rifles. All in all though it is a good starter weapon with its light weight, reasonably strong stopping power and deadly armor piercing ammunition capable of tearing through most of the enemies the player will encounter in the early parts of the game.
It has massive recoil and its overheating problem is represented by atrocious durability. The AKM-74/2U degrades quite fast, even when it has the right upgrades. When fully upgraded however, it can be a fairly effective CQB weapon, but the common AKM-74/2 is better in nearly every way, and both are outclassed by the unique Storm or the common AC-96/2.
It has a fair amount of fire rate and recoil upgrades. With the right upgrades, it can be turned into a devastating weapon at close range, as it has a fairly high damage, powerful caliber and quite large mag capacity (can be upgraded to 40 rounds), as well as upgradeable fire rate (over 800 rounds per minute).
The player starts the game with a slightly damaged AKM-74/2U. Loners, Duty, Monolith and Bandits rookies will default to it as the Warsaw Pact weapon, making it one of the most widespread guns in the Zone.
In Shadow of Chernobyl, the handguard near the muzzle of the weapon was synthetic grey while in Call of Pripyat and Clear Sky, it was made of wood.
For some reason, the weapon is using the magazine of a 7.62x39mm Kalashnikov rifle, as noted by its rather large size. This is odd considering that the magazine would not even fit into the feed into the magazine well of the weapon, which is built to chamber the much smaller 5.45x39mm round.
An apt comparison of the weapon's design is the Zastava Arms M92 carbine, which has a similar design to the AKM 74/2U, except for the folding stock and ammo compatibility. To put in broader perspective, the 74/U2 is a hybrid of the AKS-74U (triangular skeletonized stock, muzzle, synthetic furniture, 5.45x39mm ammo) and the Zastava M92 (curved magazine, wooden furniture).
The ubiquity of the AKM-74/2U's usage by numerous rookie Loners, Bandits, and Military NPCs through the games is highly implausible, since the AKS-74U was (as already mentioned) nowhere near standard-issue. Its widespread usage is even less plausible when those NPCs try to use such a short-ranged weapon against distant human targets in the Zone's largely open environs, a role which the AKM-74/2 would be much better suited for.
That being said however, it is also possible that the military's standard weapon in the zone are AKM-74/2Us as the carbine is much cheaper than the full-sized AKM-74/2. This is possible due to the fact that the Ukrainian government seems to have a very small budget for Zone's military border guards, which is referenced by Major Khaletskiy, who himself is barely paid anything for his service. And so, because of the military's illicit trading with stalkers, the AKM-74/2U became widespread due to military trade.
There are a few areas where NPCs using the AKM-74/2U would not be out of place, such as the soldiers patrolling the Agroprom Underground or the Spetsnaz squad sent to clear out Lab X-18. Sokolov is also another logical user of the AKS-74U, as he is a helicopter pilot (rather than an infantryman) and needed a weapon that could fit into the confines of his vehicle(s) while still possessing the armor-piercing abilities of the 5.45x39mm round.
The player's hand goes through the weapon's handguard. This can be seen if one looks at the heat vents.
Although the charging handle of the AKM-74/2U is (improperly) on the left side of the weapon in-game, the cutscenes in Shadow of Chernobyl correctly depict it on the right side.