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Why Metro: Last Light Succeeds
Metro: Last Light succeeds brilliantly within a gaming ecosystem that seems to perpetuate safe tactics and fall backs on regularly used systems that have proved to – and always will – work. 4A Games has done a remarkable job at crafting an adult tale of despair and post-apocalyptic suffering here. Few other games this year have matched the amount of emotion and visceral feelings that I’ve taken away from playing the game so far.
A great artist is one who can say what he or she needs to say with the least amount of fuss as possible. I am constantly reminding myself this when I sit down to write my book. It’s much easier said than done, but Metro: Last Light nails this so sublimely that it makes me shiver. Take for instance the Metro lines themselves, all vying for control and power, and one Metro called the Theater in the Red Communist district which houses all the surviving actors in Russia.
During the game you can just sit down and take in a bevy of burlesque dancing, accordion players, fire throwers and many more performers of a lost age. Even in the horrendous and drab darkness that the world has been engulfed in, the human spirit still continues to shine. Instead of just cramming combat down the player’s throat every second, 4A lets us breathe and feel around the world by something as simple as allowing the player to watch a show.
When the character you play as – Artyom – explores the eerily shining outdoors and is conversing with the many people of the Metro, he never talks. Not once. And I love that so much. More and more game designers are choosing to forfeit the humble silent protagonist which to me is a big mistake. When the main character does not talk but is still written into the narrative seamlessly (Like Metro:LL), the supporting cast, and to a larger extent the world, take on a much more intimate and personal role in the story. (BioShock, yeah?)
Now, this doesn’t work if the game’s setting or characters are not interesting. This is far from the case in the Metro, however. Take the time to talk with beggars, donate a bullet, and let their stories illuminate the bleakness around you. There is no voice that represents you, no voice hinting for when you should realize something. It’s all in the world, like the little notes you come across, two women sharing their experiences of being trapped in a Nazi concentration camp, or a father trying to explain to his children what a goat is.
The great part about this game is that no one is telling you to listen to these people, you could just walk past and complete your objective. But I urge you not to! Listen to people as they converse for sometimes minutes at a time and read all the notes that are scattered around the Metro, for they increase the already marvelous and fleshed out story even more so.
I love Metro: Last Light for how daring and experimental it is. It reminds me of the original BioShock in many ways, actually. The struggle and bleakness in everyone’s (including your) lives makes me really care about the Metro and want to make a difference. Mainstream games need to take a page out of Metro and learn that there are many other ways to craft an intricate story than just combat or violence (The new Tomb Raider and of course Call of Duty spring to mind).
Lastly, the factions in Metro: Last Light make sense in a realistic context. The Nazi forces aren’t exactly evil, as they have strict regiments in check to screen people’s height and skull sizes and so forth to make sure that no mutants breach their ranks. Sure, this means sectioning off and imprisoning many people who may just have slightly deformed skulls or happen to be a few centimeters too short, but it’s very hard to mark these people as evil, especially considering how dire the backdrop is.
Similar with the Red Communists and the Order (which you serve), the Reds want everyone to be equal – to have no rich men and no poor ones – and the Order have a more capitalist outlook on how things should be. As you can see playing the game, there are still beggars and peasants in the Red Line of the Metro, and your Order are hardly better off. Shades of gray people.
I wish I could talk more about Metro: Last Light but I am not reviewing it! Stay tuned for our official review by Jake Magee. And remember, don’t ever go to the surface without your gas mask, comrade!