Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Voice of the Tunnels

For what I consider a long while in this blog, I have expressed bafflement at the infantile approach Western developers adopt to depict Eastern European characters. Having tried out the demo of Metro 2033 on pc, in which society gone-underground is shown with a deft hand, I proceeded to play Metro Last Light, in its console version. Given that both games in the series have been released in Redux re-masters for the newer consoles, it seemed somewhat timely to write about such title.

Based on the works of renowned Russian sci-fi author, Dmitry Glukhovsky, it can be seen the author has an eye for subtle social commentary, as we find a costumbrist tale at times, as the city hubs are clearly a strong suit narratively. While being the second game in the series, Metro Last Light is not based on the second book, Metro 2034, yet the author did take over writing duties for this game's screenplay. It's indeed of great value that the voices of contemporary young-adult Russian authors may be heard amongst the concert of nations, instead of us media-consumers getting second-hand, or cranberry accounts of the realities of the ex Soviet Union.


At a time when even some above-average first-person-shooters still somehow leave a bad aftertaste, such as, praise notwithstanding, Far Cry 3, with its unilateral narrative and short-sighted view of what constitutes them and us; a shame, since its predecessor really nailed it with its multiculturalism, it is quite hard to encounter an original perspective such as Metro Last Light in sci-fi, or the Polish The Witcher in fantasy. In the Metro world, the player controls Artyom as he explores the ruins of post-nuclear Russia. In this apocalyptic state, he is confronted with mutants and hostile survivors, most of them within or around the shelter that is the Moscow metro system.
The presence of gas chambers and the so-called Reich faction depicted as bad guys, made me ponder on the one thing East and West at least agree on; there is nothing more satisfying than, in make-believe of course, to wreak some havoc on the nazis, while they spout their nonsense about mutant corruption and whatnot. Given this scenario, the closest point of contact here, are the Wolfenstein games, yet perhaps it's the little details in game design and so on which set Metro apart. Moreover, one can play with the Russian voice-acting option on, yet unfortunately, the English subtitles don't translate everything that is said, in this thorough world.
Visually stunning, 4A Games offers metro tunnels looking rusty and full of vegetation, as they should in any clever dystopia. In my experience, some games may distract you from your surroundings, while others make you completely lose sense of time; such is the immersiveness of this title. Each human model seems to have been crafted with great care, and the mutants move fast and fiercely, their musculature reminiscent of wild animals. The level design, while linear, is an achievement in itself, mostly rather lived-in, right down to a theater with performers.
Some of the creators of the Metro game series, had previously worked on the breakthrough Stalker, Shadow of Chernobyl, and this translates into rather tight controls and interesting additions to FPS norms. The stealth sections while knife-throwing, are a high point, as is the need to control your gas mask while outside, reminiscent of the Mars exterior missions of Doom 3, and check for radiation, carrying a small inventory. The third act truly features some of the most amazing sci-fi I have witnessed in some time, and what to say of the fact that there is no multiplayer; good riddance. As well, the game has a basic morality system, which doesn't really intrude as far as gameplay is concerned. The Limited Edition comes with an extra weapon and more bullets for Ranger mode; you might actually need them.