Heavy Rain taught us that the mundane can become the humanizing. Remember putting away the Mars family groceries, buying a balloon, checking into a motel? Probably not, but the emotive effect sticks like a bad habit. These are people, we’re reminded, and the ho-hum of Videogameland (death, retribution, a gunshot) is as extraordinary to these weak creatures as it might be to us.
The E3 2012 gameplay demo for Metro: Last Light eschewed the action-heavy, stealth-spotted sheen from the 2011 demo in favor of exploring the detail that forces meekness onto the player-character, Artyom. Survival horror, the real “fear at every corner” stuff, thrives on weakening the player just enough to create unbearable tension but not enough to engender a rage-quit.
4A Games accomplishes this a second time around by sticking to the details, the “ordinary” necessities of living in an out-of-the-ordinary Russian post-apocalyptia. These touches of insight are clear signs of Dmitry Glukhovky’s involvement (author of the book “Metro 2033” and co-writer for Metro: Last Light), when the careful fiction writer returns to the human element that drives narrative. In these moments of personal upkeep, Artyom stops being Soviet Duke Nukem and descends into the husk of frail, timid survivor. As we see an irradiated waste-world through his gas mask, the empathy is overwhelming.
Watch the demo below and notice all of Artyom’s interactions with his equipment and his environment. Wiping blood off the mask, screwing in the filter, kneeling to scavenge meager supplies from corpses, charging the head lamp, lighting the cobwebs to clear the way – how intimate these can seem among the moments of grandeur and (somewhat ham-fisted) spectacle from last year’s trailer.
The name Artyom is derived from the Greek for “unharmed.” Eastern European irony is as dark as irony comes.