Metro: Last Light - Sensitive Media vs Sensitive Content
There is, certainly in the last few years, a heightened sensitivity when it comes to adult game content. In particular, sexuality and violence are subjects that are closely watched and reprimanded whenever their graphic approach even borders on distasteful. Despite being in line with its narrative, Tomb Raider was criticized for even mentioning a possible rape scene and the developers had to apologize. Hitman Absolution was tackled even harder for a silly trailer, where it showed sexualized nuns being torn apart by Agent 47. In all fairness, Square Enix has some terrible PR campaigns, but I digress. Even God of War was called out for simply choosing the wrong words for a trophy.
Recently, Metro: Last Light released with a story containing all of these themes. Players come across several stages of human suffering; among them a graphic rape scene with some brutal dialogue. Sexual exploitation, objectification and abuse of women are also not shunned. So, why did so few media outlets pick up on this atrocious behavior? Is the game just not popular enough to register or might there be another reason for this omission? To answer that, we should look at these situations without tearing them apart from their context. This is something we should do with more games, deserving the same benefit of the doubt.
As suggested by its name, Metro: Last Light takes place in the underground railways of Moscow. Therefore, its universe is condensed into these confined spaces, forcing its people closer together. This proximity creates new and more capricious tensions, where groups of people become more radical in their behavior. Inhabitants have found ways to split up in factions and resent other parties with vigor, to the point of warfare. It’s this constant invasion, intruding on territory necessary for survival, which Metro: Last Light aptly depicts by showing us what happens when mankind is cornered. Just like wild animals, men become feral and lash out with extreme measures.
In essence, this world is distilled to its primal state. It's kill or be killed and anyone venturing outside the limited comfort zones has to stay armed and vigilant if they want to live another day. Yes, this is partially due to mutant monsters roaming the earth, killing anything in sight, but man is their own enemy here as well. If anything, Metro mirrors the similarities of man and beast in their dark boundaries. Visuals follow this somber theme, with light being a sporadic yet vital element in a world reigned by darkness. Death is everywhere, corpses plague the floors and any small hint of growth is a beautiful rarity indeed. For a shooter, Metro is quite poetic in its position. It proves that in this world there is little place for kindness.
This Is Not A Joke
This game is serious business. As shown above, this is the apocalypse which means that the time for pleasantries are over, which is a good thing. There are no exaggerated physics, no skill shots, no bonus points or other superfluous mechanisms. The closest that this shooter will come to graphic content is during executions, where players brutally slit the throat of their enemies. However, this is the reality of conflict. Sometimes, things get ugly. None of its content is facilitated either; everything is hard down in the metro. Even breathing requires a gas mask.
As such, the game's setting doesn't make light of any position. A kill isn't a glorious victory, but a necessary means for existence. People aren't singled out and objectified, as life in itself is a commodity in the current, fragile state. Power is stripped from both gratification and objectification in the game, as rarely does it feel like players are above their situation peering down. If anything, protagonist Artyom starts at the bottom, proving his worth to his comrades. He isn't “rewarded” with a sexual scene by a partner of his; he has shown that he is a soldier, a vital asset. His partner therefore chooses Artyom and “allows” him the privilege of being their bed partner. That's a stark contrast from simply being able to take what he wants.
The Choice Is Yours
Another strong concept in the game is that players have leniency when it comes to dictating their stance. One of the most critical points, particularly the rape scene, is the pinnacle of this choice factor. When roaming the railways, Artyom suddenly hears a woman crying for help. Shortly after, several male voices spout things that make your gut sink. It's a highly uncomfortable situation, as the severity of this scene is poignant. Still, to rescue the damsel, players need to actively halt their progress and explore a dark sideline. Even after intervening, soldiers around the corner snicker and ask if they need “to help” with dealing with the woman. Each word is like a dagger to the heart.
Alternatively, it is possible to simply drown out the sound and move on. There is so much ugliness down in this world that not all of it can be addressed, which heightens the sense of helplessness. Players aren't forced to be the hero, gallantly rescuing lesser people in some power fantasy; it's up to them to decide to risk their lives for another. Yes, rape and violence are present, but those that want to shun it, can do so periodically. The metro will have plenty more of this to offer in any case.
For Adult Eyes Only
Above reasons have shown that Metro: Last Light is not meant for younger audiences. It takes a certain understanding to assess this setting completely. There is little “fun” about the overall experience. Rather the contrary, tense moments are so frequent that this game will take from players, more than it gives in return. Dealing with so much tragedy becomes exhausting.
Doing so, Metro offers a great example of what “mature” gaming truly means. It's a complex and tough to handle game, leaving a mark long after it gets put down. Unlike its flashier peers, this isn't a shooter that one can just pick up and play. The struggles of Artyom and his people are too dark to simply skim past. It is comparable to a good book, which is doubly fitting, as the game is molded by a novel. Games like The Witcher series have had a similar life; spawning from books and depicting graphic moments. It all depends on how it's presented and with the constant reminder of powerless situations, players remain grounded when exploring the dark world of this game.
Getting Away With Murder
Metro: Last Light deserves commendation for its ability to employ a periodic recurring of frowned upon subjects, while still promoting a quality game. Certainly in this age of apprehensive behavior, where every piece of skin is put under the microscope and every drop of blood is weighed, it is astounding that the developers managed to put so much of it in their story.
By giving this content the attention and mature attitude that it needs, Metro: Last Light surpassed its peers, the Tomb Raiders and Hitmans or even Call of Duties of this world. It lurked in the shadows, came out fighting and proved its worth with an impactful narrative that keeps its players humble, never giving them an inch. Let's hope that this is taken as an example, both by gamers and the media, to open up the current trend of political correctness in games. If anything stays open for discussion, without immediately being shot down, it is possible to procure a splendid title in return. Metro managed to give us just that; others could as well, rape or not.