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Video Games Killed the Radio Star

I Love You, but I've Chosen Darkness

Remember Me and Last Light confirm first-person shooters' descent into masterful gloom.

by Mike Diver
12 June 2013, 11:05am

From Metro: Last Light

The first-person shooter has found itself hauled before numerous inquiries into the link between videogame-simulated combat and real-life violence. As such, individuals choosing not to while away a handful of hours per week in the company of a PlayStation have perhaps developed a very negative perspective on the genre.

From conversations I’ve had, with friends and family, the perception is that the FPS is exclusively for boys brandishing itchy trigger fingers, pointing the ever-phallic representation of a spluttering firearm at either oddly accented antagonist NPCs, or at mirrors of themselves: online players from any corner of our connected world.

And yet, while this mentality, one driven by the several-iterations success stories of franchises like Call of Duty, Battlefield and Killzone, isn’t without some tenuous evidential support, exceptions to what isn’t really a rule in the first place have made themselves heard in 2013.

First, the grey matter-muddling sci-fi sensation of Bioshock Infinite, a game which deserves to be witnessed by anyone with the hardware to run it, whatever their typical playing habits. And now, Metro: Last Light (developed by 4A Games; published by Deep Silver; available for PS3, 360 and PC) has presented a comparably cerebral experience.

From Metro: Last Light

The sequel to 2010’s Metro 2033 lacks Infinite’s depth of narrative, its many threads of meaning open to individual interpretation. But it’s nevertheless a definitive example of the "thinking man’s shooter", a game where the decision to kill someone now is likely to have ramifications later. And probably not positive ones.

To describe the game’s setting requires a spoiler alert, as it directly follows the events of 2033. In that game, based on the 2005 novel of the same name by Russian author Dmitry Glukhovsky, inhabitants of what used to be Moscow, before a nuclear strike of 2013 tore it apart, eke out a meagre existence in the tunnels of the shattered city’s metro system.

The player-protagonist, Artyom, traverses the underground and the radiation-soaked surface on a quest to protect his fellow survivors from the threat of the "Dark Ones", top-living humanoids assumed to be the result of 20 years of mutations. Of course, it’s not quite as simple as a case of man versus monsters, and the end of 2033 can go two ways: one, Artyom wipes out the Dark Ones; or two, he realises that their intentions are not hostile.

Last Light begins in the year 2034, its storyline assuming that the former conclusion closed 2033: the Dark Ones are thought to be no more. (Playing 2033 really isn’t essential to enjoying Last Light.) Within seconds of his tone-setting, flashback-strewn introduction – he cannot remember his late mother’s face, however much he dreams of her – he’s told that a Dark One has been seen. It’s an infant, a skittering thing no bigger than a five-year-old boy. Naturally, Artyom is dispatched to investigate.

From Metro: Last Light

And so begins a riveting tale: of divided factions on the Moscow metro, each pushing the other for territorial advantage; of biological warfare and the horror it leaves in its wake, the suffering of the near-dead a constant whenever Artyom passes through affected/infected areas; and of root human fears, of the unknown and the always pulse-raising peek around the next dark corner.

But it’s more than this, too. It’s a story, a game, which draws the player into an unexpectedly touching father-son relationship: between Artyom, the orphaned hero of the underground, and the young Dark One, itself without family, lost in the world. The two ultimately form a unique alliance, the dawn of which is tenderly rendered – it’ll bring a lump to the throat of any father.

But that moment represents a rare instance of hope, as Last Light is a resolutely bleak game. Sick children are overheard asking sick fathers what’s become of their sick mothers. There are Nazis on the metro, and their concentration camp is one of the first places Artyom must use his sense of stealth (and a handy indicator on his wristwatch) to navigate, the wails of caged captives a constant soundtrack.

From Metro: Last Light

You, as Artyom, do get to shoot things: people whose principles aren’t your own; the mutants and monsters of the city’s fractured skyline; lamps to spread attentions-distracting flames across a room. But Last Light doesn’t demand that you play with all guns (you get to carry three) blazing. Creeping in the shadows, undetected, is almost always a better route to success than taking on numerous Communists with better weapons than you.

Varying play is therefore essential to progression: looking down the barrel of a gun won’t save you when the way out of a situation requires more serious thought than a steady aim. Kill the lights rather than the guards. Take the long way around a winged demon, misting your gas mask as your last filter runs low on time, rather than face it head-on. The less (unnecessary) murder, the (relatively) better the outcome.

Which, without spoiling anything, is worthy payoff for the hours put in: regardless of whether you see the "good" or "bad" ending first, each resonates with rare longevity.

From Remember Me

Arriving soon after Last Light is another title whose action is set in years following a near-future European war. Remember Me (developed by Dontnod Entertainment; published by Capcom; available for PS3, 360 and PC) is a little more high-gloss, its vision of Paris in 2084 awash with vibrant colours and smooth, futuristic architecture which casts the still-standing Eiffel Tower in shadow.

Its narrative angle is one of amnesia and the gradual filling in of blanks. The player is cast as Nilin, controlled in the third person. She awakens in what seems to be a medical facility, in line to have her mind completely erased. Which is ironic, as we’re swiftly told that she was once rather brilliant at sneaking into others’ skulls and remixing their memories, not to mention stealing sensitive information.

Nilin is soon back with former colleagues, and moving through Neo-Paris in search of those who decided she was an expendable asset. It’s a brave move on Capcom’s part, introducing a new IP at this stage of a console cycle, but Remember Me certainly impresses enough to qualify their risk as a worthwhile one.

From Remember Me

That said, Remember Me is not a game without precedent, however striking its characters and background. Combat is a simplified take on Rockstar’s Arkham Asylum/City titles, albeit with combos editable to introduce perks for successful strings: a health boost, or speedier special abilities cool-down. And the plot presents parallels with past releases on screens small and silver: from the brain-hacking hokum of full-motion-video "classic" Burn:Cycle, a CD-i hit of 1994, to the Keanu Reeves clunker Johnny Mnemonic.

There are elements of rudimentary parkour, less-developed than the original Assassin’s Creed; and in Kezia Burrows’ performance as Nilin, one can’t fail to hear traces of Camilla Luddington’s voicing of Lara Croft in 2013’s reboot of Tomb Raider. Preventing progression until a set number of enemies are overcome is a characteristic of the Devil May Cry series (among others), although Remember Me is without DMC’s repeat-play-promoting ranking systems.

Yet, Dontnod’s game manages to be more than merely the sum of its parts. Like the singularly stylish El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron before it, it’s a third-person affair borrowing traits from predecessors, but presenting them with no little panache, and a real confidence in its aesthetical presentation.

From Remember Me

Neo-Paris is a gorgeous environment to explore, from its slums to its skyscrapers – and its designers are clearly aware of that, raising Olivier Derivière’s soundtrack whenever a new vista opens before Nilin – and those personalised combos, almost rhythm-action-like in execution, keep combat varied, if not exactly fresh. Projectiles can be used, too, on both adversaries and to unlock new pathways.

What will be interesting is where Dontnod and Capcom go next with Remember Me. Is this game the beginning of a franchise to carry into the heart of the eighth generation of consoles, available to pre-order as you read this? Or a one-off, an intriguing latecomer to the PS3 and 360 party (or wake, perhaps) like Godhand, also published by Capcom, was to the PS2’s back in 2006? Prologue, or epilogue?

It’d be worth some serious consideration – if only Last Light wasn’t still weighing heavily on my mind.

Follow Mike on Twitter: @MikeDiver

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Mike Diver
remember me
Metro: Last Light