Warning: This article contains story spoilers for Metro: Last Light.
Metro: Last Light is watching you, silently judging your every move, deciding whether you are worthy of redemption.
Are you a good person? More precisely, are you unselfish? Are you concerned for the well-being of others? Do you have empathy? Or do you act with self-preservation in mind? Are you blind to the experiences, thoughts, and feelings of others? Are you unconcerned of the plight of those with whom you don’t identify?
If all this sounds a little familiar, that’s because developer 4A Games is treading similar thematic ground. I owe a large debt to critic Dan Thurot’s excellent analysis of Metro 2033, Last Light’s predecessor, where Thurot boils 2033 down to its core:
And then, if you’re dense, Khan just spells out the theme. “You reap what you sow,” he tells you. “Force answers force, war breeds war, and death only brings death. To break this vicious cycle, one must do more than just act without any thought or doubt.”
2033 expresses the growth (or lack thereof) of player-protagonist Artyom through the consequences of your decisions. The heart of Thurot’s dissection of 2033 — whether you kill other humans, whether you go out of your way and use your limited supplies in the service of helping the unfortunate, and whether you listen to the hardships of downtrodden, even your foes — also applies to Last Light, which likewise keeps a memory of these seemingly inconsequential decisions and acknowledges them with a quick visual flash and a sound effect.
This is all to establish, as Thurot puts it, whether you are a “Good Man,” and depending on what you’ve done, 2033 can end in either Artyom’s embrace of his fears or the opening of his mind to an alternative path forward that breaks Khan’s “vicious cycle.” In other words, do you answer force with force? War with war? Death with death? Or will you reject that doctrine?
Last Light goes a step further and — in addition to tracking Artyom’s character development — asks whether you understand the consequences of your decisions. It doesn’t just present you with vignettes to listen to or survivors to assist. Last Light will frequently subject the diligent explorer to the human cost of the nuclear apocalypse.
You’ll witness the ghosts and skeletons of Moscow — literally — in their final moments. On the surface, carcasses hold shotguns in their bony mouths. Specters appear as hanging black shadows. In the aftermath of the atomic devastation, people succumbed to desperation, fear, suicide, vicious mutations of nature … and even one another.
Why must you be witness to such horrors? Because you unleashed the same destruction. In 2033, you pushed the button.
Last Light follows the “bad” ending of 2033, where Artyom successfully launched a nuclear strike from D6, an abandoned pre-apocalypse military facility, at the home of a radiation-assisted evolution of the human species, known by the denizens of the Moscow Metro as the Dark Ones.
Have you come to terms with what you’ve done yet? This is Last Light’s journey.
Do you understand your greatest sin?
2033 spent much of its time overtly convincing you that the Dark Ones were a menace to the relatively small number of people trying to scrape by in the dark, cramped tunnels of the Metro. Your fellow survivors interpret an anomaly as a psychic attack perpetrated by the Dark Ones, and from that moment, a series of events set in motion that put you on a path to rally the Metro and eliminate this gravest of threats.
Under the surface, though, 2033 subtly hinted that the Dark Ones were attempting to reach you through an unexplained telepathic link, but you instead construe those as attacks on your mind. In the end, a dying Dark One — whom you shot — grasps in vain for the targeting laser that you pointed at its home as the missiles ascended into the gray sky.
You only realize later, at the beginning of Last Light as Artyom — now a decorated Ranger in the Order — voices his own internal doubts about that fateful decision, that you may have been mistaken. Khan, a fellow Ranger, believes a young Dark One may have survived the blast and wants to go out searching for it with you. He believes you are key to communicating with the creature, but Colonel Miller is suspicious of the whole endeavor. Instead, the Rangers’ best sniper, Anna, will accompany you with orders to kill on sight.
You are conflicted about the order. You’re not sure whether you should kill this creature or befriend it. You’re not yet prepared to make that decision, though. You require an understanding of the gravity of pressing the button — especially while those you trust are praising you for your past actions. And you can’t fully grasp that until you feel the sting of betrayal yourself. Twice.
Can you forgive the man who double-crossed you?
When your attempt to find the young Dark One goes awry, a band of Fourth Reich Nazis pick you up and detain you in an underground concentration camp. Here you meet Pavel, a member of the Reds, the communist faction of the Metro. He offers to overlook your political differences for the time being and work together in a daring escape from your captors. But the alliance doesn’t last long.
Pavel leads you to the safety the Metro’s cultural hub and claims that you’ll have free passage to Polis, where the Order is waiting for you to report. Pavel has been likening your and his partnership to the Three Musketeers; “All for one and one for all,” he frequently says. But his deception comes to fore when he drugs you and hands you over to his superiors for an “interrogation.”
You gave Pavel your trust — you even saved his life when you cut him down from the noose the Nazis put around his neck! But even with all that Three Musketeers talk, Pavel still betrayed you and left you to be tortured.
Much later, you finally catch up to Pavel and a drawn-out firefight ensues. After cornering and wounding him, you’re then both taken into a vision where a hellish landscape of corpses reaches out for Pavel. These are the dead who cannot accept their fates in the nuclear apocalypse. When they begin pulling Pavel into their embrace, you only have seconds to act. Do you save him from eternal damnation?
Can you forgive the mass murderer?
Last Light foreshadows the betrayal of Lenitsky, a fellow Ranger, very early; as you walk through the opening sequence, you’ll overhear other Rangers talking of his absence. While in the Reds’ custody, you’ll discover that Lenitsky is actually a double agent for the communists. And he’s responsible for the horrible deaths of two stations worth of survivors, as he is critical in the dissemination of a weapons-grade Ebola virus that he covertly stole from D6 while guarding it as a Ranger for the Order.
You witness the aftermath Lenitsky’s treachery firsthand as you walk through a makeshift “hospital,” where doctors merely quarantine off the infected to die agonizing, bloody deaths.
Toward the end, Lenitsky will come looking for you with a squad of soldiers. You’re able to surprise him and knock him out. He lays there, helpless, before your blade. Do you kill him? Can you spare his life even after considering all the pain, suffering, and killing he’s responsible for?
Are you worthy of redemption?
An eye for an eye. American-styled justice. Retribution. The death penalty. Doesn’t this sound familiar? “Force answers force, war breeds war, and death only brings death.” Have you learned anything? If you cannot bring yourself to forgive Pavel and Lenitsky, then how can you expect forgiveness of your greatest sin?
You’ll have already rescued what Khan believes to be the last surviving Dark One when you confront both men. The creature is with you when you make these decisions. And it is well aware that the blood of its species is on your hands — its first comment to you is how you orphaned it with the same weapons that separated you from your own mother.
Whether or not you have shown forgiveness will mean the difference between life and death in Last Light’s final scene.
When the Reds finally storm D6, intent on capturing the facility to usher in a new order in the Metro, you and your fellow Rangers are the last line of defense. But despite your efforts, which includes destroying a railed tank and stopping waves of soldiers, you’re nonetheless overrun when an armored train smashes through your ranks. As a last ditch effort, you reach toward a control panel set to detonate the entire structure, thus keeping the D6’s weapons out of the Reds’ hands … but also denying the people of the Metro of D6’s large cache of supplies and technology.
If you don’t have forgiveness in your heart, Artyom turns the handle and everyone dies.
But if you do, the young Dark One appears over the controls. “No need for that now,” he says while his awakened kin — who had been hibernating underground adjacent to D6 when you launched the missile at their home — materialize and stop the Reds.
D6 is saved. So is the Metro. And so are you, Artyom.