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Saturday, 18 May 2013 17:10

The Women of Metro: Last Light

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Metro: Last Light Venice brothel Metro: Last Light Venice brothel

Metro 2033 is one of my favorite FPS's of all time, because the post-apocalyptic world of the Moscow metro is fleshed out, detailed, and features a compellingly bleak portrayal of human nature. Metro: Last Light continues in the same fine tradition, but it bungles its portrayal of half of humanity – women. This would be easy to forgive if women weren't so prominent in the game, but with a larger female cast (of sorts) and a terrible female lead, it's hard to avoid the problem.

[Warning - some NSFW pictures]

Dressing-room-3The first Metro, like the novel it was based on, was definitely a boys-only club. 90% of the humans you encountered were enemy soldiers or bandits and all of them were men. You only ran into women in the relatively tranquil stations, and there they were all wives or widows or whores, there to provide atmospheric dialogue. The most prominent female character was a prostitute who steals all your money. So, not exactly progressive, but for the most part I could ignore the issues because women were in the background.


Last Light ironically suffers from the opposite problem – there are too many women, including a main character, so their one-dimensional nature is unavoidable. It's in your face, constantly, like a pair of jiggling boobs.


Can-Can-croppedOh, I mentioned boobs. Well, you have to get used to them in this game, because they're everywhere. I encountered scantily clad or naked women at least four times that I can remember. There's a can-can show, then you wander through a dressing room full of half-dressed dancers, then go into a brothel where you can pay for a lapdance (complete with jiggle physics), then finally the world's most uncomfortable sex scene. I'm not a prude and this is very much a game for adults – but the implementation seems kind of juvenile and gratuitous. It doesn't help that, whereas the male characters look weathered and realistic, for some reason the female characters all fall smack into the uncanny valley. Their skin has a weird, waxy sheen and their mascara shrouds dead-looking eyes. It makes every encounter uncomfortable.

 

Dressing-room-1Most of this wouldn't have been a serious problem for me, except that Last Light, unlike 2033, includes a romance subplot. As Artyom, the object of your affections is Anna, daughter of the Ranger's leader, Miller, and their best sniper. There's nothing wrong with an "action girl" in a game, but she's completely unsympathetic and kind of scary. On your first mission, Anna is sent to accompany you to help kill the last of the mutant Dark Ones, but also to make sure you finish your mission – Or Else. When someone threatens to murder you and an orphan child in your first scene together, romance ain't exactly in the air.

 

You aren't reunited with Anna until a brief scene halfway through the game. She's gained some grudging respect for you, but she still comes off cold and reptilian. Then she's kidnapped by the bad guys, because of course she is, and you have to chase after her. The transition to damsel in distress is not only out of character, but didn't really do anything to endear her to me.


Anna-sex-scene-1Then after you rescue her and you're both recovering, out of left field comes the most problematic scene in the game. You two are in a hospital room, because you both had caught a mild version of the McGuffin super virus. Anna gets all wistful and talks about fearing death and her dad and wait a minute is that a nipple? Then she says she wants to be touched and lies back on the bed and stares at you with her dead fish eyes and . . . yup. I put my head in my hands and went "Dangit, Artyom, don't do it." But I guess death threats and personality disorders are aphrodisiacs for her hero, because he does.


Anna doesn't show up again for the rest of the game, until the ending cinematic, where she shows up with Artyom's baby. But there are two endings, depending on the choices you make in the game, and she and the kid only show up in the "Bad" ending. I'll leave you to puzzle out the implications of that one, because I don't have the space.


Anna-sex-scene-2I felt the writers missed a lot of opportunities with Anna. An action girl sidekick can be really fun and sympathetic – look at Half-Life 2's Alyx Vance. Alyx could take care of herself, but she was funny and warm and I cared about her. Not only did I not care about Anna, I actively wanted to get away from her because she creeped me out. It's fine that she's uncertain about Artyom's loyalties at the start – but give her some lightness. If they had given her a sense of humor, she would have made a great foil to Miller, her dour father. In the first scenes, it seems like she would cackle with glee if she had the opportunity to kill the hero.


To really get the scope of how badly the developers missed the boat with Anna, you have to look at another of their characters – Pavel. You meet Pavel in a Reich prison, he helps you escape, he cracks some jokes, you learn to respect each other – it's a great arc. He's funny and clever and quirky and is proof that the game maker's know how to write a good character. A thought experiment – what if Anna and Pavel flipped genders? OK, having a grizzled male Ranger threaten Artyom in the beginning is conventional, but it would have fit easily into our expectations.


Anna-bedroom-eyes-brightenedNow, think about those scenes with a female Pavel – how interesting would it have been if your escape from Reich and budding friendship had romantic overtones? I could totally see the player, through Artyom, falling in love with FemPavel. It would make Pavel's betrayal even more of a knife to the chest than it was originally. Then you'd have to fight FemPavel and decide if she lives or dies – yeah, now that's a subplot.


Don't get me wrong – I enjoyed Last Light. The action and gameplay are much improved from the original and the world is every bit as compelling. I just wish they hadn't fumbled the female characters so badly. It could have elevated the game from a tour of a crumbling world into a compelling, character-driven drama.

Read 7685 times Last modified on Tuesday, 28 May 2013 16:43
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Matt Richardson is a freelance social media consultant and web traffic analyst in Charlotte, North Carolina. He has a degree in History from Davidson College, with a special interest in military history and the Civil War. He has rotted his mind with video games since childhood. You can follow Matt at @MT_Richardson.

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