I picked up Metro Last Light
today. That statement alone shouldn't raise any eyebrows, heck I've seen the game place on tons of "best of 2013" lists and I can see why. The look of Moscow is freaking decrepit as all hell (and I mean that as a compliment). There are lots of little things which make this a deeply russian game down to the theatre performance you can attend and watch girls do the can-can. The more I think about it the more this game reads like a Chekhovian tragicomedy, and for those of you who don't know what that is please go read The Seagull
Now that paragraph of praise is not to say that the game is without it's faults. One issue I really can't stand is the fact that the character we play, Artyom, is a silent protagonist. Let me make one thing clear, I don't hate the silent protagonist if it's used right. However when some of the best games on the market right now have protagonists that are not silent it means that you have to be very sure of any "vocal" decisions. What a choice like this boils down to in my mind is a choice of agency. How much agency do you want your character to have. A non-vocal character serves well to be a players voice through action whereas if Artyom had a voice he would have to be fleshed out as a character. Now we do get snippets of his voice in journal entries between stages which alerts us to his psyche. This serves as a reminder that he isn't a traditional silent character but one whose voice and actions are two very separate entities.
I don't want to spoil anything that happens after the halfway point as that's where the game gets good but I'm going to put a spoiler alert on this paragraph though the game's been out for quite some time now. After you escape the nazis (yes this game has nazis) you reach the theatre city which i mentioned earlier. In it a character named Pavel mentions Stanislavski. Now my theatre major has finally come in handy here as Stanislavski is the perfect reference to what I believe the developers had in mind for Artyom. Now for a bit of background: Constantin Stanislavski is possibly the most well know theatre director of the modern era. His work is most well remembered for his theory of "emotional recall" which instructed actors to get into the headspace of characters they played on stage by truly inhabiting the character and trying to, as he put it, "experience the part."
So how does this apply to Artyom? well if you'll recall those journal entries from earlier it makes a great deal of sense. If we see those as the points in which we hear the character talking to us as his true voice, then each level is supposed to be us as the actor attempting to bring the character to life. And while all games have some element of the player as an actor (and I don't mean "go audition for every role now" kind of actor) Metro Last Light
takes the part very literally which would point to why our character is silent. We as the player are merely an actor portraying the role of Artyom.
LOOK WHO CAME: