Mood is such an important thing in a nuclear apocalypse; a detail that is so easy to forget. That’s something that’s painfully palpable in the first hour of Metro: Last Light
Yes there are telepathic, radioactive creatures. Yes, there is shooting and stabbing. But what really sticks to my ribs more than anything are those tiny, nigh invisible moments of quiet — those tiny glimpses when you see someone frittering away time and simply being a human being.
Early on in Metro: Last Light, you wake up from a horrible nightmare into a subterranean military base in the bombed out metro of subterranean Moscow. Walking around, you’re greeted by your compatriots in their off-time — A man playing a mournful song on his guitar in a bunk bed for his friends, a soldier repairing his gun and someone with their headphones on, playing an air drum solo. People are unwinding, training and making due with best they have in a grim situation.
There is something oddly touching about it. American games often like to pretend that the end of the world might be a fun and bombastic place. We enjoy the cavalier, gallows humor of mocking Duck and Cover and other Cold War relics. We harbor a love for the nuclear wasteland like it's some kind of neo-cowboy playground. On some level, it’s our way of coping with the depressing, horrible prospect of a nuclear war obliterating everyone and everything you love.
But I’ve always found that Russia, Ukraine and other former Soviet Bloc countries historically have had a more sober approach in their speculative fiction. Movies like Tarkovsky’s Stalker (and by extension the loosely affiliated S.T.A.L.K.E.R.) and the Polish O-bi, O-ba - The End of Civilization, understand something basic about nuclear fallout: that if society is blasted back into the loam, if everything is burned to ash and we are forced to live like moles, all we will have left are our tiny, half-remembered creature comforts in a savage, dead and uncaring world. Metro seems to understand that on a profound level (for more, read Kirk's full review).
The people in this game are living for their yesterdays, holding on desperately to the remnants of what made them human. "I remember so many random, unnecessary things" the protagonist, Artyom, reflects in Metro: Last Light's intro "yet I don't remember the most important one — my mother's face."