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Hi, this is Two Minute Game Crit, and I’m Stephen Beirne.
When we talk about a game’s first level, it’s usually to note it as an entry-point to the game’s mechanical design–how to move, what to collect and what to avoid.
Less often do we consider it in terms of narrative design, in a broader sense than just what we learn mechanically. This is what a first level does, as well – it introduces a world and a story which we have to understand and relate to, rather than merely operate in.
Look at Metro: Last Light.
At the start of the first level we’re woken from our bed by this happy chap, who quickly gives us some exposition and our first objective – “go to Point A”. The second he leaves we’re taken to the table to pick up our stuff, and another, different conversation kicks in.
The instinctive thing is to go look for who’s talking, and in any other game we’d be allowed to, but here you only gain control after he’s finished. Straight away this puts us off a bit, since it goes against the way we feel things should be.
Once we have control, it’s fun to spend a few minutes just skirting around the bedroom for some environmental storytelling, to get into our character’s head. See what kind of music he likes. Check out his guitar, to which the game responds…
[Footage of screen briefly brightening and the sound of distant chimes.]
Whatever that means.
So we leave the room and yet another conversation starts up with these two lads in the far corner, and at the same time a tutorial box opens. So which do we focus on?
Everywhere you go, there’s this constant overlapping of things begging for your attention. It’s in how you manage your resources, figure your way through a level, and just whenever you enter a new room.
This narrative noise, and our ability to wade through it, is a key dramatic point all throughout Metro. The story here is about how fear and cynicism have destroyed humanity, and how we can repair the damage by opening our hearts to everything around us.
We may not realise it at the time, but what we’re being taught here is to choose how we see the world of Metro from the onset. Is the clutter a source of hostility and frustration? Or are you willing to filter through it and find the sense within?
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