The Heart of Metro 2033 (Act Three)

You actually just misinterpret their intentions. If you could understand Russian, you'd hear that they're saying, "Come, brother! Today is Hug A Stalinist Day!"

A commissar’s idea of asking for volunteers.

I believe that each of Metro 2033’s five acts has a distinct goal. The first introduced us to the Moscow Metro and informed us that humanity isn’t going to be improving their quality of life anytime soon, and the second battered us over the head what sounded a lot like a theme. The third does something else: armed (hopefully) with what you learned from Act 2 (if you were listening), Act 3 is all about testing the state of Artyom’s heart (and, by extension, yours). I’ll explain.

He doesn't get many tips because he's singing the tune from

A guitar player from back in Act 1. One of the game’s first moral tests.

“How could a man do this to another?”
—Communist soldier


But first, I need to explain the game’s idea of morality.

In Metro 2033, there is a morality meter. It isn’t visible, and it doesn’t act the way other games may have trained you to understand. It doesn’t affect your standing with anyone—that is to say, when you kill a Nazi, you don’t get +3 to your relations with the Communists and -2 with the Fascists. Instead, the game quietly takes note of the actions you take, then moves on. It does tell you that something has happened, but it’s such a subtle signal—a brief flash and a sound like a drop of water in a cavernous pool or a sharp intake of breath—that it’s easy to miss, or misconstrue as a mere visual effect. In effect, the game makes it easy to act as though you aren’t being judged. Kind of like real life, where there’s no immediate feedback when you shoplift a Snicker’s bar.

And yet, you are being judged. The game is busy deciding whether you’re a decent enough person to even consider making the right choice in the game’s final minute. See, there are two endings. Most people miss this.

Now, this is kind of cool, because it might be the sole instance of Steam Achievements being useful for anything: the global achievement stats for Metro 2033 tell us is that 89.4% of folks who own the game completed the first bit. 30.6% finished the game with the depressing ending, which is the one that people complain about because it’s a letdown (it is, though intentionally).

Can you guess what percentage of people got the good ending?

If you guessed 3.9%, you’re prescient or faking.

In Act 3, the game, despite having two full acts more to go, passes its final judgement on you. It asks you four major questions, and it watches how you answer them. And if you answer them incorrectly, chances are that you won’t have accumulated enough of its hidden “morality points” to have the option of the good ending. See, the game isn’t judging whether you’re a good or a bad person—you’re on a quest to save humanity, so we can assume you’re good enough. Instead, it’s asking how open-minded you are. How decent. How kind. And if Artyom (and you) isn’t open-minded, and willing to challenge his assumptions about others, then the final choice could never be made, and he’ll be stuck with the bad ending.

We’ll evaluate that decision later. For now, let’s take a look at the four questions that Act 3 offers.

You never actually get to see the Nazis use any of their heavy equipment on the Communists though. It's a little bit disappointing that they have these battle-carts and a tank, and they only attack you with them.

Instruments of war.

1. Do you kill?

When you left Khan, he told you to go to Armory Station to meet Andrew, who would help you on towards the capital of Polis. Things don’t go as well as you’d like, as it turns out that the Communist faction has taken control of Armory, and you soon find yourself running for your life from very grumpy commissars. You’re saved by Andrew, who informs you that the fastest way to Polis is through the front lines where the Communists and Nazis are hashing out their differences with bullets and bayonets. Artyom stows away on a railcar filled with Communist “volunteers,” and soon finds himself on the periphery of a massive firefight.

(A side note: I’ve seen lots of people complain that there are no Nazis in Russia. There are—in this context it just means that they don’t like anyone who isn’t a native Russian, so they’re fascist racists. Now stop complaining.)

Here you get a series of choices. It looks like you’ll have to battle your way through this mess. You know that human life is valuable, since as far as we know, there are only 40,000 of them left. Do you kill the wounded? Do you save prisoners on the verge of execution? Do you listen in on their conversations, and learn that most of them are unwilling to be in this fight?

It’s even possible to sneak through the area, avoiding all conflict, though this is most difficult, and will deprive you of lots of equipment that you could loot off of corpses.

Of course, Artyom has killed humans before, and he’ll have to again later. And most of the people here will probably end up dead anyway. Still, it’s no surprise that the best option is to avoid killing whenever possible, because at the end of all the rationalizing, the game is still asking if you will kill unnecessarily.

The game does a decent job of establishing that Rangers are badass. It's alluring, and one of the game's trickier deceptions—you shouldn't want to be like these guys, but dang they're cool.

Captured by Nazis and saved by Rangers.

Upon escaping the frontlines, you’re captured by a pair of Nazis who kick you around and try to execute you. You’re saved in the nick of time by Ulman and Pavel, who are members of the same order of Rangers that Hunter (the initiator of your quest) belonged to. Once you explain your mission to them, they’re happy to help you reach Polis. Unfortunately, the Communist and Nazi conflict is widespread, and getting there won’t be an easy task. Ulman decides that your group will split up, so he goes one way while you accompany Pavel in a rail cart. This journey doesn’t go so well:

"The nuclear wessels!" is his last battle cry.

Pavel’s last sit.

After Pavel gets eaten, your cart crashes down a side tunnel and deposits you only a short hike from Hole Station, where a horde of mutants, spurred on by an unseen psychic force (the Dark Ones?), is about to attack. You’re hastily recruited into the station’s militia. Everyone standing watch in front of the entrance to the station seems to know that they’re about to die.

"Sir, why can't we ALL be up behind the sandbags and spiky rebar?"

The brave defenders of Hole Station.

Turns out they’re right. The attack is overwhelming, they’re all killed, and you’re knocked unconscious by a psychic blast. Upon waking up, the station leader, barely alive, gives you a cassette and asks you to find a way to broadcast it to let Polis know that Hole Station has fallen. With nowhere else to go, you must travel through the ravaged station, witnessing the effects of being sacked by a mutant horde. The place is trashed, and all the occupants are dead and being munched on by scavenger monsters. Less than a mile away, the battle between the Communists and the Fascists is probably still raging.

Amid the wreckage, you find a single survivor, and the game asks another question:

Jeez, YOU try to come up with something funny for this.

Sasha, trying to wake his uncle.

2. Do you sacrifice?

The survivor is a child named Sasha, whose uncle was taking him to meet up with the survivors at Hole Station, which turned out to be a bad idea. Obviously, the question isn’t whether you take the kid with you—Metro 2033 is bold enough to put children in peril, but it won’t show dead kids (though it does contain ghosts of children).

So you pick up Sasha and head through the tunnels. You’re under constant attack from scavenger monsters, and although Sasha makes himself useful by shouting out when they’re behind you and letting you know when caches of weapons are nearby, he’s still heavy. You move slowly, and your gun is harder to aim.

You finally reach a shaft, climb up, and are greeted by a squad of rescuers, including Sasha’s mother.

The kid being with his uncle doesn't make much sense, since these guys seem way more secure than Hole Station was.

Sasha runs to his mother.

Grateful, she tearfully holds out a full magazine of military-grade ammunition, which you may recall is the currency of the Metro.

What do you do? You’ve probably wasted quite a bit of your ammo, and you did just save her hefty child. Do you take the ammo, or refuse it? She and Sasha could probably use the money, after all.

After you make your choice, the game continues.

Sony: Made to Last.

Broadcasting the message of the attack.

3. Do you help?

The group of rescuers patches you up and helps you back on your journey, which unfortunately takes you across the surface and right through an outpost that the Fascists have set up. The area is swarming with jackbooted goons, and combat is inevitable, so the moral question isn’t whether to kill—it’s whether you remember the request of the man back in Hole Station, the one who handed you the cassette tape. Unless you were paying attention and actively thinking of how you could help, it’s easy to forget that this was ever brought up.

Also, the broadcast antenna is out of the way, since Nazis are silly and like to place critical equipment in hard-to-reach places. Worse, it’s protected by a powerful flying mutant that’s having a grand time hounding any humans in the area.

So it’s hard to reach, well-protected, and probably not a high priority to you. Still, the game asks what lengths you’ll go to in order to help the people who populate the Metro.

Then you head back underground, where a final Nazi station lies between you and Polis. Ulman, the Ranger who separated from you earlier, greets you through a grate and asks you to find your way through the station to meet him. So through another occupied base you go!

Every time I sneak through this level, I have the hardest time not popping this guy in the fact. No idea why he's the one sentry to elicit such ire.

Sneaking past Nazi guards.

4. Do you understand?

Once again, it’s possible to creep through without being detected or killing anyone, though, again, that’s difficult to do. Rather, many of the moral points in this area come from listening in on the conversations that the Nazi soldiers are carrying on amongst themselves. They talk about missing their families, about morality, about moving away to live in the capitalist stations. They’re bossed around, taken for granted, and afraid.

It’s rare enough to see Nazis (or racists, or fascists) humanized like this, though you’ll have to go out of your way to hear it. You’ll have to be patient, and sometimes sneak up on clusters of chatting soldiers. But if you’re willing to expend the effort, you’ll discover that these enemies aren’t so different from yourself.

And then you meet up with Ulman and board a rail cart bound for Polis. The third act ends, and whether you realize it or not, you’ve already determined what sort of person you (and Artyom) are.

Index of acts here.

Posted on August 10, 2012, in Game Diary and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. Do you think a game like this can actually enhance or affect our own character based on the way we choose to play? I’m almost nervous about playing it just thinking of the possibility.

    • That seems a little extreme to me…

      • I believe that if art—and, by extension, games—has the ability to uplift and edify, then the inverse must also be true.

        Though I don’t think Metro 2033 is degrading anyone. I think that most of the people who play the game make their decisions based on one of two things: one, they don’t pay enough attention; and two, they act as they’ve been trained to act by other games. So they focus on killing, and taking what they need for their quest without any thought for the people that they’re taking from (who aren’t real, after all).

        But I can’t say anything else without getting into spoiler territory for Act 5, so I’ll just stop talking about this until then.

      • Yeah, fair enough. I’ll wait until Act 5 then. 😛

  2. Whew, I’m going to have to look at all the games I play differently then. I mean, with that paradigm in mind I really should try to be my best self in these games. And yeah, I agree ryedog, what I’m getting at does seem a little extreme for a game and maybe a bit too focused on morality, but I’m in the innocent’s camp. Thanks for the perspective

  3. Love this site! Got a tip via-via, and there it was: Finally someone dissecting the larger meaning of games-morality like I do!

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