The Metro games for me are something that will never be matched by anything. They hold a very special place in my heart and I think they are completely unique in the entire ecosystem of games, having went from a very promising, exotic game into a fully realized AAA franchise.
All these tiny scenarios that bring us closer to the world.
The literary background, love for source material, studio’s previous experience with post-apocalyptic games and that sense of exoticness of the game being from Eastern Europe all summed up into a very clear and distilled experiences.
That would never be possible without music. Alexey Omelchuk has been with the game since the beginning, composing a lot of different styles used in different ways throughout three games. Right off the bat, back in 2010, when Metro 2033 was released, we’d been listening to music we would later praise in this decade’s post-apocalyptic hits such as The Last of Us. Coming back to older Metro games, it’s noticeable that the music was good and used in a very modern and thought-out way.
Starting with the basics, it works as a typical illustration to scripted events; minimal music evolves as the player gets detected and gets into fire fights; there is amazing menu music — and that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Additionally, a lot of music is also in diegesis, the game’s world, as a part of all these tiny scenarios that bring us closer to the world and its inhabitants.
Music is a very distinct and conscious way of communicating with the player.
The guitar will play if you interact with it. There are gramophones playing propaganda-heavy tunes in totalitarian stations. A random citizen may hum a tune. Radio will play something if you turn it on. There is music all over the specific areas of the stations.
The music doesn’t only speak through the game as a system of play and it doesn’t reside between you and the world passively commenting stuff. It speaks through the characters and the world, thus bonding you with them. It’s a part of this world. It may sound pretentious, but music is a very distinct and conscious way of communicating with the player and making it easier for him to identify themselves with the humane aspect of the apocalypse. We love music and it’s easier for us to understand and empathize with a world that loves it too. Letting us it hear it in the world instead of being passively played it makes all the difference, as the discovery of that information about the world is left for us and it’s up to us to notice ourselves there.
The narrative heavily relies on it, too. Artyom is a silent protagonist and by no means can you fully adapt a book into a game. The moments for exposition and descriptions are limited, and Metro found a good way to overcome it and to pay homage to literature as well. Each chapter is introduced with a voice-over intro that’s accompanied by music. Those tiny snippets contextualize the levels as the most crucial and worthy-of-showing actions Artyom took.
If the narration itself doesn’t necessarily set up the mechanics and flow of the chapter (combat, slow-paced metro horror, station tourism), the music does and you are brought into the right mindset before the chapter, or it can serve as a substitute for exposition. Hearing music within the exposition can be a sign that a tough sequence has just ended and we can take a breather.
It’s amazing that stylistically and compositionally Metro kept up with the production race within the industry even in the music department. There is vision in these soundtracks, and it’s even better to have them used in a varied way. The eclectic nature of the albums shows though mixture of different styles: the non-diegetic score was dark, heavy on ambient, full of foreboding tunes and sad themes, and all this is occasionally stopped with a catchy, jazzing riff that plays in the game’s world as a sign of hope within the people. The worldbuilding aspect of music is irreplacable.
It’s the key when fleshing out humanity in such a distress.
Above all, though, music from Metro games speaks to you on emotional level. For me, the menu guitar is up there among the best somber guitar tunes from the postapocalyptic genre and some other themes sprinkled throughout this article are touching at the very least. It’s the key when fleshing out humanity in such a distress, and Metro games can proudly say they’ve achieved that.