Metro Redux is a game that has a very strong sense of atmosphere; an elusive quality among games. Here I take a look at how Metro Redux uses worldbuilding to build atmosphere.
Hey, I’m Matt and this is an episode of Between the Frames
Games are always trying to sell the experience of being in a believable world. This is often realized by crafting dynamic systems and emulating human activities. Worldbuilding is another tool for crafting believable worlds.
Worldbuilding is the creation of the micro and macro facets of human and natural elements in a story’s universe; be it clothes, governments, ecosystems, cultures, etc.
This can be as simple or complex as desired, the key is internal consistency.
Worldbuilding supports the story and plot. It creates extrinsic motivations and stakes for the player, providing context for the player's and characters' actions.
It is what pushes a game from fun and forgettable to a game with a long-standing impression that offers more to discover on successive playthroughs.
Worldbuilding is often organized into elements. For Metro Redux the prominent elements are geography, ecosystems, and cultures.
For the worldbuilding to strengthen the story these elements should align with the mood or themes being explored.
Geography is where most worldbuilding begins. It sets up the scope and scale of the story and the world it inhabits.
Metro’s geography is limited to Moscow and its subway system. At its core this is a world of isolation punctuated by pockets of humanity.
That’s an incredible small scale compared to the expansive continents of Dragon Age or the inter-planetary scale of the Halo games, and it is at the root of Metro’s mixed sense of despair and hope.
Ecosystems rise out of the geography. They are the animals and natural threats that populate the world.
In Metro radiation isn’t the only issue; the ecosystem is violent, constantly threatening to eradicate the human survivors. There are massive packs of animals both on the surface and prowling the metros.
On the other hand the presence of an ecosystem indicates that life can still thrive.
A pinch of hope amid the danger.
Arguably the most complex element of Metro’s worldbuilding is its cultures, its people.
There are dominant organizations and governing structures that both divide and unite areas of the metro; their ideologies permeating the atmosphere of stations under their control.
Metro’s economy uses military grade bullets as a form of currency, which is a really fascinating measurement of value.
It’s indicated that there are stations that produce the scrap ammunition and weapons which both protect the people from wildlife and enable them to war against eachother.
The populations are isolated into subway stations; some in poverty some in prosperity depending on who controls their resource allocations. Above all though, the stations are consistently places of hope and a reminder of the resilience of humanity.
Metro really sells how lively the stations are by the numerous conversations and activities that can be heard simultaneously in passing; there are too many to hear and see in a single playthrough. There are activities occurring outside of the player’s vicinity, and it’s responsible for making the world feel real and alive.
All of this is very fascinating, but how does it actually help build atmosphere?
There is a consistent theme and mood in each element of worldbuilding in Metro; a twisted sense of despair tempered by a twinge of hope. The player will experience this in every facet of the world, and through that consistent exposure begin to feel it bleed from the game. As they become more invested and immersed the game’s world leaves its mark.
The takeaway from this is that when dealing with worldbuilding it is not only vital to be consistent; you should also ask yourself “How does this contribute to the theme and mood of the story?”