Editor’s Note: I got my copy of Metro Last Light with my graphics card. Because of this, I didn’t get to play the game on the Ranger difficulty, which is pre-order DLC. I am not paying for a difficulty mode. With that said, here is my review on the game without Ranger mode.

The outside world that was once inviting is now a dreadful wasteland. What were once playgrounds for the next generation are but a grim reminder of all that humanity has lost. Grand monuments are but rubble, and the air has become far too harsh to breathe. A gas mask is required to even venture outside, and a gun is a necessity if one is to survive. And if you’re down to your last few rounds, it can be a frightening experience. Hordes of fierce mutants claw at you, shattering your gas mask and clouding your vision. Blood splatters all over the glass, and thick patches of dirt get in the way of any desperate shot you can line up. All the while you’re progressively suffocating and holding on to your last breath to find one last filter, one last glimmer of hope for survival.

It’s these moments that end up being the highlight of Metro Last Light, and when the game feels like it has truly clicked from top to bottom. In many ways, Last Light is much like its predecessor, 2010’s Metro 2033. It’s an Eastern-European first person shooter that’s more in the vein of modern day corridor shooters than some of the more inspired works like S.T.A.L.K.E.R. or Cryostasis. Make no mistake about it though; like 2033, this is a game that feels appropriately foreign. Yes, if you play the English dub you will find some poor attempts at Russian accents, and enough of a westernized take on Nazis for the sake of not offending anyone.

In between all that though, there is something incredibly authentic about how the game handles so many other elements of that Russian heritage. It’s a representation of communism that could only come from a group of people who actually understand it, even down to the brand of humor one would find in most communist readings. It’s also the tone of the game that makes Metro a different beast from its contemporaries. The way the game paces itself, the way the game expresses its brand of melancholy and dread, and its themes are all Russian in look, feel, and execution.

Unlike 2033 however, Metro Last Light is a more accomplished game from top to bottom. Throwing knives no longer feels like an agonizing game of roulette, a close quarters stealth kill is not missing this time by, and the gunplay is snappier and more accurate from weapon to weapon. Some of 2033’s more interesting characteristics are lost in translation here, but so are majority of frustrating aspects of that game. Sneaking around meticulously is smoother and more realized on a mechanical level. You no longer feel like the game is robbing you of your well executed play as you did in some of the more infuriating segments of Metro 2033.

Of course these mechanical improvements have their own drawbacks. Because sneaking around is so much easier, and your arsenal of weapons and actions are better realized, the encounter design is frankly unjustifiable. The enemy AI in these segments behaves in foolish ways even on the hardest difficulty, and rob the game of any tension the stealth segments might provide. In one instance I encountered, a guard found a dead body I left over and alerted everyone on patrol in that area. In most cases this is the beginning of a major shoot out, but I held my ground and watched as all the guards danced around the map, moving from cover to cover, and checking their corners back and forth. Surely a few of them had to see me. In fact, one was sitting almost right next to me, but the game didn’t acknowledge it.

These moments aren’t just immersion breaking; they also point out how much you can get away with. There are far too many sequences where one can be standing right in front of the enemy, and the game arbitrarily deems you hidden. Too often it feels the game is more about celebrating its impressive lighting engine, and less about executing tense gameplay encounters. And the added accuracy of weapons, on top of them being silenced, can cripple any concept of challenge. Because of this it’s also easy to save up ammunition, which is the currency in the game, and since Ranger mode was pre-order DLC, some players may not have the option to play the game the way it might have been intended.

In between all that, you have some excellent encounters, like the aforementioned surface levels, as well as other throw-downs with mutants in the Metro. Some players may not enjoy the spongy nature of these enemies(on Hardcore difficulty), but given the arsenal they feel appropriately intimidating. They are rather idiotic enemies like their human counterparts, but far more menacing and threatening, and all of these enemy types do offer a sense of variety. One such enemy requires you to use your flash light to blind it to give you an opening at its weak spot, while another requires you to constantly stay on the move as you try to break through its outer shell, and humans themselves provide a reprieve from this tense action by taking things slower and allowing you to sneak around.

It’s all paced very well, unlike most corridor shooters of its ilk. While the game is a very linear experience, moving you from one gameplay scenario to the next, it doesn’t feel monotone, nor does it rely only on its enemy types to keep it varied. You’ll often find yourself in hub worlds where you are meant to soak in the atmosphere and setting. The game is as much about place as it is about play. Some of these levels do feel like sight-seeing tours instead of organic environments, but it’s a level of characterization that is easily appreciated over your journey, if only because it creates a series of peaks and valleys throughout the flow of the game.

Narratively, 4A games had decided to make the “Artyom kills all the Dark Ones” ending of 2033 cannon. For those unaware, there was an alternative ending where that doesn’t happen. Last Light picks up some time after that as a newly discovered young Dark One is found, which Artyom’s ranger comrades want killed off as the Dark Ones were such a major threat in 2033. While the game makes subtle attempts at conveying Artyom’s guilt over this genocide, it rarely ever amounts to much. Most of the narrative has Artyom searching for this creature, as well as dealing with the multiple factions vying for control in the Metro.

The primary antagonists end up being human enemies, and the larger plot progression revolves around their attempts at taking over. The final showdown comes down to one impressive onslaught between Artyom’s Rangers and this rival faction. Yet the game does make attempts at asking if humanity is actually worth saving. Or is evolution taking its course and it should be The Dark Ones that are ready to populate the earth? You know, the typical stuff you would expect in an apocalyptic setting. Some character exchanges are entertaining in their own right (I quite enjoyed the 3 Musketeers references), but others fall flat. The first major female character of the series is far too cliché to be worthy of any interest. She starts as your typical no-nonsense soldier who doesn’t trust the protagonist, but eventually becomes a contrived love interest responsible for a pretty tacky and groan-inducing nipple slip.

As previously mentioned, the lighting engine in this game is highly impressive. 2033 wasn’t short on atmosphere, but it’s easily bested by Last Light’s superb visual direction. Shadows are richer now, and dark as can be, providing an actual asset to the stealth gameplay. The way the lightning quickly flashes and shows you ghosts of the past is both frightening and spectacular all at once. Metro’s dilapidated Moscow is a consistent vision on a visual level, the highlight of which is still the surface world, more specifically a swamp area. It all creates a setting that feels unique in ways most post-apocalyptic settings never do.

Plenty of videogames on the market have remarkable visual direction, and use bloom lighting to highlight some jaw dropping scenery, but very few of them feel like the visual direction has a purpose. Metro Last Light isn’t one of those games. The lighting engine is as much an asset to gameplay as it is to showcasing technical prowess. The detail for each pixel in the environment adds to the atmosphere and characterization of Metro’s take on a ruined Moscow.

Some fans of the original game will be disappointed that the fragility and resource management of Metro 2033 have been compromised by Last Light’s mechanical improvements. Even more should be disappointed with some of the more bombastic gameplay scenarios that clash with the more subdued tone of the game, such as a “boss fight” like encounter with a Tank that just comes off as illogical, and of course the modern-day action game trope that is the speeding train level.

On the other hand, the mechanical improvements make for a competent and confident game from top to bottom. The surface levels that were the best segments of 2033 are still the high points of Last Light. The setting is visually striking, and illustrated very well. The gameplay overcomes its AI drawbacks with some respectable pacing. It’s a linear corridor shooter executed in a manner that I wish more corridor shooters were. It may be ultimately lacking, but Last Light is proof to me that 4A games is well on their way to making something truly special.

Final Score – 7/10

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