Genre: First Person Shooter
Release Date: May 14th, 2013
Developer/Publisher: 4A Games/Deep Silver
Rating: M For Mature
Platform: Xbox 360, PS3, PC (Reviewed)
Retail: $60 USD
Nuclear fire has ravaged all of Russia. Humanity, in order to survive, must confine themselves to the dank, expansive metro tunnel system beneath the surface. Survival is the name of the game that is played day-to-day, and not only must they fear the monsters that lurk beyond, but they must also be afraid of each other.
This is the atmosphere of Metro: Last Light, 4A Games’ sequel to their 2010 video game adaptation of Dmitry Glukhovsky’s novel Metro 2033. The player takes the role of Artyom, a metro ranger who more often than not finds himself taking the role of the hero and facing off against impossible odds.
The game picks up after the “bad” ending of the previous game, in which Artyom calls in a missile strike on the home of the “Dark Ones”- mysterious otherworldly creatures from another dimension that are not as threatening as the metro’s denizens are led to believe. Nonetheless, they are wiped out, save for one. Artyom and his friend, Khan, set out to search for a last remaining Dark One. One thing leads to another, and Artyom finds himself wrapped up in a conspiracy that threatens the entire metro.
Last Light is a first person shooter, with some elements of stealth. Artyom is able to carry up to three weapons at a time. Each weapon is customizable with attachments such as scopes, sights, stocks, and suppressors. The game strongly encourages stealth gameplay, so suppressors are almost always a necessity.
The levels travel at a linear pace, with the player traversing the post-apocalyptic Russia’s vast environments while encountering dangers along the way. These long expanses of combat are broken up by hub areas, where the player is free to do some exploring and shopping before moving on to their next objective. It’s not a new method, and it definitely shows some wear.
Some of the game’s tension is lost by this linearity. The player never really feels like they can get lost. The game moves forward on a set path that is practically impossible to deviate from. It keeps the game going, but 4A Games misses out on the opportunity to create an immersive experience by choosing to stick to the books.
There are areas where I just wished I could get some freedom to explore. I wanted the game to give me an objective, but give me a large and expansive desiccated city to explore, with multiple paths to traverse and survive through. Perhaps I’m asking for too much, since Last Light is a much more narrative-focused game than, say, S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl, but dropping in a few elements here and there wouldn’t hurt.
On the other hand, these levels are absolutely gorgeous. Last Light’s atmosphere and environment design is easily the best part of the entire game. The metro tunnels are dark and foreboding. Cobwebs, junk, and corpses lay strewn about at nearly every corner. The surface of Russia is desiccated and a shadow of what it once was, as dark stormy skies blow wind overhead.
The most impressive environments, however, are the station hubs. 4A Games do an incredible job depicting humanity at its lowest. Dozens are crammed into small spaces and live in horrific conditions, but still try to find some sliver of hope. In one town, an older man performs a shadow puppet show for some children. He creates the shape of a dog, which the children are unfamiliar with. Only when he creates the shape of a winged, mutated demon do the kids recognize it, and comment in amused naïve banter. It really helps depict the kind of world they live in, where something as common as a dog is “strange.”
Another area gives the player the opportunity to sit down in a packed theater and watch a variety show. Can-can dancers, accordion players, and animal trainers take the stage and entertain the audience. You almost forget that the world above has been scathed by fire, and for a moment, things feel normal again. Few games achieve this level of atmospheric bliss.
Last Light’s world feels real. Sure, it’s a science-fiction post-apocalyptic adventure with sprinkles of the supernatural, but I can actually feel like I’m in this world. I feel like I’m there in the station, walking by all of the huddled citizens, hammering down drinks at the bar and donating a bullet to a musician strumming away on what could possibly be the last acoustic guitar in existence. There are so many great environments and fantastic imagery, Last Light is a feast for the eyes.
Of course, a video game is made up of more than atmosphere. The gameplay is the singular piece; it’s the beating heart. Last Light gives a few strong beats here and there, but its pulse mostly falls flat.
Nothing new or fresh is done by Last Light. When confronting human enemies, often in dark indoor areas, the game encourages a slow pace. You stick to the shadows and wait for an opportunity to get the lead on an enemy. From behind, the player can perform one of two takedowns: kill, or knock out. They’re very standard stealth mechanics, but their convenience doesn’t make sneaking challenging or rewarding.
Sticking to the shadows is hilariously unbalanced. If you and an enemy are in the “shadows”, they have absolutely zero notice of you. You can crawl right in front of their ankles and they won’t bat an eye. If there is a light source, such as a light bulb in the area, you can screw it out and give yourself the advantage. It’s instantaneous, so a player with keen reflexes can easily ghost their way through.
It sets a very somber, slow pace to the gameplay, but then it drastically shifts. On the surface, the game takes an irritatingly fast paced “shoot first, ask questions never” approach. The surface’s monsters are lightning agile and will dance around you if they get close enough, much to the player’s annoyance. Their constant flailing attacks make your screen flash red and shake, which makes encounters with multiple monsters annoying instead of challenging.
In one area, I had to put up with constant slug-like enemies that spat acid into my eyes, while water effects splashed my gasmask and a constantly circling flying demon picked me up and dropped me off elsewhere from my objective path. It was a moment that just made me sigh and deadpan the phrase “can’t see shit, captain.”
4A Games’ intent was probably to highlight the danger and lethality of the surface, but the combat against monsters just ends up being irritating at best.
The “shoot first, ask questions never” approach is also used in the forced gunfights the player will sometimes encounter, mostly toward the end of the game. Last Light begins to feel less like itself and more like a cinematic set piece shooter in these moments, which is very disappointing and betraying to its tone of desperation.
I will not spoil anything, but the entire ending sequence just reeks of this. It’s as if the writers had no idea how to tie all of the game’s multiple plot elements together in a meaningful way, so instead they just tossed in a big bombastic gun battle in hopes of setting things out with a “bang.”
Sadly, it’s more of a whimper, and the hilariously over-expository and short ending cutscene that plays immediately afterwards fails to bring the game and its story to a fulfilling conclusion.
The game stands at about 8-10 hours, with little reason to replay. There is an alternate “good” ending (that I did not get), but the requirements to achieve it are so banal and specific that no one will achieve them unless they specifically go out of their way to get them upon looking them up online. There is the “ranger” difficulty mode, which promises a much harsher experience, but it is downloadable content, and therefore not a part of the game’s package.
Overall, Metro: Last Light is a well-meaning endeavor that starts out strong and has some strengths, but ultimately crashes and burns without leaving the player with anything to remember it by. The atmosphere and set design is gorgeous, which is something 4A Games truly must be commended for, but that alone cannot save Last Light from being boring, unremarkable, and quite forgettable.