Metro: Last Light is the sequel to Metro 2033, a post-apocalyptic first-person shooter based on the popular novel by Dmitry Glukhovsky. The original received only somewhat favorable reviews, but the game earned a cult following for its quality and attention to detail. So, for at least some people, there are very high expectations for 4A Games to deliver with the sequel. Does it succeed? I think so.
The story of Last Light follows directly after the bad ending in 2033. Without spoiling anything for those who still want to play the original, the setting takes place mostly in the metro system of Moscow (with some segments in the ruined above ground), as a nuclear war in 2013 rendered most of Earth inhabitable. After that point, small factions of the three main powers, the Nazi Fourth Reich, Redline (communist Russia), and Hansa, begin preparing for a full-scale war to gain control of the wasteland and possibly the end of humanity. The game follows protagonist Artyom as he attempts to prevent this conflict and prevent the inevitable death of humanity.
The story takes place about one year after the original game and 21 years after the original apocalypse, delivering a very creepy, uncomfortable, and fascinating look at the new world. Watching the political and social scene in this time period was extremely interesting; despite the now pitiful population count and the fact that everyone lives in train stations, the Nazis and communists still try to enact their ideologies using the same political methods they would have used before the war. Underground cities, meanwhile, are small-yet-admirable attempts at starting up a new life, featuring people working, a basic economy, and even a small art industry to entertain the people. The plot of desperately trying to save humanity combined with the wonderfully designed setting creates a story that feels very organic, especially when taking in to account the simple attention to detail and three-dimensional character writing that goes into each scene.
Referring to Last Light as a first-person shooter doesn’t really do it justice. While the game does have the same FPS mechanics: gun variety and the light customization you come to know and love, Metro equally takes cues from the survival horror and stealth genres. When encountering a room of enemies, you are given multiple options, remain silent and try to get by unnoticed, take out your enemies with silent kills, or go in guns blazing. Ultimately, the choice is yours.
While the latter method is a necessity at times, attempting to play the game that way is extremely dangerous thanks to the limited ammo in the game. And if you’re playing on a difficulty higher than Normal, finding a small arsenal of shotgun bullets is like winning the lottery. It makes the game feel that much more satisfying when taking down a Nazi with a throwing knife and then going in for the silent-but-deadly melee kill on his buddy, but it also makes for a terrifying game when you attempt to use your last throwing knife, miss, and alert every single communist of where you’re located. The game also uses light as a clever game mechanic, allowing you to turn off lightbulbs and the like to cloak yourself in darkness and remain unnoticed. The only complaint I have is that enemy AI can occasionally be a little dumb at times; there are times when I’ve shot an enemy from far away, stepped behind a plant two feet to the right of me, and have the hostiles lose my location entirely. It is not common, and the stealth is generally flawless, but this kind of stuff does happen sometimes.
The survival horror part is further represented in the simple fact that traversing the game is downright creepy. Exploring a mutant-ridden yet somehow silent metro tunnel or an (active) Nazi concentration camp provides an unmatched feeling of dread when combined with the little ammunition and few defenses you have available. Furthermore, exploring the vast above-ground wasteland can be equally scary when fish-mutants start to surround you just as your oxygen depletes and you begin to suffocate.
One other thing I really appreciate is that despite being a “standard” linear, ten-hour, story-driven game, Last Light goes out of its way to feel anything but linear. The game progression feels natural and you feel like you have some say in the matter as to what happens next (even though you mostly don’t) rather than being a plodding progression from one level to the next. The level design avoids being a series of corridors, and has many cool side-paths that will reward you with ammo and currency (which is, ironically, also ammunition), and the huge above-ground Moscow feels like an open-world that you would find in a Fallout game despite being mostly linear.
While Metro features a solid dynamic soundtrack and some impressive visuals on PS3, the technical star of the show is the tremendous attention to detail one can find. Every room looks different and like an actual room someone used. Standing around two NPCs almost always leads to an extensive conversation about (practically) nothing. The number of bullets you have left is almost always visible in your gun clip. Looking into a plastic quarantine window can grant a look at active scenes with really sick people acting really sick. There is a full several-minute stage show that you can watch if you stick around long enough and don’t rush into continuing the mission. The small touches like these go a long way in making an otherwise linear game feel like a place I actually live in, and many other developers could probably take note of this.
Metro: Last Light is a single-player first-person shooter that has really creative and well-designed mechanics, a tremendous atmosphere, and a great story that works with the gameplay rather than against or in spite of it. Even if you have no means to play the original, Last Light is one of those titles that remind you of why video games are so awesome.