Metro: Last Light – Story
Though a continuation of an already established world, Last Light rarely leaves the uninitiated in the dark. Even with a passing knowledge of Metro 2033 and the books that inspired the games, this version of post-apocalyptic Russia is captivating in all its radioactive glory. For twenty years, humans have retreated into the safety of the labyrinthine metro systems creating a new world and home while above ground, animals have mutated into dangerous monstrosities.
Much of the overarching plot of Last Light focuses on Artyom becoming embroiled in the schemes of opposing forces as he searches for the Dark One. Despite a nuclear holocaust wiping out millions, Nazis and extreme Communists have still risen from the depths of humanity and are plotting war throughout the Metro. The drama slowly takes a backseat to the more supernatural side of Last Light and the surrounding lore. This split may cause the story to drag on in the final parts of the game for those who enjoy the more grounded side of things. As a silent protagonist in the vein of Gordon Freeman, everything unfolds through the eyes of Artyon. The difference here is that Artyon speaks during chapter loading screens and the notes scattered throughout the game are written by him. It is a bit weird to know that our hero has a voice but never chooses to speak to other characters.
If the player only takes the time to observe the world crafted around them then they will begin to appreciate the finer points of Last Light. NPCs have long conversations with each other and till meager, homemade farms. Decaying human remains clutch each other in sewers offering a tiny glimpse into the last moments of their lives. The world of the Metro feels real and it is little touches like that which make it one of the best post-apocalyptic settings outside of the Fallout series.
Metro: Last Light – Gameplay
Though a shooter at heart, the game’s strongest moments aren’t always when the guns are blazing. Unlike Battlefield or Call of Duty, this is a game that doesn’t rely on that “action movie” bravado where everything is always on fire or exploding – this is the underground after all. The more practical approach to a tricky situation is stealth. Players are able to blow out candles or unscrew light bulbs to bathe themselves in darkness and sneak around enemies, or knock them out or deliver a stealth kill. While being stealthy requires more strategy and patience on the player’s end, it also exposes some questionable AI. In some situations, enemies are so dumb that it makes the game feel broken. Artyom can be right under the nose of a Nazi and as long as the blue light isn’t glowing on his watch (the game’s indication that you are hidden), he won’t be spotted. Sometimes they will investigate a light being turned out or a comrade that’s been taken out but not often. Even on harder difficulties, it’s still noticeable.
The casual repetitiveness of sneaking changes drastically when being in outright combat. Human opponents can take down the player in a matter of shots and with incredible accuracy. Surface monsters pose an even more menacing threat because they are stronger, faster and do a better job at flanking to the point it becomes hard to recognize what direction an attack is coming from. When it comes to actually shooting things, the guns themselves will probably underwhelm. A standard range of rifles, shotguns and machine guns have different parts which can be customized. Silencers and different sights can be attached along with various handles and stocks for improved accuracy. And then there’s the cool stuff like a quadruple barreled shotgun. Or the deadly pneumatic guns that must be pumped to operate. Those are cool and feel fun to use. It isn’t that rocket launchers would have improved the feel of the arsenal, it’s just that the guns provided didn’t feel as unique as they could have. To be fair, though, that is just the Metro universe being grounded in realism more than anything, a random plasma weapon would have felt out of place.
Last Light truly feels like a battle for survival in the darker tunnels of the Metro and above ground in the ruins of civilization – where the mutated creatures come out to play. Making sure there is enough charge left in the flashlight to not only shine a path ahead but boil the skin off armored arachnids will make the heart race. In the light of the sun and among all the crumbling buildings, the air is still poisonous and requires a gas mask and air filters to survive. And there’s still the pack of wild animals to look out for. Even if the outside environments are big enough to get lost in, they still provide some of Last Light’s best tension.
Metro: Last Light – Graphics & Sound
Metro 2033 was infamous for not only its beautiful graphics but for how demanding they were on all but the highest end PCs. 4A Games’ custom engine is at it again but this time most can enjoy the experience. On a PC that can handle max settings, the game is stunning. But any fears that the console version won’t look as great should be put to rest. The Xbox 360 version of Last Light is absolutely gorgeous and obviously pushes the system to its limits. A lot of focus has been placed on dynamic lighting in the game and it shows. Environments realistically go from light to dark as candles are snuffed out. Models are nicely detailed and rarely suffer from bad textures. Small touches like condensation and rain collecting on the gas mask can feel a bit excessive during intense fights but are technically impressive.
To be quite honest, very few flaws were encountered during the course of the game. Occasionally bringing up the lighter would cause the flame to appear as an orange square for a few seconds and dead bodies would flail around or clip through the environment. The most glaring issues were object pop-ins and low res textures up close. Still, none of these take away from the fact that Last Light is a technical achievement, especially for consoles.
Thankfully a bulk of the voice actors are able to pull off a Russian accent quite well. Sure, there’s a few outliers here and there but you would have to really be paying attention pick up on a less than stellar job. If anything, accents of some characters might come across a little too thick. It might be silly to say but the noise that Artyon makes during a melee attack is hilariously overdone and sounds like he is being punched in the gut. Whether it is the buzzing of Metro life or the empty catacombs of a church, the game is alive with sound. Often the silence after an action set piece is more frightening than a creature heard in the distance.
Above all, Metro: Last Light will probably stand the test of time as a technical marvel on the cusp of this generation and the next. The hollowed out remains of Russia are simultaneously breathtaking and terrifying when supplemented with the lore of the Metro universe. Unfortunately this doesn’t always translate to the most consistent plot or enemy AI. But when Last Light strays from the traditional shooter formula it truly feels like a unique game. One has to wonder what other secrets can be uncovered in the Metro.