Metro Last Light Review
Another triumph from developer 4A
Video games are based on all kinds of cool properties these days, but the sad fact is that most licensed titles totally suck. The problem is usually that developers have little choice but to rush a game to coincide with the release of a movie or some such but, luckily, in the case of developer 4A’s Metro series (based on the series of novels by author Dmitri Glukhovsky) , zero time constraints (beyond the normal release windows) means that the tale of Artyom and the post-apocalyptic Moscow Metro tunnels remains one of the cooler IPs in games today.
Following the demise of publishing giant THQ, it was almost uncertain that the sequel to the atmospheric Metro 2033 would be released, but when the title was picked up by Deep Silver (Dead Island) all of us super-fans breathed a collective sigh of relief; this is one hell of a game.
Following World War 3, the denizens of Moscow are forced to live within the sprawling Metro system when the surface is rendered uninhabitable by extreme radiation. Each station becomes its own sovereign city and clashing ideologies in the form of communism, Nazi-ism and beyond are laying the groundwork for the possibility for another awful war.
We rejoin Artyom following his courageous missile strike against the Dark Ones, a new race of humanoid being that appeared in the wake of WW3 and who thrive in the harsh radioactive atmosphere of Moscow. The Dark Ones appeared to be the greatest threat to mankind with their ability to enter minds and kill with ease. Also, they’re spooky as hell and look like some sort of combination between an alien and a zombie. Thus, Artyom and his Ranger brethren wiped them out, or so it was thought. Your old friend Khan has tracked down the last of them, and it is up to you to find the young Dark One and discover its place in the grand scheme of things. Will this bizarre creature cause the downfall of the Metro, or will he be mankind’s last hope for redemption and a sustainable future?
Though former THQ president Jason Rubin recently wrote an open letter admonishing the working conditions under which Ukrainian developer 4A was operating, Metro Last Light is a superb blend of gritty, post-apocalyptic decay, political intrigue and good old-fashioned action/adventure. What begins as a simple mission to locate and study the last of the Dark Ones soon spirals out of control and becomes a race against time to save humanity from itself. Every time Artyom turns around, he is faced with another set of problems that send him barreling through the massive Metro and through such terrifying locales as a Nazi-run concentration camp, communist occupied trainyards and mutant spider-infested catacombs.
Thankfully, there’s an expanded arsenal at your disposal to help keep you alive. The inaugural installment of the series only boasted a handful of weapons, but the sequel not only adds some fun new toys with which to experiment, there is now the option for attaching different scopes, silencers, barrel extensions and laser sights to your weaponry. This helps to provide a stealthier means of execution similar to taking outposts in Farcry 3. Oh sure, you can run into any situation with guns blazing, but the smart player takes his time and surveys his surroundings. You’ll now have the option to shut off circuit breakers so as to easily hide in the shadows. It’s tricky at first, but with the visibility meter built into your watch, you’ll be silently taking out bad guys with throwing knives and pneumatic sniper rifles from the shadows in no time.
You’re still equipped with your handy headlamp, and the clever hand-crank generator mechanic returns from the first game to help keep you out of darkness. Enemy AI has been dumbed down a bit on easier difficulty levels (this is not a bad thing), which means that you won’t be spotted from a million miles away this time around. You’ll be able to truly take in the spectacle that is the Metro system. Last Light was built on a budget, but the amount of detail found in every station, tunnel or trip to the surface is mind-blowing. It’s one of the most creative game worlds since Bioshock’s Rapture, and fits the dark tone of how far humanity is willing to go to kill each other quite nicely.
Players looking for the ultimate challenge will be glad to know that Ranger Mode makes its return in Last Light (it’s free with the special edition, $5 otherwise). By limiting the HUD and resources while simultaneously upping enemy AI intelligence and endurance, you’ll truly feel the desperation and frustration that would come with trying so hard to bring peace to humanity. This means that things get a little more real, and Ranger Mode should only be played by Metro or FPS veterans.
Hit detection has also been improved. As such, your knife is now much more than a worthless and irritating means of achievement farming. The much-improved stealth mechanics allow you to sneak up behind enemies and trigger the ability to either kill them mercilessly or knock them out cold. It’s extremely fun and satisfying to complete a level without firing a single shot or, in some cases, not kill anyone at all.
Music is intense and complimentary to any given situation. You’ll learn to dread the fanfare that comes from being spotted by enemies, and the dramatic tension achieved with such sparse composition is astounding. Never does the music get in the way, but it is always there helping to set the mood.
Metro Last Light is a long one, which is great to know after 4A ditched co-op and multiplayer modes early n the development process. Far too often multiplayer modes are tacked on, and it’s good to see a campaign stand on its own two legs and last an appropriate amount of time. It does this without ever growing tedious, and any game that takes more than 6 hours to beat is fine by us.
There comes a point in Last Light when you realize you aren’t exactly sure why you’re doing the things you’re doing. This can be attributed to weak storytelling. Really, this shortcoming can be assigned to the player rather than the game itself. A second play-through during which I resolved myself to patience heralded story-specific conversations between NPCs. In other words, if you can bring yourself to stop a moment and listen to the people talking around you, you’ll be given many more details as to the state of the Metro and the plot of the game. A lot of titles handle this with collectible audio logs and, even though Last Light does have a system of scattered paged from Artyom’s diary to collect and read, it’s a good idea to stop and listen from time to time.
The main complaint you’d hear about Metro 2033 was wonky controls and poor gun mechanics. A lot of this has been tweaked or tightened for the sequel, but there are still moments where you’ll swear you shot that one dude or destroyed that one lightbulb. The addition of a hit marker is a godsend but, even so, there are problems with how reliable the detection is.
NPCs and enemies have undergone various stages of redesign and, even though this is forgivable with humans, it’s disappointing to see that the Nosalies aren’t as scary as the first game. These enemies were always rodent-like, but now they’re a little too rat-faced and not horrifying-beast-from-the-depths-of-hell enough. The addition of boss battles seems unnecessary and is far too often a game of waiting out the clock over actually utilizing skill to take ’em out. This makes things a little too video game-y as opposed to interactive experience-ish, and we wonder if 4A was perhaps pressured to utilize certain industry standards to up sell-ability. In other words, there was a certain unique charm to the way Metro 2033 played out…it didn’t feel like any other FPS on the market. Metro Last Light, however, feels like the Resistance series married Killzone and injected a healthy dose of Bioshock and Fallout 3 in order to appeal to a larger demographic. OK, games are an industry at the end of the day, but losing the very things that set your game apart from the pack seems a strange choice. Even the controls seem like pandering as they’re now—like so many other games in recent memory—mapped almost exactly like Call of Duty. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great control scheme, it’s just that part of the challenge of Metro was a more unique set of controls, and it feels bad to have lost that. Still, it’s much nicer to be able to assign grenades and throwing knives to a shoulder button as opposed to equipping them outright.
Metro 2033 had two possible endings: destroy the Dark Ones or don’t. For those of us who worked hard to achieve the peaceful ending by accomplishing any number of hidden objectives scattered throughout the game, it was extremely disappointing to not be able to carry over our saved game. Last Light automatically assumes that you nuked ’em, and while this is a minimal complaint overall, it’s gotta make you wonder why there were even two endings in the first game at all.
The Bottom Line
Metro Last Light is a truly fantastic game, and one that is one-of-a-kind enough so as to stand out. It’s amazingly cool to play a game based on a series of novels, and the über-creative world of the Metro never gets old to explore, even if this is as linear as it gets. You’ll be swallowed by this experience and cursing your life when you’re forced to put down the controller and take care of business. Certain aspects have grown and evolved nicely over the first game while others were sadly abandoned for reasons unknown. Still, this is one of the most enthralling and immersive gaming experiences currently available, and is a whole hell of a lot of fun. Simply put, you should not miss out of the adventures of Artyom or the endlessly fascinating world of the Moscow Metro.
8.5 out of 10
Publisher: Deep Silver
Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3, PC
Rating: M (You’re gonna slit a whole lot of throats)