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Metro: Last Light - Review
The original Metro 2033, released in 2010, was a solid, if rather uninspiring first-person shooter. It cared much more for the story it was telling, unsurprising considering it was adapted straight from a novel, than it did about crafting unique gameplay, or allowing the player to experiment. Metro Last Light takes the same approach, putting you once again in the muddied boots (and gask mask) of Ranger Artyom.
If anything, developer 4A Games is even more committed to story-telling than in the original. The game's opening is straight out Half Life's handbook and there's no denying that the developer's have an incredible talent at crafting immersive and believable environments. People chat, haggle and argue with one another as you pass by in the cramped confines of Russia's metro stations. It's the completely incidental details that have been worked on so well and make for some incredibly immersive gameplay.
The outside sections in particular, have had a huge amount of gloss thrown at them. Metro 2033 took place in winter, meaning that the developers could get away with having the dilapidated structures, and city streets, looking relatively the same. In Metro Last Light however, the samey environments have been done away with, and in their place are some genuinely awe-inspiring views. Again, it's the little touches that make such a difference, such as the ability to wipe the dirt or blood from your gasmask at the touch of a button, or the way that condensation builds up on it when the filter is wearing out.
It terms of actually playing Metro Last Light, if you've played the first game, then you know what you're in for; the gameplay is identical, albeit with a few minor tweaks. One of the most important being the softening up of enemies. Whilst human adversaries were never a problem, some of the mutant creatures you encountered could soak up so many bullets that'd it take more than a full cartridge to floor just one of them. Now a shotgun actually feels like a shotgun. You'll still get overwhelmed on occasion, and certain weapons still have long reload times, but now it feels more in an effort to produce a sense of realism rather than seeming like clunky design.
The other radical change is in the stealth mechanics. Gone are the frustrating moments where you were spotted by one bad guy, only for him to have telepathically contacted five of his friends, who were able to fire at your spot in the shadows with unerring precision. Now there's much better AI; get spotted for a split-second and a solider might come and investigate but he won't necessarily alert the entire area. In fact the game's stealth sections are some of its best, opening up the game to a certain degree and allowing you to tackle it on your own terms.
The currency system makes a return and is largely unchanged. Your three weapon slots can be configured with whatever you want, and various attachments (silencers, extended barrels etc.) can be purchased at set points in the game. This is about as much freedom as 4A Games is willing to give you and, regardless of what weapon choices you make, it will never seriously hinder your progression through game.
Of course, discussing Metro Last Light's gameplay is largely irrelevant since what it focuses on is creating an incredibly unique atmosphere and telling a story. Unlike the original, this isn't a straight adaptation of Dmitry Glukhovsky's novels, although he did have some input into the overall direction of the plot. Whilst Metro 2033 had to set itself up partially as a coming-of-age story, as Artyom became the unlikely saviour of Moscow's survivors, Last Light makes for a much more fast-paced affair as you are quickly thrown from one situation gone bad to another, all while on the quest to find the sole remaining Dark One.
Despite criticisms from some quarters that an AI companion for most of the game results in excessive handholding, it's actually to the game's benefit. Without someone to interact with, Metro Last Light can become a bit of a dull, linear trudge from one chapter to another. It's when you're making a desperate escape out of a Nazi death camp, alongside devout Communist Pavel, for example, that the game is at its best. There's a committed attempt by 4A Games to have you invested in the various characters and what they do. However, the actual plot of the game does lose its way during the third act, and the games mysticism/quasi-religious elements (usually supplied by fellow Ranger, Khan) don't always seem to gel that well with the bleak post-apocalyptic tone.
Still, it's certainly a change to have a game that tries to grapple with moral complexities; its main character after all is attempting find forgiveness for the role he played in carrying out a genocide. It's certainly a melancholy game, and challenges the unquestioning jingoism and military-worshipping that is regularly idolized year upon year in Call of Duty.
Overall, Metro: Last Light is a game that wants you to play it on its terms. Immerse yourself in the story and soak in the atmosphere and you'll likely enjoy it. If you're looking for something different in terms of a first-person shooter however, then it's perhaps best to go elsewhere.
Metro: Last Light was released, in the UK, on May 17th.
This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of the game.
© 2013 LudoLogic