Just think, we nearly didn’t get to play Metro: Last Light at all. When THQ went belly-up, the much-anticipated sequel to Metro 2033 was, like all of THQ’s titles, in danger of being left by the wayside. Thankfully, Deep Silver stepped in and picked up the rights to publish the title, to the relief of the original’s horde of fans. Metro: Last Light brings us an all-new story from the dystopian world of author Dmitry Glukhovsky, taking place a year after the events of 2033.
While the story wasn’t penned by Metro author Dmitry Glukhovsky, he has been working with the developers to bring us a story that doesn’t seem detached from the narrative of the original. For the uninitiated, Metro takes place under the streets of a post-apocalyptic Moscow, predominantly in the tunnels and antechambers that make up the city’s underground train network. The last remnants of human kind cling on to life here, at war with one another over what few resources remain. Dangerous mutants stalk the tunnels and roam the surface, always on the lookout for a quick meal.
Last Light unfolds through the eyes of police ranger Artyom, the protagonist of 2033. Artyom is sent by his commander to seek out the last remaining “Dark One”, a member of an alien species Artyom thought he had wiped out at the end of his last adventure. While out looking for the creature, however, Artyom is captured, and it’s through the ensuing chain of events that he uncovers a plot of communist leaders to get hold of a powerful doomsday device hidden in the vaults of D6. Artyom sets out on a mission to avert civil war, all the while seeking that elusive Dark One.
4A Games’ sequel seems to want to defy classification, touching on several gaming genres and subgenres all at once. You could call it a first-person survival horror if you wanted to, but what you really have here is a straight-up shooter with all the other stuff added in for good measure. Last Light starts with a lengthy sequence of dialogue and character introduction that probably goes on for a little too long. Those of you that have played the original Metro may find it interesting; those of you that haven’t will simply have to stick with it, as it starts with such a stutter that some will be put off altogether. Eventually, though, you are sent out on your first mission, which plays out like the standard FPS intro level. The tutorial levels go on for some time, too, though they do a great job of showing you all of the basics – and you’ll need to pay attention as there is a lot to learn.
The world Artyom inhabits is a dark and terrifying place. If Dmitry Glukhovsky’s story ever came to fruition, most people would be dead within about 90 seconds. Thankfully it’s just a video game, and so there’s an arsenal of weapons and tools at your disposal. Well, an arsenal might be pushing it a bit, as ammo comes at quite a premium in Last Light. Indeed, “fat ammo” is the going currency in this subterranean world, and can be traded for useable ammo and equipment. You’ll need to use the ammo you have wisely, learning when to adopt stealthy tactics over all out frontal assaults on enemy strongholds. Thankfully, Last Light makes stealth play an absolute joy, giving you a suit of options in any given situation so that you can tackle it as you see fit. Stealth tactics worked most of the time on human opposition, but became a complete no-no when facing off against mutants – of which there are literally thousands.
It’s not all about shooting and hiding, however, as a lot of the time you’ll be worrying about just breathing. Sorties to the surface introduce their own challenges: the gift of an abundance of sunlight comes with the trade-off of devastating radiation levels, leaving the people of Moscow with no choice but to wear full-face gas-masks You can only stay on the surface for so long, and once you run out of air filters you had better hope you’re close to finishing that section of the level. The surface is also where you will run into all manner of grizzly-looking mutants, all of which bear some resemblance to the animals they mutated from. These guys are ravenous and totally insatiable – think Left 4 Dead’s zombies with four legs and you’ll be somewhere close.
Gunplay is well-handled, feeling tight and precise. For my play-through I used the Xbox 360 controller, and I found myself quickly turning up the look sensitivity, though sadly to no avail: Last Light maintains a comparatively low look-speed to keep that feeling of edginess and tension. All of the weapons have been hobbled together from spare parts and leftovers, and you will find seemingly limitless variations of certain guns as you progress. You can only carry three weapons at a time, so you’ll need to plan ahead if you’re to be armed for every eventuality.
As you explore the dark tunnels of the Metro you will discover that the game’s raison d’être is its brilliant use of light and shadow. You’ll need to use your head-torch wisely as the battery runs out fast and the light it omits is liable to give away your position. Getting into a battle with a gaggle of hungry mutants in the dark is always a frightening, heart-pounding experience, even more so when you’re running low on air and the light is fading fast.
The game structure in Last Light is extremely linear, and feels like you’re just completing a series of levels. There is little to no opportunity to branch out and take on side missions, and once the game is finished there isn’t a world to go back to and explore. Depending on your point of view this could be seen as a positive rather than a negative, as it guides you down a set path, immersing you in the world and story that the developers have crafted for you. That’s not to say that it’s all plain sailing here however, and there were a number of times that different game elements were layered on top of one another which lead only to confusion and frustration. I lost count of the number of times I was backed into a corner by a horde of mutants and blind luck was the only factor in determining my survival, and in a game that is all about survival, this was somewhat disappointing.
Metro: Last Light straddles the cutting edge between old-school and new school in a way that, at times, makes you wonder if the developers really knew what direction they wanted to go in. However, more often than not, it flows beautifully from one sequence to the next, and when it works, boy are you in for a treat.
The first game garnered a lot of attention because of its impressive visuals, and the same will be true of the sequel. Using the developer’s custom 4A Engine, Metro: Last Light is a beautifully-realised title. Once again, the thing that makes it so visually appealing is the way it handles lighting. Even on PC, there are very few games with such high fidelity. The contrast between light and dark is so well handled that at times you’ll be totally dumbstruck; it really does feel like one of those milestones in video game history that make you think “Surely it can’t get much better than this?” A title with a story like this, with a world like this, needed to be well-realised and thankfully it is. The darkness of the human condition is there for all to see in Last Light; the bloody depravity, the grim oppressive atmosphere, the sheer grimness of it all. At times, it’s quite overwhelming.
The only factor that lets the visuals down is the animation, which seems to be riddled with bugs that break the illusion. It’s worth noting that the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions probably won’t leave you quite as open mouthed, but judging by the PC offering, you’ll still be in for a visual treat.
The audio direction doesn’t live up to the high standards set by the visuals. While the musical score and bank of sounds live up to expectations, the soundtrack is let down by some pretty hysterical dialogue. This would be fine if it was supposed to be funny, but it seems that a number of things have simply been lost in translation. A particular favourite was heard when walking past a father and daughter fishing in some putrid-looking water, when the daughter turns to her father and says, “Are we going to catch a fish daddy? Or cancer, like mommy?” Yikes.
VERDICT: Metro: Last Light isn’t just a brilliant technical achievement; it’s also an enjoyable, bleak and visceral journey through a dystopian vision of the future. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but the budget-busting set pieces and stunning visuals will leave an almost incongruous smile on the faces of all who choose to delve once more into the darkness of Glukhovsky’s relentlessly grim world.
VERY GOOD. An 8/10 is only awarded to a game we consider truly worthy of your hard-earned cash. This game is only held back by a smattering of minor or middling issues and comes highly recommended.