A lot can be said about Metro:2033. Some people loved it for what it was; others, hate it because of how unpolished it was. And while the critics were favorable on that one, it went largely unnoticed.
Enters Metro: Last Light, the successor of the previous game. A first-person shooter developed by Ukrainian studio 4A Games and published by Deep Silver for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. It was released in May 2013. The game is set in a post-apocalyptic world and just like in Metro: 2033, features action-horror gameplay.
Previously announced as Metro 2034, the game is a sequel to Metro 2033, and although author Dmitry Glukhovsky has apparently been working with the developers, it only bears small relations on the Metro 2034 novel. (The game is inspired, not based upon).
Metro: Last Light starts a few months after the first Metro game, where Artyom, the silent protagonist, has become a member of The Order, a special-army build upon the Ranger’s concept, using the resources and weapons they found in the military base D6 (Also from the first game).
Probably the most interesting take on the story is that it is built upon the “bad” ending of Metro: 2033. Spoilers ahead (though you’ll pretty much get spoiled at the very first seconds of the adventure if you haven’t played 2033), you could choose to spare or destroy the Dark Ones at the end; well, Last Light continues with the “destroy” ending. It’s a shame that your decision on this matter in the first game does not impact the beginning of Last Light (Or the adventure, that’s it). However, it is nice to see how the developers went with the “bad” ending (Nowadays the trend is to keep up with the good endings), to create the new adventure.
Whether you want to consider the story better in Last Light than in Metro: 2033 is up to you. But, but! The story in Last Light is far from typical, and its way different than in Metro: 2033. In fact, this is a more intimate approach, one that seeks the redemption of the main character and, to a lesser extent, mankind’s. There’s a subtle (but poorly explained) message about humanity’s endless loop for war and blood, and then the thoughts of the main character, which are only present on the breaks during chapters (He never speaks gameplay-wise, but you can listen to him during loading times or read his diary entries), explains his own vision into this whole picture. The entries of his diary are collectibles scattered all over the game, up to 41 pages, and they give huge insight and background to the places, people and events Artyom meets.
Last Light’s story is way more fleshed out than in Metro:2033, and it truly shines. You don’t need to play Metro:2033 as you’ll be reminded of what you did several times, especially from a familiar face: Khan. This mysterious nomad priest comes back in Last Light, and he reveals Artyom that, in fact, there’s still one Dark One alive. Divided between Khan’s plea to save this last creature (as he believes that it is the key to humanity’s future), and Miller’s (the Ranger leader Colonel) orders to eradicate this monster, Artyom is trusted with the mission to find it. And with that premise, Artyom is once again back into the dying Moscow, both in the Metro and in the surface. He revisits places and met new people who will either help or screw him throughout. He learns the bitterness taste of defeat, and the sweet melody of victory. Last Light also portraits women and sexuality, and sadly, this isn’t handled mature enough. It’s not for the sake of being, but given how deep the meanings try to be, it’s a shame that this aspect doesn’t keep up. And, without spoiling anything (Details must be vague, because giving any other info into the story would make it a spoiler), Artyom also becomes the role model of someone, who follows him and is taught the lessons of life and death upon Artyom’s (and the player) choices. This bond makes the travel much more personal, and the morality of the main character (and the player) is questioned several times via hard choices (something that wasn’t really present on 2033). Choices are mostly about forgiveness, but there are other motives; there’s one occasion on which you have to save a hostage, and you just have mere seconds to make a choice: agreed the demands of the kidnapper, risk it all by shooting him or just do nothing.
These moments are rare, but pretty tense, and it builds the mood that Last Light pursues. In fact, I could say that, despite being largely the same, despite feeling the same, Last Light is a far more different adventure than 2033. It doesn’t forget its roots but aims for something totally different. And it achieves it.
Last Light doesn’t have the wilderness twists of Bioshock: Infinite, or the emotional attachment of Heavy Rain/The Walking Dead; but the tale is not only pleasant, but surprising; it has soul (something most games lack nowadays), and both style and substance. Metro 2033 and Last Light have both different stories, but it’s notable in how both are delivered to the player; and in that regard, Last Light trumps it. (The only notable problem is that the ending sequence is a bit on the short side) Not only that, but I dare to say that Last Light’s tale is far more interesting and rewarding than most games nowadays. It’s astonishing. It’s moving. It’s a piece of fiction so strong that – even if you like or dislike what it has to offer – it will last long in your mind, it will make you keep guessing, and most important: when the credits roll, it will make you ask for more.
Gameplay-wise, if you played Metro 2033, you already know the basics. The game is a First Person Shooter, present in a non-conventional way: instead of only gunning your way through cutscene to cutscene, you’re presented with different kind of situations. You can be travelling peacefully an underground city, you could be indeed shooting bandits up or you could be sneaking your way through a monster-infested tunnel. Gunplay is heavy and solid, and the controls are tight but for better or worse, they have been revamped, now in a somehow clumsy panel difficult to understand at first. Mind you, this review is made upon the Xbox 360 version; so basing on how the menu works, this is probably better on PC. You have a set of weapons, on which you can carry up to three, and they all work different. You’ve got shotgun types, assault rifles, revolvers, pneumatic weapons, sniper rifles, and, on a secondary slot, knives, grenades and explosive traps. There’s just much more variety in weaponry than in Metro 2033, and now you can customize your weapons with scopes, better magazines or silencers. (Instead of buying it already premade).
Speaking of buying things, the currency is back in the form of military-grade rounds. This ammunition serves as the “money” for the Metro, which you can both use to carry on commercial trades or as ammo to your assault rifle (You’re shooting money if you do so, though). At least on my play-through, money is never an issue if you’re a bit explorative, as you can find abandoned stashes all over the Metro which contain these. You can also get more as you progress through the story or by looting dead enemies.
Something that definitively has been refined and works better than ever: Stealth. In Metro:2033, trying to sneak out was clumsy, and it didn’t work for the most part. But now things are much better: situations allow for stealth and while it’s not at the level of Dishonored or Thief, it is certainly solid. There’s a music cue for when you’re about to be spotted, and now you’ve got the choice to dispose of an enemy on a non-lethal or lethal way if successfully sneaked behind. This option is not only a fresh welcome from 2033, but also satisfying to have the option to not make unnecessary killings. There are a few flaws, though, as you can break this system into your advantage. Your digital clock displays a light whenever you’re in a spot on which you can be seen, and it is turned off when you’re surrounded by darkness. However, there are just small, tight spots on which you cannot be seen in an unrealistic way. As long as there is a small coat of darkness, you’re invisible, and the IA can’t break its established physics to catch on this small thing. In fact, if you turn things off, the guard will only spot you if you are practically face-to-face, and by that moment already have the option to dispose of him silently. So playing it stealthy makes things easier. You can also check for lights and turn them off by breaking them or disabling them. And you can make small sounds to distract guards. Of course, if you’re not feeling like going silently, you can screw them all and start shooting. The option is given to the player.
It also returns the non-conventional things of Metro, like the dynamo (to recharge your flashlight batteries) or the gas mask, which you need whenever you go to the surface or to a radiated area within the Metro. Now you can also use your lighter if you don’t feel like using the flashlight (which sometimes breaks! So you have you use of it whether you want it or not), but even this gizmo has its uses: you can use it to burn things like spider webs. And that’s the key of Last Light: variety. There’s much more variety than in Metro: 2033, and most FPS out there. More enemies, more monsters, more weapons, more locations; all without ever forgetting what made Metro 2033 so great. The human enemy AI has been improved a lot. But sadly, another flaw is that the monster AI is not that great (The situation in Metro: 2033 was reversed). In fact, I can say that monster encounters aren’t as great as the human’s. Most monsters are also flawed; there’s one type you encounter a lot and has a multiple attack that can lead to cheap deaths. Sure, humans can flank you, give suppressing fire or even throw grenades at you; but when you die you never feel like you’ve been cheated; but instead, it’s a mistake you yourself made. You never get this feeling with monsters, and in most cases, you just wish they stopped coming. The difficulty can either help or make things worse, but for the most part, I thought this game was easier than 2033 and not extremely challenging in the hardest mode.
Exploration is also a key feature. Mind you, this is a very linear game, but some areas just beg for exploration, and going of the marked route can led to treasure sometimes. Just for the joy of it, or for the rewards, exploration feels like a gameplay element and it is fun to do so. There are random encounters or situations that only play out if you’ve been checking ever door, every room.
Also back is the morality system. Just like the predecessor, this game has a subtle morality system that impacts the ending in some way. You can tell by a sound cue whenever you do something right or wrong, and it’s mostly given by exploring things, sparing or killing human lives and miscellanea. There are two outcomes – just like 2033 – depending on your actions in the game.
Graphically, the game is GORGEOUS. And wait! I’m playing on the Xbox 360 version – arguably the “worst” version out of the three, graphically -. This game manages to create a survival-horror atmosphere unmatched except for a few games. The setting is terrific, the feeling is heavy and the game never drops from 30 fps. You can find some popping-textures or some minor glitches here and there; but nothing immersion-breaking. The textures look outdated in several areas, especially those regarding indoors and generic soldiers faces, but on the outdoors the draw distances are great and feel alive. This game must be played on PC if you want to experience the huge beauty is offering. For the console counterpart, it holds pretty well. It never sacrifices gameplay for prettier graphics in some parts, and I can look that as a bonus rather than a con. Even with all those low-res and problems in the console version, it still looks and play beautiful, mind you.
And that’s another key feature of Last Light: immersion. The world it creates behave and feels alive and realistic. Sure, it’s a piece of fiction, but how it portrays emotions feels natural. People tell stories. They chat, they feel scared. They fight for money or for survival needs. They beg for help. The places you visit may held philosophers or the scum of the Earth. People expect things of Artyom, and you can’t satisfy all of them. The Metro is diverse and unique in every area you explore. Chapters are pretty much different thanks to how immersive and creative the designers were. And you’ll enjoy travelling while admiring the beauty. Even the monsters have their own ecosystem, and it is gorgeous to look at it; to see how they work.
A lot can be said of Last Light. Of course, in an oversaturated FPS market, the title went largely unnoticed. But did it deserve to be? No. This is far from your cliché FPS title. This game provides a cinematic experience that few games can match. There are some adrenaline-inducing moments. Then there are slow-paced, peaceful sequences. You never feel like the game is being played on you. You never lose control of the character (except for a few cutscenes) and that makes it even greater. You choose how you want to immerse yourself into it. There’s the mature elements, but there’s also the joy of bloodbaths, or the satisfaction of forgiveness when facing your foes; the result is a game that portrays a crude world with a rather naive protagonist; a game that never stops being a game and feels like something else. No, in fact, there’s never a moment on which the gameplay is sacrificed for the drama, for the story. But then the gameplay never interferes with the flow of the story. There’s a dynamic harmony in this game, and the beautiful settings and atmosphere makes things even better. The journey through Last Light will take you up to fifteen to twenty hours. Yep, you heard right: This FPS lasts 15 to 20 hours of gameplay. It’s a long travel which never feels boring or tacked on (despite some moments of cheap fights); even if you try to rush it, even if you ignore what it has to offer and just run to meet the credits, it’s probable that you won’t make it in less than seven, eight hours. (Even with the low difficulty on).
The final point, and probably the worst offender of all the flaws: the Ranger mode. This little mode – which tones up the difficulty by removing the HUD and menus, and making the IA smarter – was included in the original package, but somehow it got removed and added as a DLC, or a freebie for pre-ordering the game. This is horrible, and it’s probably one of the most disgusting manifestations of corporate greed when it comes to DLC. I own the Limited Edition of Metro Last Light and this came included in the package, but I can’t obviate something that most players don’t have access to. I’m sorry, but this is just plain unacceptable, especially when this mode is almost game-changing.
It’s a shame that this title went largely unnoticed. It is certainly a great effort in a saturated market, but it is also one of the best titles to embrace 2013. I’m not exaggerating; I know this game is not for everyone. The tense atmosphere or the slow-paced moments may not be the cup of tea of the majority of gamers; but for those seeking something traditional and at the same time new, those who enjoy getting immersed in a carefully crafted world full of secrets, solid gameplay and an unforgettable story shouldn’t let this pass. Metro: Last Light is a moving adventure, an imperfect but lovable fable of a, perhaps, foreseeable future. For now it’s just an underrated piece of fiction waiting to be played, and, to a certain degree, replayed
-> Impressive story; long, tragic, and immersive. = 9'8.
-> Gorgeous graphics, beautiful to look at = 9 (They're pretty demanding on PC, so a strong computer is required)
-> Solid, varied and revamped gameplay from its predecessor = 8'9
-> Horrible DLC practice mist up the score a bit.
OVERALL= 8'9/10. IMPRESSIVE.
Thanks JayWood2010 for correcting typos and keeping the morale up!