Metro: Last Light Review!
Allow me to start by saying that I’ve never played Metro 2033. It’s been in my Steam backlog for a long time, always ready to be started but I’ve simply never gotten around to it. I’ve always wondered if I should play it before starting the sequel, but I decided that most games should be able to stand on their own without previous knowledge of past entries in their respective franchises. Not surprisingly, I was a little lost at first. Who are the Rangers? Who are the Dark Ones? Why are Germany and Russia fighting another war that’s essentially a hyper-realistic re-enactment of World War II complete with Nazis and Communists? Thankfully many of these questions were answered early, and once I got past the initial confusion I discovered one of the most impressive games I’ve seen in a long time in terms of both presentation and gameplay.
The Metro series is based on the novel Metro: 2033 by Dmitri Glukhovsky and Last Light serves as the sequel to the 2010 video game adaptation. It continues the story of Artyom, a survivor of a nuclear war who lives with what’s left of his city in the underground Metro. Survival is based mainly on scavenging, forcing what’s left of humanity to don protective suits and gas masks when they wish to travel to the surface which is little more than irradiated ruins filled with all manner of mutated creatures such as the mysterious Dark Ones. In the previous game Artyom joined the Rangers, a paramilitary group that seems focused on dealing with the Dark One threat. At the end of the last game, Artyom successfully destroyed one of the major Dark One nests but, in the process, discovered that he has a strange ability to communicate with the creatures. After learning of a surviving Dark One, Artyom is tasked with traveling to the surface and finishing the job.
The developers at 4A Games were dedicated to making Metro: Last Light as realistic as possible by minimizing the HUD and forcing the player to perform small tasks that are nonetheless essential to Artyom’s survival. When traveling on the surface, Artyom must use a gas mask to protect himself from the poisonous atmosphere, but the mask’s filters last only a few short minutes. The player must scavenge replacement filters from their surroundings before the timer on Artyom’s wrist runs out. In addition, dirt and other obstructions can cover the protective glass, which must be wiped away manually by Artyom with the press of a button from the player. The glass can also become cracked, forcing the player to find an entire replacement. It sounds like an insignificant gimmick, but the knowledge that such a fragile and inconvenient piece of equipment is all that separates the player from death is nerve-wracking. In more general FPS terms, the game also excels. Gunplay is tight and health is handled in the same regeneration/medkit hybrid that I enjoyed from Far Cry 3. There are also some stealth elements that, while not the best examples of that type of gameplay, are strong enough to not be a detriment to the overall experience.
I recommend playing this game in Ranger Mode if possible. Ranger Mode, as the developers put it, is the intended way to experience Metro: Last Light. Ranger Mode significantly reduces the HUD even more, forcing the player to think more strategically and actually count their bullets. It might not be the place to start for those new to the game since it also significantly reduces the in-game tips, but you can also just look up most commands through the menus. Unfortunately, Ranger Mode is only available to those who buy launch copies of the game, otherwise it’s a $5 DLC purchase. This is the only factor keeping the gameplay from receiving a full 5 stars; the intended product is incredible, but the fact that the main soul of the game is locked behind a DLC wall is something that should be penalized.
Every so often a gamer will see something that will simply make their jaw drop. The games that cause this usually have one stand-out moment and Metro: Last Light’s is very early on. You make your first journey on to the surface early in the game, and the visuals are some of the most impressive that I’ve ever seen. The ruins of Russia, while eerily abandoned, are still filled with enough details that make the scenery all the more compelling. Water and irradiated muck dot the landscape with realistic physics, wind blows through the remains of buildings and kicks around dust and debris, and light shines through Artyom’s mask with an appropriate amount of glare. Textures are detailed even when viewed up close, and character models are expertly done. The mouth movements during conversations aren’t perfect, but they’re nothing offensive either. Combat is equally visceral and well designed; one of my pet peeves in gaming is w hen enemies abruptly go from their combat animations to pre-scripted deaths. On the flip side, ridiculous rag-doll physics can be entertaining but can also serve to take a gamer out of the moment in a game that’s attempting to take itself seriously. Metro: Last Light thankfully combines the two in a way that is not seen often. Early on I managed to hit an enemy in the right side of his chest as he dove behind cover, the impact causing him to spin in mid-dive. It’s a little touch among many that make this one of the more realistic games I’ve played in some time. The only warning I have to give is for PC players using ATI graphics cards; the game was clearly optimized for NVIDIA cards and results in unexplainable moments of stuttering for those that lack that particular brand. Some patches have resolved many of the issues, but NVIDIA PC gamers still get the more fluid experience. Obviously this isn’t an issue for console users, but it’s something to keep in mind if you’re a mouse-and-keyboard gamer.
The sound effects and music in Metro: Last Light are appropriately eerie and chaotic when they need to be, combining with the impressive graphics to create one of the most immersive post-apocalyptic environments around. Like the gameplay, it’s the little things that have a huge impact. As Artyom’s air filters begin to run low, you’ll hear him begin to breathe more heavily. Let it run longer, and he’ll begin to cough and gasp until he expires. The underground has its own audio tricks, such as small rocks clattering down from the ceiling, metal creaking, and rodents and insects scurrying about. Additionally, nearly every NPC that you pass in any of the the safe areas has something to say regarding recent events. This not only helps to make the world more rich and detailed, but early on the conversations serve as a decent starting point for new players. The only drawback, however, is some of the voice acting itself. While I ca n’t think of any characters that were outright awful, some of the character’s lines were simply flat. It’s a shame since the rest of the production values for the game are so high. Artyom is also silent except for brief monologues between missions, which leads to a very awkward situation later on involving the main romantic interest of the game, Anya.
Metro: Last Light is one of those games that everyone should play but will probably be passed by many. While it certainly had more advertising chops than its predecessor, sequels tend to thrive on the success of the original. Since 2033 was such an obscure title, many gamers looking for the next big thing will be pensive about dropping $60 on a sequel that they know little about. Those who make the leap of faith, however, will be well rewarded. Metro: Last Light performs a balancing act between immersion and fun that many games struggle with, sucking the gamer into the world and driving them to see more while keeping the gameplay refreshing enough to warrant multiple playthroughs on increasing difficulties. It’s unfortunate, however, that only early adopters will be able to play the game as intended without dropping an additional DLC fee. The other issues I can ignore, but that one is a pretty huge issue that would warrant some blowback against THQ if the publisher still existed. Regardless of this offense, it’s still an excellent game that is worthy of any shooter fan’s time. Metro: Last Light may take place in an apocalyptic wasteland, but it’s an oasis in the usual drought of high quality games during this time of year.