Metro: Last Light has improved by leaps and bounds from the first game of the series, Metro 2033. The gameplay has evolved, the graphics are spectacular, and the enemies are smarter. It resides within a few competitive genres, like action/adventure, horror, and post-apocalyptic FPS – but Last Light manages to carve out its own niche by skillfully combining these genres into a seamless and exciting campaign.
One of the best features in Last Light is the stealth play. Artyom is able to hide in the shadows from enemies in a fairly realistic fashion: stay out of sight and you won’t be seen. A blue light on his watch lets you know when you’re in the shadow, and a foreboding stab of strings warns you audibly that you can be seen. You have the option of performing up-close stealth kills, using retrievable throwing knives to silently take down enemies, or distracting enemies by turning out lamps and making a little noise. This becomes the preferred method of savvy players. There are times when patrolling enemies seem to be completely blind, not seeing you directly in front of them. Still, there is a layer of anxiety that goes along with playing stealthily, and this gives you the satisfaction of feeling like a badass ghost of a killer. However, enemies will actively (and indefinitely) search for you if alerted by the body of a comrade or a stray shot. Regardless of how much noise you make, you can still hide and sneak past those searching for you, though it is far more difficult. You can, of course, go in guns blazing and make use of the wealth of destructible cover, but you’ll face additional – and more heavily armored – firepower if the alarm is triggered.
As a result, each room feels like a self-contained puzzle that can be tackled in a variety of ways. Each chapter seamlessly flows between different states of gameplay, encouraging experimentation. Weapons are meant to be unreliable, having been welded together from leftover parts. They often fire ball bearings or low-grade bullets, and will jam or run out of pressure when pushed too hard. Military-grade bullets can be used as well if you need them, but they double as currency for trading in shops. Perhaps it’s fitting that Last Light’s firearms don’t feel overpowered, but your willingness to accept this as an immersive detail, rather than a gameplay failing, will rely greatly on your investment in the fiction.
It’s an easy investment to make, since the world of the Metro is rendered more vividly in Last Light than ever. Taking place immediately after the events of 2033, Artyom’s returned leaner and more capable, but is burdened with immense guilt over the genocide of the mysterious Dark Ones. Unsure of his past actions, he now faces a new threat as reinvigorated Nazi and Communist regimes struggle to gain control of the Metro, while the discovery of the last surviving Dark One provides an opportunity for redemption.
4A manipulates your fear of its world even as it cleverly builds pity for the otherwise-terrifying feral mutants that roam the irradiated Moscow topside, and highlights the cruelty that mankind is capable of. That’s not to say your journeys into the darkness are without terror – one trek to power up a blast door is particularly chilling – but some of the scenes you’ll encounter in fascist-occupied areas further down the line are far more horrifying than anything you might run into in the darkness of the tunnels.
The supporting characters and NPC’s you meet along the way are drawn with compassion and subtlety, even when you stumble across a strip club in your hunt for a man who’s betrayed you. Artyom himself is a more well-rounded character. He’s not just fighting enemies; he’s fighting for his home. This adds significant weight to your objectives; emotions are poignantly displayed in the dialog, and you to feel connected to the character.
Sadly, the run-down, unreliable nature of Last Light’s world occasionally spills out into yours. Jumping up to ledges or across distances, for instance, can feel sticky and ill-defined. You’ll learn to compensate, but it’s frustrating to fall into dangerous waters after missing a two-foot gap between a pair of sunken train cars. For all the game’s detail, you’ll occasionally come across a ladder in the middle of battle that turns out to be merely set dressing and offers no hope of escape.
There are regular employments of position-holding objectives which don’t feel out of place in the narrative, but unfortunately force the player to draw comparisons with less-inspired first-person shooters. The infrequent boss fights aren’t always enthralling, and one particular event is practically a copy from the first game. You are also left on your own to figure out where to go quite often. You are given an objective compass, but it is a pain to continually switch between it and your weapons. With your air supplies running low and your bullets in the single digits, it can become frustrating to find your way through enemy-plagued areas. However, I see the absence of obvious direction as a sign that 4A trusts in its players’ intelligence.
The studio’s willingness to experiment within its chosen genres has resulted in a game with a standout character. Last Light’s pacing – switching as it does between tight tunnels and wide-open abandoned spaces, explosive gunfights and creeping horror, stealth and socializing – could have felt disconnected in the hands of a less-talented developer. Instead it lends its world uncommon depth. The trade-off for a distinctive personality, of course, is that Last Light is occasionally unyielding, but the desire to see what waits in its next tunnel remains a powerful draw throughout.
By Rachael Edwards