Metro: Last Light Review

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Underground Again

Metro: Last Light
Platform: PC, PS3, 360
Developer: 4A Games
Publisher: Deep Silver

Metro: Last Light is a game based on a book of the same name by Russian writer Dmitry Glukhovsky. The story continues from its predecessor Metro 2033, following Artyom, a young man living in the Moscow metro subway where the last of humanity survives the aftermath of a nuclear war. Naturally, such a background lends itself well to the survival-horror genre. We saw this was the case with Metro 2033, released back in 2010, which did very well on both PC and Xbox 360, and obviously sold well enough for THQ to consider a sequel. The original became a popular recommendation among gaming message boards for its unique blend of FPS and survival-horror. After THQ’s collapse late last year, the future of Metro: Last Light was in doubt until the publishing rights were purchased by Deep Silver, and if my opinion is gold, it was a worthy investment.

I don’t know if it influenced my appreciation for this game, but I actually go to work every day by the Nagoya subway system. Over the previous two weeks, any time I could get a seat, I was engrossed in the Metro 2033 novel. Being on the subway really helps you take in how long it must take to actually walk between stations and how scary it would be with virtually no light to guide you. However, this doesn’t nearly describe the true horror of the world I was reading about.

The post-apocalyptic future described in Metro includes threats far worse than darkness and resource scarcity. The world is inhabited by beasts of unknown origin who are dominant on the irradiated surface but are also known to venture underground. Any trip above ground requires protective clothing, gas masks and weaponry. Only specially trained rangers dare to venture there. Even the underground is not safe, as any trip between inhabited stations presents a danger from not just the monsters but the warring factions, many of whom try to emulate the ideologies of the 20th century. Along with these warring groups are the usual thugs and lowlifes who will do anything to hold on to their existence. The rats survived too.

Metro: Last Light brings the player straight back into this world and once again as Artyom, who is now a ranger in Polis; the most prosperous station in the metro. New players need not have played the original (although they should) as the game quickly brings you up to speed with what is happening, and difficulty wise, Last Light is actually far more forgiving than the original. Depending on the moral choices you make in Metro 2033, you’ll get one of two endings. The good ending is Artyom saving the metro from beings known as “dark ones” and Last Light continues this plotline with Artyom out to rescue the last surviving “dark one”.

Describing a game as “immersive” has become somewhat cliché, but if any game deserves that description then Metro: Last Light does. This is earned through a combination of great voice acting for excellent characters, in a well designed game world, complimented by beautiful visuals. I haven’t found the apocalypse so appealing since I played Fallout 3. This is largely due to the necessity to scavenge, which resulted in me searching everywhere, discovering both items and just how much detail has been put into the game. Depending on what setting you played on, the original game could be very difficult. I mentioned that Last Light is more forgiving and while this is certainly true, it is still very much dependent on what settings you use. The normal setting, which I used, is considerably easier than in 2033. This is due in part to the ease with which Artyom can dispose enemies. Most human enemies can be instantly killed up close with a knife whether or not they are alerted to your presence. The monsters are more difficult, but the most significant portion of the game is spent fighting human enemies whom I found to be especially vulnerable to throwing knives.

One of the interesting features of Metro is that high-grade bullets act as the currency of the world, which means you can literally shoot money at enemies. This makes saving ammo important. The increased effectiveness of both throwing knives and close-combat significantly diminishes this aspect. The ammo seems to be a lot more abundant, and I found myself deliberately starting fire fights due in part to this and for the challenge. If you loved the more unforgiving nature of the first then you should skip right up to Hardcore mode. Controversially included as a Pre-order bonus, Ranger mode removes parts of the HUD, such as the aiming reticule, while ammo and filters (for breathing outside) become more scarce. This mode is recommended for those who want a more authentic survival-horror experience. The controversy behind its use as a pre-order bonus is apparently more the fault of THQ than the new publisher Deep Silver, so it’s hard for me to consider it a strike against the game.

There has been quite a reaction against the almost colourless visual style that many games have adopted this generation, though a game like Metro: Last Light really couldn’t have gone any other way. The world is often dark and dull, but there are still a few moments that make great use of colour and they are always welcome after the many dark trips through the ruined metro tunnels. I was running the game on a PC with standard settings and I was still very impressed (my screenshots really don’t do the game justice). There were reports of problems with ATI cards, but patches have been released addressing these issues. The only real criticism I have with the visuals is the overuse of light. Light is considered an extremely valuable commodity in the Metro and those living within have become so accustomed to the dark that sunlight would blind them, so it was quite odd to find so much light in the game, including overturned tables with lights still working in abandoned tunnels. Even on the surface, where humans no longer live, there are still working lights found in abandoned buildings, and Artyom is oddly able to venture above ground in the middle of the day.

If quantity is more important than quality for you then the length of Metro: Last Light may be an issue. I completed the game in under ten hours and I certainly wasn’t rushing through it. However, the quality of that time left me with no regrets, and the game’s worth replaying. I think the pacing of the game is as close to perfect as you can get. Just when I was getting bored with fighting humans in dark tunnels, I was almost immediately trying to avoid vicious mutants on the surface. When I got sick of walking, I was soon put in control of an electric rail cart. When I’d had enough of combat, I got to experience a good deal of exposition from the wonderful characters and even watch an entertaining show at one of the metro stations. The game is never too much of one thing and there is always a sense of purpose to what you are doing, right up to the amazing finale, and I already know I have to go through it all again; not just to increase the difficulty for a greater challenge, but to unlock a hidden ending as well.

Not only is Metro: Last: Light the best game I’ve played this year, it’s also one of the best I’ve played over the last few years. It is beautifully presented, with great characters and an excellent narrative. What makes this game even better is that the challenge is there for those who want it and an easier path is open to those who just want to get lost in the world without being put off by its harsh reality. And if you’re still not sold, you could always try the original first.

4.5 Stars

June, 2013


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