In the irradiated wasteland that is the world of Metro: Last Light, your chances of getting your milk money stolen by a prostitute are about as good as your being eaten alive by one of the mutated beasts that wander about the surface as well as the labyrinthine tunnels below.
Metro 2033 may very well be one of the most underrated and, sadly, overlooked games of this generation. It’s too bad, because it excelled in areas that many other first person shooters really don’t. Its story was engrossing, it oozed atmosphere, and it had a beautifully realized world brimming with the little details that make good games great. With Last Light, developer 4A Games has decided they’re going to take it all to the next level — without the aid of a tacked on multiplayer, I might add. Let’s find out if they were successful in this endeavor.
2033 was an action shooter that occasionally dove into the survival horror genre, and Last Light does the same. You’re on your own a lot, more often than not being hunted by some grotesque and thoroughly terrifying monsters — some familiar, some not — with limited ammunition and light. When you’re not being hunted, the game shifts into stealth mode and you get to become the hunter.
This is a game that straddles a number of genres, and somehow, it incorporates elements from each remarkably well. With a deft hand, 4A Games infuses stealth, survival horror, and numerous action and big spectacle pieces together into a cohesive experience.
I’ve never been terribly adept at stealth games, mostly because I tend to make mistakes that would make a stealth game connoisseur cringe. “Oh, that spotlight reveals me, you say? Well, why didn’t you tell me that before I ran into it at a full sprint?” When poor judgment doesn’t rear its ugly head, my clumsiness usually does. I’ll think I’m being clever, using the rafters in the ceiling to evade my enemies only to make one wrong move and watch in horror as Artyom — the character you control — falls into an unsuspecting group of soldiers.
Stealth plays a larger part in Last Light, primarily because many of the kinks have been worked out this time around. I found myself being stealthier than usual because of the handful of improvements 4A introduced to make things easier. Unfortunately, the enemy AI is still janky as all hell, with enemy soldiers running back and forth between cover like they’ve had one too many irradiated energy drinks.
Light and dark play a much larger role than they did in 2033. Each can save you just as quickly as they can get you killed. You can unscrew light bulbs to darken a room and conceal yourself from enemy eyes — though not once did I come across an actual light switch, outside of the massive circuit breakers that control most of the lights in a room. Maybe they were all lost in the nuclear fallout? There’s also a light indicator on Artyom’s wrist that will let you know when you’re visible to enemies. This becomes a hugely useful tool for making sure you don’t get spotted by the baddies.
Last Light’s stealth sections can be a lot of fun and clearing out an area of bad guys without being spotted is extremely satisfying, but they can also be the most frustrating parts of the game. The occasionally dumb AI and too-linear level design forced me to take the “guns blazing” approach a few times. After playing a game like Dishonored, which has some of the best level design I’ve ever seen in a game, Last Light’s levels felt too confined.
The environments just don’t offer the same number of paths and options to make strategizing a worthwhile venture. Most of the levels only offer 2-3 ways through them, with one being obvious and the others a little more obscure. I often found myself stuck, because there was a group of guards between me and the only path to my destination. I could kill them, sure, but I’d like to choose my targets, rather than have them forced on me.
A distract button, similar to the rock throwing ability in Far Cry 3, would’ve remedied many of my problems, but more ways to get through a level is something the game would’ve benefited from. Even more interactive environments would’ve been great. There are musical instruments scattered about that you can play to distract nearby enemies, but it’s an idea that’s never fully realized.
Like its predecessor, Last Light does apocalyptic Moscow right. The world is gorgeous and the level of detail in each environment is impressive. Over the 17-ish hours I spent with its campaign, I explored abandoned tunnels, underground shantytowns, and ancient caves. Going to the surface is always a terrifying affair, because you know that the enemies get much bigger up there, and they tend to be more numerous.
Equipment necessary to Artyom’s survival include his handy compass and journal, which can help you find your way through some of the game’s more expansive environments. The gas mask is one piece of gear you’ll soon be very familiar with, and manually switching out filters when your wristwatch beeps makes the game feel more real. You can even wipe off your mask when it gets dirty — or bloodied, as it does often. It’s just another example of a little detail that 4A introduced to make the world feel more immersive.
Your arsenal has seen a sizable upgrade, too. There are more guns than there were before, and now they’re more customizable. You have pistols, shotguns, SMGs, assault rifles, sniper rifles, multi-stroke pneumatic air rifles, etc. Now you can spend your military grade ammunition — the currency in the Metro series — on upgrades for each weapon as well. These include stocks, sights, night vision, laser sights, silencers, and much more. It’s not as extravagant a selection as say, Call of Duty, but having a myriad options wouldn’t necessarily make much sense in a post-apocalyptic world where resources are scarce.
You’re going to need these weapons and a lot of courage to survive against the monsters that will try their best to tear you apart. I hate spiders, and, of course, massive mutated spider scorpion things are one of the first creatures you go up against. Their weakness is light, so you’ll need to keep your flashlight charged for those fights. Oh, and they totally crawl along the ceilings and have absolutely no problem jumping down on your face when you’re busy dealing with their ground-based friends.
The Demons return — those gigantic flying creatures that were the bane of my existence in 2033 — as do the werewolf looking things that tend to come at you in packs. There are “Shrimps,” whose hobbies include spitting acid at you from far away, and the “Big Momma,” which I won’t ruin for you. The grenades and the brand new incendiary grenades are essential for crowd control, and the claymore mines are perfect for the quiet moments between each wave of baddies.
The story that unfolds over those 15-20 hours is just as interesting as our first trip to post-apocalyptic Moscow, only this time, you’ll be making more decisions. Some are moral choices — an enemy soldier will lay down his weapon and beg for his life, it’s up to you whether or not he should die — while others are branching paths you’ll come across during the main quest. For example, a group of people were taken by bandits to their creepy bandit hideout, will you save them or go about on your way?
This isn’t Skyrim; your goal is always the main quest, but every once in a while you’ll get a chance to explore off the beaten path. It makes the world feel bigger, and sometimes even more terrifying. I once strayed from the main quest to search a long room filled with gurneys and medical equipment when those freaky shadow people from 2033 started appearing. They weren’t as malicious as they were in the first game — they’re more memories than ghosts this time around — but it was still pretty unnerving.
The cast of characters you’ll meet run the full spectrum of humanity. Some are just gross, evil assholes, while others are kinder souls who are more than willing to go out of their way to lend a hand. As a rule, you shouldn’t trust anyone in the metro, because most of them are awful. This rule isn’t exclusive, but following it helps make the few times you do meet a decent human being a touching experience.
Last Light only offers a single player experience because it doesn’t need a multiplayer. I’m sure 4A Games could’ve found a clever way to introduce multiplayer into the mix, and I’m even more sure that someone told them they should. I’m glad they didn’t. The campaign, story, and world are all brilliant. The gameplay still isn’t perfect and despite the added polish over 2033, there are few areas where this is still rough around the edges, but as a whole, this is one of the best action/horror/stealth games I’ve ever played.
The Final Word: While not perfect, Metro: Last Light provides a grim journey through a world long bereft of hope. It takes everything its predecessor did well and, like a good sequel, successfully builds on that foundation. The result is an unforgettable action game that doesn’t rely solely on its — admittedly gorgeous — visuals, instead it’s always focused on building and maintaining an atmospheric and engrossing world you won’t want to leave.
This review is based on a retail copy of the Xbox 360 version of Metro: Last Light, which was provided by the publisher.