Developer: 4A Games / Publisher: Deep Silver / Played on: PC / Price: $49.99 / ESRB: Mature [Blood, Intense Violence, Nudity, Sexual Content, Strong Language, Use of Drugs and Alcohol]
In the high school drama of videogames, Metro: Last Light is that kid that comes back after the summer break wearing trendy new clothes and an overwrought desire to be loved by everyone. While weird kids like Dark Souls find a group of friends by embracing their quirks, Metro: Last Light wants to be one of the AAA cool kids by scrubbing its personality clean. The result is a game packed with impressive-looking scripted scenes and a disappointing lack of gameplay depth and difficulty.
As much as I want to be upset that Metro: Last Light is just following the AAA playbook, I have to admit there are some cool and unique moments in this game. But by the time it’s over, that’s all you have–a handful of memorable moments diluted by competent but unexceptional hours of forgettable gameplay.
The story, at least, is a faithful extension of Metro 2033. You again play as the mute Artyom, a ranger in the strange subterranean world of the Metro. In case you aren’t familiar with the game’s setting, here’s a crash course: World War III led to a nuclear apocalypse forcing the residents of Moscow to survive in the city’s Metro tunnels. Now the surface is irradiated and filled with mutants while savage living conditions have turned the Metro into a warlike no-man’s land of tribalism.
Last Light’s story follows the events of 2033, assuming the ending in which Artyom fires a salvo of missiles at the Dark Ones (a newly-discovered race of mutant surface dwellers). As the game opens, the rangers have discovered a surviving Dark One and task Artyom with finishing it off. As in 2033 a simple task soon derails, sending you through mysterious and abandoned sections of the Metro and uncovering a vast conspiracy between the Metro’s major factions along the way.
The story and characters are decent but don’t live up to the AAA ambitions evident in the game’s presentation. For instance, one character constantly drops jovial banter designed to endear the player to him. Instead, he just comes off as annoying… which neuters the emotional weight of his eventual betrayal. Though just as thick with characters, betrayal, and double-crosses, Last Light is less organized and impactful than, say, Black Ops II. Similarly, the voice acting isn’t the best.
The way the story is delivered is a bigger problem. Last Light finds ways to immobilize you for long stretches at a time, whether you’re physically restrained or just waiting for an NPC to walk to a door. You spend a lot of time in following NPCs, either waiting for them to clear the way for you or praising you for the simplest accomplishments.
Once the game is done directing you about, you can explore or fight by yourself and the experience is much more enjoyable (not to mention more similar to 2033). Combat comes in two flavors–versus humans or the mutated monsters of the Metro. Moving through areas teeming with hostile humans is the more interesting of the two, giving you the option of stealth or a direct combat approach. While the ability to choose your strategy is appreciated, the stealth system is extremely basic. You’re either visible or you’re not, and if you’re supposedly shrouded in darkness you can all but walk right up to an enemy and knock him out.
The simplified level design doesn’t enhance this gameplay either. In every stealth / combat stretch, there’s always a directed stealth path to follow that’s obvious if you find it. Shadows, light switches, and optional tunnels string together to create a direct route, leaving very little to your imagination when it comes to playing stealthily. It’s still fun to do, but the enjoyment wears off when you realize you’re just following a set path plotted out by the developers.
You don’t always have to sneak, and engaging in direct firefights is intense because of the lights and sounds of combat. However, Last Light’s combat is much different than 2033’s. Artyom is much beefier this time around. You can take a lot of damage before going down, meaning there’s no mechanical threat to engaging enemies head-on. Just find a box to hide behind and you can kill everything with the basic revolver without breaking a sweat.
Fighting Metro’s mutants is fun in a Doom sort of way, but a lack of enemy variety makes these encounters wear thin within minutes. You spend most of your time shooting dog-like enemies that blindly run and swipe at you, leaving little in the way of intellect or strategy in each combat encounter. If you shoot them before they hit you and run in circles while reloading you can handle anything the Metro can throw at you.
Playing on a harder difficulty could add more depth to the combat, but 2033’s infamous Ranger Mode wasn’t available while I played the game. The situation there is a little sticky as well. It’s DLC, and while the first run of Last Light will come with a download code for the mode, that doesn’t ensure everyone will have access to it. If you’ve already played 2033, I recommend playing with that mode first. Otherwise, you have to sit through all the cutscenes and scripted conversations again when you start a second playthrough.
Instead of its story or gameplay, Last Light succeeds most as a sort of digital tourism. Occasionally you can explore the world at your own pace, overhearing conversations and absorbing the detail of the game world. There are some great scenes here, like participating in a shooting gallery of live mice and then walking around the stage to see the poor schmo that has to mop the resulting rat chunks. These occasional moments of sincerity and charm show glimmers of a more profound experience, but the game soon reverts back to script-heavy action sequences and self-serious dialogue.
Even treated as a vector for digital exploration, Last Light still doesn’t match the immersive quality of its predecessor. The problem is visual–2033, despite coming out three years ago, still looks better than Last Light. 2033’s lighting conveyed the oppressive, unknown dangers of the Metro extremely well. Every hallway cut off into complete darkness. Light was a precious commodity because you couldn’t see a damn thing without it, which made the use of your flashlight a danger when around enemies. By comparison, Last Light is brighter, cleaner, and more sterile. You can see just fine with no lights at all. 2033’s fantastic lighting and texture work conveyed the closed and dark environments of the Metro much more believably than Last Light does. That’s not to say there aren’t some gorgeous environments in Last Light, but on the whole its lighting is more boring and flat.
By cycling through scripted AI encounters, combat sections, and low-key free-roam areas, Metro: Last Light is a dour, Russian themed take on Half-Life 2. Only problem is that none of those aspects work together in a mutually beneficial way. Last Light isn’t as gameplay-dense an action / stealth experience as Dishonored and it’s not as impossibly polished as Call of Duty. If you enjoy directed single-player experiences, you can’t go wrong with Last Light… just don’t expect the most focused or deep experience.