Metro: Last Light feels like its creation was based on a round of hot potato. you can almost picture each member of 4A Games’ development team, in their Kiev offices, eagerly grabbing the potato, ready to throw on all sorts of fillings (gameplay, story characters), only forced to toss it to another member after a few seconds in fear of burning their hands. In the process, hurdling between different writers, artists, and coders, this potato got loaded down with all sorts of things, but a lot of it still feels like bland, empty carbs. This is a varied and appetizing game, wrapped in the familiar tinfoil of the Metro franchise, but one which is ultimately confused by numerous problems.
After the success of Metro 2033 in 2010, 4A and publisher Deep Silver knew they had a nice promising IP on their hands, and with its sequel they stick comfortably to the rules of the original while adding a number of innovations. Picking up a year after the first game left off, the player once again returns to the weathered combat suit of mostly-silent Metro-dweller Artyom. Artyom is now one of the elite Rangers who reside in D6, a pre-war bunker with the rations and technology to improve life for the whole Metro, if only those pesky warring factions will stop killing people. There’s also a mutant problem.
2033‘s most memorable elements are back. The HUD is almost non-existent, powerful military-grade ammunition doubles as currency, and trips to the surface still require a gas mask and plenty of filters. Minor changes make the experience more immersive and customizable; Artyom’s lighter can be used to burn away cobwebs and weapons can be upgraded with a greater variety of attachments, all requiring those precious, jingling bullets. One change is small but endearing; Artyom can now wipe off his gas mask visor to clear away swamp muck, rain, mutant blood, or whatever else might collect there throughout the course of a day’s work.
Unfortunately, gameplay is not Last Light‘s forte. The game is broadly broken into three types of levels: human combat, towns, and monster combat. For those of you without calculators, the game is approximately 2/3 combat and 1/3 listening and atmosphere, a ratio which, given how Last Light handles its gun-play, is rather dissatisfying. Humans in Last Light can make for challenging enemies when they know you are about and in an open arena. These two criteria are quite difficult to reproduce, however, as most combat zones take the form of long, relatively narrow enclosures (almost as though the game were set in underground tunnels, fancy that), and stealth combat has actually become blessedly easier since the first game, where it was a painful, confusing endeavor.
This time around, no one can accuse the stealth system of being challenging. The soldiers of the Moscow metro clearly have not been taught the buddy system, and they are very conscientious about splitting up, wandering into dark corners, and turning away from lights so you can easily snuff them (lights and humans) out. With a plenitude of suppressed weapons and some shockingly deadly throwing knives, stealth combat became very easy, unless you get spotted and decide to restart from the checkpoint, only to find that the game reloads so that you are standing directly in front of an enemy, making a sneaky run-through impossible without restarting the whole level. As a side note, this was not the only technical problem. The game crashed twice, and once a level had to be restarted when an open doorway became mysteriously impassible.
However, Last Light’s lowest point is its monster combat. Guns already feel flaccid and loose, and against mutated animals you will be in dire straits. Of course when facing these creatures the player should be scared and desperate, but the experience was not so much atmospherically agitating as just annoying. The monsters have the obnoxious and unrealistic ability to move completely silently, making it impossible to get a fair sense of a combat situation. They also bounce around erratically and can take a lot of damage before dying, which is fair enough, but combined with the loose and weightless guns and the monster’s tendencies to rear up in front of Artyom and untiringly flail their limbs like boxing robots, this section of combat was a frustrating, mind-numbing experience.
Metro: Last Light excels in atmosphere, like in an early game sneak through a prison camp and a late game wander through a dead city whose restless ghosts cast shadows that only seems to appear in the corner of your eye or with the flash of lightning. Metro is spooky, fascinating, and even at times moving. However, it is let down by its story, which is a hodgepodge of the political and more supernatural elements found in the original, attempting to fully treat both and not properly addressing either. Each main story line is represented by a significant new character Artyom meets, and those characters and my relationship with them were the most interesting and enjoyable part of the game. The middle section, where neither is present and the monster battles are plentiful, is a despicable experience which drags down the first and last couple of hours.
The good sections are particularly painful because they show that Metro: Last Light is not a mediocre game. It is special and it has the loving attention that an A+ title deserves. A brief look through one of the game’s beautifully detailed, lovingly realized environments shows how much care was put into it and yet much of this game’s potential remains unrealized, and we are left, despite all of the content, with an unfulfilling meal.
There are two more items of note which leave an extremely sour aftertaste. After your first play-through you may be eager to return to the game on Ranger mode, which makes the game more difficult by providing less ammunition, improving combat AI, and making both enemies and Artyom easier to kill. This mode might alleviate some of the earlier problems, but amazingly, Ranger mode is exclusive content available only with the limited edition, or as extra paid content. This is not just an assortment of in-game goodies (though those are also part of the pre-order bonus), this is an integral part of the game, which, by 4A‘s admission, is “The way it was meant to be played,” and yet it is still an extra expense. And that’s obscene.
The second issue is Metro: Last Light‘s portrayal of women. With all of the areas where gameplay could have been polished, was it really necessary to invest in boob jiggle physics or to have a gratuitous and creepy striptease scene? The worst offense is the shockingly bad treatment of the game’s only promising female character. It’s bizarre that in a story about the essence of humanity, about the nature of war and politics, about redemption and honor, the developers thought that adding some tits would make the game more mature. 4A, your game is set in the 21st century. Maybe you should join it?
All in all, Metro: Last Light is a good game. Sure it has some issues just like any other game out there, but it manages to rise above those issues in the end. The game keeps a consistent, brooding atmosphere while keeping true to the source material. The world was lovingly detailed and it is definitely worth your time. If you had any interest in this game, Metro: Last Light will prove to you that revisiting the Metro should be on your agenda.
This review is based on a review copy of the PC version of Metro: Last Light developed by 4A Games and published by Deep Silver