Darkness and Despair – Metro: Last Light Review
This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360.
When you’re down to your last bullet and you’re taking in what you believe to be your last breath, all hope can seem lost. Death stalks in the shadows at every turn; everything that could go wrong already has; and all of your worst fears have come true, one-by-one. Darkness settles in, you hear a terrifying roar, and you know this could be your last few moments. You cycle in the last round of your rifle, raise it, and hold your breath. This is Metro: Last Light, the latest from 4A Games, and the direct sequel to Metro 2033. Based upon the novel by Dmitry Glukhovski, this post-apocalyptic first-person-shooter has all the makings of a good survival horror/action game, utilizing unique mechanics. What makes it so tense and gripping, you might ask? Well, grab your gas-mask and rifle, and I’ll lead you down into the deep, dark metro, to discover all of its hidden secrets. Just note however, that I will be mentioning events from the original game, so if you’ve yet to play Metro 2033 (or read the fantastic book) you may want to go do that now. That being said, let’s get to it!
Metro: Last Light takes place directly after the events of Metro 2033, with players once again assuming the role of Artyom. Having previously destroyed the Dark Ones through nuclear fire, he has since helped the Rangers group move into the D6 bunker that he and Millar discovered – all of which earns him instant acceptance into the Order, along with many accolades. Aside from the whole world-in-radioactive-shambles thing, everything seems to be looking up for our young protagonist. That is, until he is visited by a man named Khan, and we slowly start to realize just how wrong it was to have been hopeful…
Khan comes to you with grave news: a single surviving Dark One has been spotted near the ruins of their destroyed nest. He believes that if even one of them is alive, it’s still possible for them to return and that it’s not too late to save their species – as Khan believes killing them was a mistake. After all, no one knows for sure if they attacked humanity, or simply tried to communicate with us. However, Millar and many other Rangers have seen too many people killed by the creatures to believe them to be anything but hostile, and immediately orders you and another sniper to go and kill this last Dark One, and end them once and for all.
Of course, no plan survives contact with the enemy, and players accidentally fall deep into the events happening outside D6. A war is brewing and D6 is a possible target. Many factions want the Dark One for various reasons, and Artyom is receiving strange visions from the past. With every step you take, more and more lights of hope start to dim, and the world seems darker than ever. The entire story is shrouded in mystery, darkness, and despair, which makes for a thrilling adventure – albeit a slightly depressing one.
Only one real issue comes from the story of Last Light, and that’s the fact that we’re not seeing many new things in this instalment. Artyom is still a strong silent type, never speaking a word within gameplay, which under normal circumstances would allow the player to slip their own self into him as a character – you are Artyom. However, his actual character is so vague that the lack of progression in the sequel makes him so terribly dull and uneventful. A few chapters of Last Light actually seem as though they were pulled from (or were inspired by) levels in the original, and you spend a lot of game time being captured and escaping in the beginning—which is going to lead some players into a bit of unwanted déjà vu. However, the further into the tale you go, the more original, exciting, and in some cases horrifying the game becomes – so it’s really something you have to work your way into.
If you’ve ever played a first-person shooter, then you’ll be right at home with Metro: Last Light, as its base template is similar to many other titles from this genre. Run, aim down sights, shoot, sneak past people, stab them when they’re distracted, press switches to open doors – that kind of thing. However, several uniquely designed mechanics set it far apart from other games – thanks to the post-apocalyptic setting. For starters, resources are terribly thin, even in busy towns and hubs. This means that ammo and guns are going to be scarce, and you’re going to have to scavenge what you can, where and when you can. Should you be lucky, you may even find military grade, pre-war ammunition, which is much more effective and powerful than the Metro-made “dirty” ammo. Herein lies another problem though, as these shiny pre-war bullets are also used as currency in the Metro, leaving players with a choice: do you slap in those powerful rounds when in a pinch, or rely on stealth/your knife so you can stock up on other important items in the next safe zone? This devilish choice gives Last Light a masochistic appeal — although you’ll be forced to make life-or-death choices under heavy duress, it makes for very interesting and unique gameplay.
Players should also note that this isn’t Call of Duty, and not every enemy you take down is going to have six mags on him for you to scavenge. When I mentioned that ammo is scarce, I meant for everyone. Your enemies have just as hard a time keeping bullets in their pockets as you do, so you may only find a handful of shells on them – if anything at all! In some cases, you may even find more ammo on some random corpse rather than the guy who is actually carrying a gun. While this setup makes players truly feel the poverty and desperation of a destroyed world – a feeling that lends the title a lot of praise – there is one slight problem. Enemies with guns behave as though they’re wearing Solid Snake’s infinity headband, possessing an infinite supply of ammo, which they constantly send your way through the barrels of their guns – only running low on ammo right when you kill them. For a society that has to build their own low-quality bullets by hand so that the gamer is constantly struggling to keep a full magazine, it seems like a big oversight and immersion-breaker to give the other side unlimited ammo.
Of course, this being a post-nuclear-war setting, people aren’t your only enemy, as several types of mutants roam the tunnels and surface of Moscow. From the four-legged, pig-nosed hunters known as Nosalises, to the gargoyle-like flying pests called Demons, there are several non-human foes set to halt your progress — just because they can. Of course, being mutated creatures, they have evolved past the need for weapons (or pockets for that matter) and will not be carrying a shred of supplies for you. Players need to stock up as much as they possibly can before heading to a mutant-heavy area and make every shot count. Otherwise, the click of an empty rifle may be the last sound you hear during these resource-draining battles.
Luckily, players may carry three different weapons at any point in time, regardless of that gun’s specific type (which can include assault rifles, shotguns, pistols, sniper rifles, and more), and can be bought and traded from dealers found scattered across the Metro. These weapons may also be slightly customized and outfitted with optics, barrel mods, and additional bodywork. Having trouble seeing in the dark, but don’t want to give yourself away with your light? See if you can get lucky and find a pre-war IR scope in a shop. Need to take down someone quietly? Screw in a suppressor. Is that shotgun of yours kicking a little too hard? See if someone can make you a full stock for it. Buying these weapons and accessories costs you your aforementioned pre-war ammo, and while trading in your current weapon will get you a discount towards your new one, they are still a considerable investment – as the ammo spent on that silencer could have bought you five magazines of “dirty” rounds. Choose carefully, as you never know if your choices will be the right ones until you get back out into the darkness.
Aside from the usual array of guns and bullets, Last Light features a number of consumable weapons, namely frag/incendiary grenades, claymores, and throwing knives. The former two are self-explanatory: simply light the fuse on these makeshift pipe-bombs and throw them towards whatever you want dead. Claymores can be placed down to set a trap for whatever crosses its path, and can be recovered if you happen to place them wrong or dispatch your target in another manner. Throwing knives are the nicest touch though; they can be used to take out unaware foes in one hit, finish off an enemy after you empty your clip instead of reloading, and best of all, they can be recovered from dead bodies.
Because of the severe ammo limitations (especially on harder difficulties), stealth is something you really need to rely on. Artyom wears a considerably handy watch, which features both an air-filter timer (more on that later), as well as a small light to indicate when you’re hidden. While this light is active, enemies can actively spot the player in plain sight, but once it turns off, you’re effectively hidden in shadows. Here, enemies will only spot you if they’re in super close proximity, shine a light on you, or if you make excessive noise (such as shooting an un-silenced gun). Sneaking past enemies, or using your ninja skills to take them down quietly (lethal or non) can make a huge difference, not only in the amount of bullets that pierce your flesh but in the amount that fill your pockets as well—and thankfully the game certainly gives you some slack with this device.
Of course, there is one obstacle that we’re forgetting, and it may be the most crucial: the environment. Aside from living in the decrepit ruins of the Moscow Metro and having to deal with the constant threat of armed foes and bloodthirsty mutants who would enjoy having you for brunch, you must deal with an obvious evil: radiation. Even 20 years after the nuclear war, the surface and many pockets of the Metro are still full of un-breathable air, making them only traversable while wearing a gasmask. These accessories will allow you walk freely on the surface and in polluted tunnels, but only for a set time – the mask’s filters are only good for about five minutes each. This means if you don’t have enough filters, you either better find some or complete your objective and get the heck out of there fast! One must also be careful in combat as well, because these masks are fragile. Too much damage and the cover will start to crack, eventually breaking. Should your filter run out or your mask crack, you need to find new ones fast, lest you choke to death.
If you’re going to get mauled by some unspeakable evil, at least you’ll do it in style. Last Light features some very pleasing visuals, especially when compared to the original. Where characters used to move in predetermined lines with very blocky movements, the animations have stepped up considerably, and look a lot more fluid. On top of this, we have a lot more detailed and impressive skins and textures, especially when it comes to enemies. When a creature gets right up in your face, you’re going to be sincerely terrified by it. They’ve also handled the lighting very well, with sources casting realistic shadows, which is great to see in a game based on hiding in the darkness. The set design is fantastic, with the ruins of Moscow portrayed by dark, gritty locations. Even central commercial hubs that have been around for years still look as though they were put together with garbage and scraps – probably because they were. The design team did an amazing job conceiving and crafting such a rundown world, with just the slightest flicker of hope within it. My only wish was to see a bit more gore, especially in the scripted combat scenes, but Last Light gets by just fine without.
However, while the visuals of Last Light are mainly received with praise, the audio is a bit of Jekyll and Hyde experience. On one side, we have a brilliant soundtrack that mixes Silent Hill-like ambience – a clean electric guitar playing haunting melodies, with the occasional classical pieces eerily filling the halls of populated stations. Every situation has an accompanying note or sting, making for a wonderful listen – especially with a gaming headset. But there is a monster inside that comes out from time to time, and it takes form in the voice acting.
In an attempt to make the audio feel authentic, every character in-game has a Russian accent, which, in theory, is excellent. In practice though, only a few actors pull it off well, where a good chunk of others sound forced and fake. In some cases, the performances are so terrible, it sounds like they’re trying to botch their routine on purpose. Making matters a little worse, the cast seems understaffed, as you will hear similar voices around pretty much every area, as though the civilians and enemies are following you around. Players will be fighting the urge to simply hit mute, but thankfully they will always be stopped by the wonderful music score.
When the final breath of Metro: Last Light escapes from its radiation-filled lungs, you’ll put down your controller with a sense of satisfaction and enjoyment. From the difficult yet addictive gameplay, to the depressing and captivating world design, and cleverly crafted music score, you’ll be hooked once you sink your teeth into it. You simply need to get past the initial hump, unfair AI, and terrible voice acting. Once you do, you’re in for one creepy and gloomy ride that you’re sure to enjoy. Grab your gasmask, hoard your bullets, and get ready to venture back into the metro!
Final Score: 4.25 / 5.0
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