Although first-person shooters stand as the most popular and highest-grossing games of our current generation, simply shipping a machismo romp through grunt-filled corridors will rarely guarantee success. That style of development might work when coupled with a Call of Duty-advertising budget, but 4A Games’ Metro series makes use of a dissimilar tactic to find commercial success. It was the dim, grungy atmosphere that differentiated 2033 from the bunch, and it’s that same tonal poise that makes Last Light a unique gem in a tired genre. It may at times fall in love with its new-found mechanical proficiency, but Metro: Last Light succeeds at promoting a fascinating post-apocalyptic narrative within a striking dystopian environment.
In the world of Metro, humanity is forced to survive within the dilapidated tunnels beneath Moscow. A nuclear blast has shuttered and poisoned the outside world, but instead of coming together to ration the remaining resources, mankind is constantly on the brink of war. Toxic creatures seem to outnumber the survivors, but it’s the allure of a powerful doomsday device lodged within the military vaults of D6 that’s the greatest concern of mankind. Artyom, the conflicted protagonist of the dark tale, struggles to make sense of humanity’s quest for power, but remains a faithful member of the elite Ranger squad.
In fact, his loyalties are so strong that they drive him to wipe out the strange, intimidating group known as the Dark Ones at the conclusion of 2033. The survivors perceive this tall, gaunt race as the biggest threat to humankind, but Artyom’s decision to drop missiles on their nest digs into his consciousness. The Russian soldier feels a strange connection to these other-worldly beings, and fails to see what they’ve done to wrong his underground brethren. But his resolve is tested again in Last Light, as he’s ordered to eliminate what seems to be the last remaining child of the decimated nuclear race.
This mission, as players would expect, quickly spirals into a much more complex, involved adventure through the heart of the Metro. During his journey, Artyom visits the many ramshackled Spartan cities that are stippled with a culture all their own. As you stroll through the dimly lit streets, residents engage in wonderful discussions about daily life, the unstable political environment and the local “cuisine.” The player is never forced to listen in on these moments, but some of the strongest anecdotal elements can be gathered here. Artyom’s thoughts are only revealed within collectable notes and loading-screen monologues, so the best elements of the Metro’s true character are within these quieter walks down misery-laden roads.
Don’t think this is simply a verbal snapshot of underground living in a nuclear world, though. Metro: Last Light is coated in a thick layer of first-person shooting, and unlike its predecessor, can stand with the best in its genre. The pop and recoil of each armament gives the gameplay an instinctive, satisfying feel. Pumping the valuable lead into both the human and animalistic enemies remains engaging throughout the 10 to 12-hour experience, and while the AI won’t win any awards in terms of intelligence, few encounters can be easily handled without some sort of preplanning and skill.
Last Light presents players with combat puzzles upon entering hostile environments. Easily startled guards walk down mostly predictable patterns in whatever drab room you discover and it’s up to you to decide how you want to handle the situation. Since weapons can be modified with scopes, silencers and stabilizers, it’s entirely possible to clear a room guarded by a dozen Russian soldiers without being noticed. Quiet close-quarters maneuvers and throwing knives also go a long way in stealthily bringing down the well-armed troops, but if you’re like me and find a way to make yourself known early on, tactfully removing the opposition with the heavy firepower provided is an option.
An even greater layer of difficulty can be applied through the Ranger Mode DLC included in the Limited Edition. In this HUD-less feature, supplies are a bit more difficult to come by, and it’s likely that you’ll find yourself facing the dreaded game over screen after taking just a few bullets. The developer has stated that this is “the way [the game] was meant to be played,” but only the most hardcore players should take on this venture. Nothing comes easy in the Metro, and Ranger Mode exemplifies that fact with its unrelenting difficulty level and reluctance to hold the player’s hand.
No matter what mode is being played, the game occasionally pushes too much combat in the player’s face. As previously stated, the shooting mechanics in Last Light are much improved, and for the most part, wonderful to engage with. But it can be a bit frustrating when a stream of vicious creatures continues to plague your mission. The Metro series’ world and atmosphere are at the core of the experience, and while the developers do a good job of mixing tense, high-stakes battle sequences with hikes through heavily populated living quarters, 4A Games sporadically packs too many foes into a single level. The inclusion of small arachnid-type creatures also acts as a little hiccup in an otherwise brilliant experience, since constantly looking downward and shooting in claustrophobic tunnels doesn’t make for the greatest playing experience.
Still, Last Light is a sight for sore eyes. The Xbox 360 version of the game displays grim-yet-beautiful vistas that seem to stretch for miles, and the small environmental cues – like the beat-up guitars and classic cassettes strewn across the Metro – add that extra element of detail desired in a game with so much character. The PC version steps the visuals up a notch further – even if the framerate isn’t exactly up to snuff. The actual character models you’ll encounter don’t carry the same believability and technical prowess as the world, but really, it’s the Metro itself that acts as the star of the show. I found myself exploring every corner of the new locations I entered, and while there isn’t a sea of additional quests or secrets to be discovered, the reward of finding a new, era-appropriate trinket stuffed into a dusty box is worth the effort.
Even with a greater dedication to the rifle, Metro: Last Light manages to maintain its core identity. The narrative, world and atmosphere all work in tandem to create a first-person shooter that shines among its stiff competition. The story hits a wonderful stride as it approaches its climatic finale, and even manages to make players think deeply before they pull that rusty trigger. 4A Games has created a hostile, ravaged world that I want to continue exploring. Even without a multiplayer component to entertain players after the credits roll, Last Light is an adventure worth taking.
Metro: Last Light was developed by 4A Games and published by Deep Silver. An Xbox 360 copy was provided by the publisher for reviewing purposes.