The Metro franchise has had a turbulent past year. Metro 2033 released in 2010 for PC and the Xbox 360 as a game based on a novel of the same title by Russian author Dmitry Glukhovsky. It followed the escapades of protagonist Artyom as he worked his way through the dangerous underground metro of Moscow following a nuclear war. The plot ventured into the supernatural and the game ultimately ended up scoring in the solid eights and selling around a million copies. Metro: Last Light was announced as a sequel to 2033 and in progress for 2012 when the troubles began within publisher THQ. Ultimately Metro wound up at Deep Silver and is finally seeing the light of day (no pun intended). Based on my time playing through 4A Games’ moody, atmospheric romp through the Russian metro I must give Deep Silver a whole-hearted thank you for saving Last Light, as it’s a fantastic atmospheric shooter.
Metro: Last light continues to somewhat follow Glukhovsky’s Metro 2033 and the protagonist Artyom. Following the events of 2033 (the game), Last Light makes the leap that Artyom launched a series of missiles against the mystical “dark ones” and seemingly destroyed what was left of their colony on the surface (this was an option in the end of 2033, Last Light makes the choice for you). Last Light picks up with the discovery that one of the dark ones has survived and this starts Artyom’s quest to the surface and through the metro once more. The story takes some fun twists and turns and is overall well done. It’s not as in-depth as a Bioshock Infinite, but it is easy to follow and keeps you pushing forward. I would have liked to see a bit more depth into the “dark ones” and their background, but that may be left for another game. The voice acting is very well done overall in Last Light too. You’ll find a few iffy acting jobs in random NPCs while you explore a town, but all the people that count have very solid actors behind them and this is one of the key elements keeping you rooted in Metro’s world. Playing through the story took me roughly 9 hours on easy with minimal exploration for those wondering. Overall the story is solid enough that most won’t find issue with it, and it (paired with the voice acting) works well as a container for the great gameplay Last Light now offers.
I say “now offers” because one of my main gripes with Metro 2033 was the gunplay, stealth, and overall gameplay. All of my issues have been resolved in Metro: Last Light. The gunplay is much better and finally feels like it’s at a level where a good first person shooter should be in 2013. You have a massive variety of weapons to find that are all interesting. I didn’t find I had to rely as much on purchasing them with bullets this go-round because I found the guns I ended up finishing the game with in the Metro while exploring (for those wondering my selection was a silenced “pistol” that used shotgun shells, the classic Metro shotgun with 6 shots which seemed to be a necessity at points in the game, and a silenced P90-style SMG) but I did spend a ton of the “money” bullets for upgrades on those weapons. The stealth gameplay has been improved as well. It’s obviously not a classic Splinter Cell or Metal Gear style of stealth, but it is actually a viable option (and sometimes the best option) in Last Light and better than 99% of “stealth” in FPS games on the market today.
Equipped with my watch’s light meter, my silenced pistol, and the ability to unscrew light bulbs and practically shut off every light source in the level I typically found myself playing stealth most of the time and knocking enemies out as opposed to killing them. A lot of the encounters I did not even need to kill one person to continue, just get to the exit. It would have been nice to be able to hide bodies, but maybe that’s a bit much to ask of a pure shooter. Of course shooting your way through is still completely viable, but I found it a last resort for me that typically ended with me lobbing grenades and blasting with a shotgun. The only real negative I can throw at Last Light’s gameplay was that the AI still isn’t completely up to snuff. I was playing on easy, so take that into account, but they did little flanking and sometimes would not even move at all when a grenade was thrown their way.
The true star in Last Light, as it was in 2033, is the atmosphere and environments. Coming off of Bioshock Infinite I wondered how long it would take for me to see that level of atmosphere in a game again, turns out not long. Last Light oozes style and you never feel like you get taken out of 4A’s world. From the tunnels, to the cities, to the surface world (where you actually spend a good amount of time), everything feels like it has been meticulously created and styled to be realistic to the fiction. You get numerous “down times” in the game, typically when entering a new city/stop, to walk around and take in the surroundings and listen to the NPCs directly react to you being in their home and it’s just fantastic. The last game outside of the Bioshock series that I remember doing down-time this well was the polarizing Homefront. Homefront was not a very good game, but the moments when you entered a new city and they let you take in the sights and sounds for as long as you wanted were the best part of that game and Last Light surpasses even those.
This brings up another area that went hand-in-hand with gameplay and atmosphere in Metro 2033, the use of actual items in the game. Many usable items make a return in Last Light. You use a (very well designed) pop up menu to select from eight items (d-pad, face buttons) such as the gas mask, battery charger, lighter, flashlight, and more. They all play relatively the same role in Last Light too. For the gas mask you still find filters and have to replace yours every 5 minutes. Your mask can still also crack and break. It becomes dirty as well, so you must clean it off when getting rain, blood, or…ooze…on it. Your map is still there too, hitting select and bringing up your lighter shows it and your objectives. You must also charge your flashlight to keep it going (like 2033). All of these things help add to the atmosphere of the game without becoming cumbersome. They actually provide the opposite effect, they keep you firmly rooted in Metro’s world and rooted as Artyom. Fans of 2033 will find some of the items (including the bullet for gear economy) streamlined a bit, but I never found like that took away from what made those systems great in the first place. The fabled “Ranger” mode should help boost difficulty in all areas for those who want that challenge as well (but it does come as a pre-order bonus, the only issue I had with Metro’s marketing. Come on Deep Silver!).
Overall Metro: Last Light is a much, much better game than its predecessor. The gunplay is very good, the stealth option is now completely viable, and the atmosphere is among the best in gaming today. The story could have used a bit more depth, but it was by no means poor in any way. I think 4A Games really knocked it out of the park with Metro: Last Light despite a few minor complaints, and I really look forward to seeing the series continue. Deep Silver deserves big props for picking up the series (and Saints Row!) and 4A deserves all the credit for realizing what they had in 2033 and fixing all the issues to deliver one of 2013’s best games to-date.