Metro: Last Light is a linear, story-driven first person shooter, and the sequel to 2010’s fairly successful Metro 2033.
While Metro 2033 was based on Russian novelist Dmitry Glukhovsky’s book of the same title, Last Light is not based on the book’s direct sequel, Metro 2034.
Instead, Last Light is an original creation between Glukhovsky and 4A Games. That collaboration was obviously a smart decision, as Last Light perfectly maintains the dark, tragic tones and post-apocalyptic sci-fi/fantasy setting of the first game.
If Metro 2033 somehow slipped under your radar, the series is set in a ruined Moscow, the surface made uninhabitable in the aftermath of a nuclear war.
The last remnants of humanity live within the underground tunnels of the Moscow Metro, parts of which were – in a nice touch of reality – actually designed to operate as short-term fallout shelters.
Mutated beasts roam the surface and the Metro’s abandoned tunnels, making life harder still for the resource-starved survivors. As if that wasn’t enough, various factions hold their own stations and tunnel sections, skirmishing at the borders.
Communists and The Fourth Reich fight a shallow mimicry of the Second World War, whilst bandits attack anyone they can roll over for resources.
It’s a harsh world, where life is so fragile and threats so rife that pre-war military-grade ammunition serves as the primary currency.
It’s closer in tone to the grim, almost surreal nature of GSC’s S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series than the charming, often comical feel of Bethesda’s Fallout.
You play as Artyom, a young man born shortly before the bombings and raised underground.
In Metro 2033, your goal was the destruction of the ‘Dark Ones’: mysterious humanoid creatures that feed on radiation, communicate telepathically and condemn their victims to madness. Last Light starts with you continuing that quest, setting out to eliminate a single remaining Dark One. A simple goal, quickly complicated by the troubles of the Metro.
It’s a compelling story, woven throughout the gameplay rather than vomited into your ear-holes during lengthy cutscenes.
That’s not to say there isn’t downtime, when somebody’s talking and there isn’t a gun in your hand. However, those moments of forced exposition are kept interactive, often through quite innovative pieces of game design.
The uncanny-valley rendering and animation of human characters was a real disappointment.
The developer’s 4A Engine renders buildings, landscapes and environmental effects beautifully.
Human characters, though, have a plastic-faced quality and slightly awkward animations that distract from the story, especially in emotionally wrought scenes. It’s not a game-killer, and in a straight shooter I probably wouldn’t care, but it’s sad that the technology isn’t quite as strong as the story in that one regard.
Gameplay is entirely from a first-person perspective, with the same barely-there HUD as Metro 2033. You’ve got an ammo counter and crosshair, but that’s about it.
Objectives are read from a physical clipboard that you have to bring up to your face, and navigation is by a compass attached to that clipboard. Charge for your flashlight and night-vision goggles are read from a meter on your hand-cranked battery charger, while the time remaining before you need to change the filter on your gas mask is displayed on your wristwatch. It’s extremely immersive.
Those seeking a real challenge will want to play in Ranger Mode, which was added to Metro 2033 as DLC.
This removes the HUD entirely (no crosshair or ammo counter), reduces the already-scarce ammunition pickups, and generally increases the game’s difficulty.
It was originally suggested that Ranger Mode would be a core part of Metro: Last Light, and is billed on the game’s website as “The way it was meant to be played”.
However, Ranger Mode was later revealed to be a pre-order bonus, and if you don’t pre-order you’ll have to pay US$5 for the download.
Gameplay leans toward stealth, with most weapons offering a sound-suppressor/flash-hider upgrade. Silent weapons such as compressed-air guns and throwing knives are also available, and sneaking up behind an enemy allows you to perform a lethal or non-lethal takedown.
It’s possible to run-and-gun – you can absorb a bit more damage than realism dictates, and there are many fast-firing automatic weapons and hard-hitting shotguns.
However, the limited ammunition makes it an unwise strategy, particularly on the harder difficulty settings. Occasionally you’re mobbed by creatures and forced into an outright confrontation, and I usually came out of those encounters with one or two bullets and a couple of throwing knives to my name – hoping against hope that there wouldn’t be another such encounter right around the corner. It really keeps you on the edge of your seat, and encourages you to explore the world for every last supply cache and spare round of ammunition.
I took the stealthy route wherever I could, spending the majority of the game crawling slowly down corridors with a suppressed weapon in hand. Even playing on the hardest (non-Ranger) difficulty, it was really kind of easy.
If you have the patience to play it cool and calm, a lot of the difficulty can be avoided outright. Bear in mind that it took me 15 hours to play through Last Light in such a fashion, whereas a bolder approach can see you through the game in about 10 hours.
I’d recommend you play Metro 2033 first, and then move straight on to Last Light.
Ranger Mode controversy aside, it’s a strong first-person shooter that offers an experience you won’t find anywhere else.