Metro: Last Light is a sad game.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean sad in the sense that it’s a bad game — it’s actually a lot of fun, with solid gameplay and design. When I say sad, I mean that the setting of the Metro franchise is a well-oiled machine for creating a dilapidated world full of downtrodden people. Luckily this works in its favour, because the result is an immersive game with an involving storyline.
Last Light is a direct sequel to 2010’s well-received Metro 2033, a video game adaptation based on the novel of the same name. After nuclear war erupted in 2013, the residents of Moscow were forced to retreat to the city’s underground Metro system (are you seeing where the name comes from?) to survive. Twenty years later, you took on the role of Artyom, a citizen of the Metro who was only a small child when the bombs started to fall. Over the course of 2033, you fought against the Dark Ones – mutated humans and animals who never made it to the safety of the Metro tunnels – as well as Soviets and Nazis to help protect the human population, ultimately gaining access to a missile silo that gives you the chance to end the Dark Ones for good.
Whilst the first game had two endings based on your moral choices throughout, Last Light assumes that you pulled the trigger on the missiles and destroyed your shadowy foes. The game begins one year later and once again follows Artyom who is now a member of the Rangers, a roving military group that assists the citizens of the Metro. They now occupy the missile silo from the previous game, which houses huge stores of weapons, food and supplies that could turn the tables for any faction in the Metro who got their hands on it. They receive a report that someone has spotted a living Dark One in the remains of their former hive, and so Artyom sets out to find it – setting off a chain of events that sees you journeying through the dark and dangerous Metro once again.
I won’t spoil the story beyond that, because it wouldn’t be fair to ruin any of the twists and turns the story throws at you. True, being an FPS game the story is mostly there to give you a reason to move from A to B, but Last Light does it in a way that feels fairly natural. Ironically enough, the fact that the majority of the game takes place underground in linear Metro tunnels helps to fool you into forgetting how linear this type of game can be. Many sections that see you moving along a tunnel by one method or another are littered with optional side areas, allowing you to go for a wander with the option discover hidden weapon, ammo or currency caches to support you in the more mandatory sequences ahead. These often let you explore elements of gameplay further, such as one twisty side-tunnel that pits you against the light-fearing spiderbugs, who need to be caught in your flashlight long enough to flip over before you can take them out. Whilst these enemies do feature in the main gameplay, this area is one of several that pits you against them in a more challenging environment to really push the mechanic.
As far as combat goes, the game splits it into two distinct flavours; your typical run-and-gun FPS gameplay, and sneakier stealth methods. Most ‘combat arena’ sections of the game allow you to covertly make your way through, taking out enemies one at a time or avoiding them altogether. This is often to your benefit, as ammo is in very short supply in the world of Last Light, and it’s often better to hold on to it for your trips topside to deal with the surface world’s beasties. If you want to however, you can fight your way through these situations guns blazing, though it may be to your disadvantage later on.
One interesting element of the game’s gunplay is the multiple types of ammunition available to you. While each gun has standard ammunition to use, you also have the option of using military-grade ammo as well. This ammo hits harder and more accurately, allowing you to take enemies out with fewer bullets per carcass… The twist is that this military-grade ammo is also the game’s currency. For every fancy bullet you fire, you take yourself one step further away from upgrading your three weapons or replenishing your standard ammunition in the game’s next hub area. Whilst this option certainly comes in handy against some of the game’s hardier mutant enemies, it’s a careful balancing act not to blast through your savings just to make one confrontation a little bit easier.
Atmosphere-wise, Last Light does a great job. As I mentioned at the start of this review, it’s a thoroughly depressing world! Everything around you exists in shades of brown and grey, including the Metro’s citizens. Ambient dialogue from NPCs gives you a sense that most people are merely surviving rather than living, and sitting still in front of nearly any person is bound to reward you with a sad story of their life. One early area even includes a man putting on a shadow puppet show for a group of children, and lamenting the fact that they don’t recognise what a bird is.
It’s sad stuff.
This works well however, as it makes you want to succeed all the more. Each victory along the way feels that much sweeter, knowing that you’re working at making the Metro a slightly less horrific place to live.
The game plays extremely well with light, as you’ll regularly find yourself snuffing out lamps and ceiling lights to save yourself from being spotted, and carefully selecting when to use your flashlight so as not to give yourself away. Most enemies will have a headlamp to help them navigate – and to help you spot them before they spot you – but as the game progresses, some will choose to walk around half-blind much like yourself. This helps make the toss-up between the Solid Snake and Rambo play methods seem a bit more difficult, as playing stealth could lead to you walking face-first into an enemy if you’re not observant enough.
This play of light and dark is well accompanied by the game’s use of audio. Environmental sound is layered and detailed, with each area sounding different. It’s particularly stressful in areas with mutant enemies, as you’ll often hear them growling and shuffling around just out of sight, adding to the tension and forcing you to do your best to remain undetected. The soundtrack also helps clue you in by fading between standard ambient tracks and more urgent audio when you’re in danger of being spotted. In many cases this helped me to realise I was about to be forced into open combat, even when I couldn’t see the enemy who could see me.
All in all the game is a solid FPS, which manages to make the stock-standard palette of browns seem a bit more varied. Whilst I’m not a huge shooter fan I did find myself drawn in by the Last Light to keep playing ‘just a few minutes more’, over and over. I highly recommend it for FPS fans and non-fans alike.