The lights are on
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Metro: Last Light is a milestone for developer 4A Games.
Last Light's predecessor, Metro 2033, never garnered a huge
following. It's considered a cult classic, driven forward by a narrative based
on the book of the same name by Dmitry Glukhovsky. With Last Light, 4A Games is
steering away from the canon of the novel's sequels, opting instead to create
their own story.
That decision paid off.
Last Light is a paragon for video game narratives. It's ripe
with characterization, direction and effect, but it doesn't sacrifice player
agency in the process. It struggles to find a strong pace during the first few
hours, as it leans a little too heavily on exposition, but its latter half
builds to a climactic ending that lets gameplay and story compliment each other
instead of detract.
Although you had a choice between two resolutions, Last
Light picks up where the "bad" ending of 2033 left things: in a bid to save the
remnants of the human race living in Russia's post-apocalyptic subway tunnels,
Artyom launched missiles against the Dark Ones -- the supernatural race that
threatened their sanctum. This left a wasteland where the Dark Ones' home used
to be. Last Light's story explores several human factions' struggles for
dominance over the others following the bombing.
There's a hefty dose of social commentary on racism and
politics, all with supernatural undercurrents. Neither seem forced, and
actually elevate the story to a better place as Last Light progresses. By the
end, you'll discover ulterior motives and villainous plans that help the plot
be about more than just survival.
All of this is contained within a living, breathing,
believable world. The human stations scattered throughout the tunnels seem
lived-in, the characters all seem real. I felt compelled to eavesdrop on any
conversation I could, if not to learn more about the world then just to
overhear Last Light's genuine dialogue. Each location is memorable in its own
way, and I found myself pulled off the beaten path more than once on the way to
each new objective.
You're channeled between set piece moments that provide
variety along with spectacle. Before the credits rolled, I guided a car along a
railroad lined with enemy soldiers, tiptoed through an abandoned city rife with
booby traps, and fought off a giant mutated bear. These scenarios make up a
fraction of Last Light's 12-hour duration -- it's a long campaign by today's
standards, but the near-excellent pacing proves shooters can still aim for this
It's hard to label it merely as a shooter, though. The
nuclear war that spawned the Metro series left little ammunition strewn
throughout human outposts, meaning you'll have to scrounge for every last
bullet below, and above, Russia's surface. Radiation forces you to wear a gas
mask to avoid suffocation, and limited oxygen tanks give you one more thing to
search for. The survival aspects of Last Light lend urgency to its slower
moments, helped all the more by its believable world of swamps, tunnels and
While Metro 2033 had a similarly engrossing atmosphere, its
gameplay mechanics held it back. Enemy movements were choppy, their sightlines
were inconsistent, and they always seemed to know where you were once they
found you, regardless of where you hid. The broken stealth mechanics almost
demanded that every situation be turned into a guns-blazing approach.
The same can't be said about Last Light. I actually had a
choice this time around. Not counting the situations where I was forced to kill,
I opted to sneak around my human enemies every chance I could. This pacifism
saved me precious ammo and supplies, but also let me take advantage of Last
Light's stealth system.
For situations devoid of flying bullets and constant
explosions, crawling through darkened corridors and quiet rooms is intense.
Much of combat is about manipulating the lighting in Last Light's environments.
Stay in the shadows, and you probably won't be spotted; waltz through the
center of a bright room, and you probably will. You can even shoot light bulbs
with your weapons and blow out lanterns to make each new area your playground.
Last Light's stealth mechanics are consistent, meaning I rarely wondered
whether a guard would see me or not, and if he did, I knew I could hide without
some omnipotent AI guiding the guards to me.
Humans aren't the only enemies you'll encounter. Fighting
mutated spiders makes you reverse your strategy and actually increase the
lighting present, as the scampering creatures are afraid of light. Your
flashlight is your best weapon against them: shine it on them long enough and
they'll flip over, exposing their vulnerable bellies.
This manipulation of each area and its inhabitants pulled me
even closer to the world of Last Light. As it progressed, I became more
concerned with battling the environment instead of soldiers. I could have used
all of my ammunition to clear a bridge of mutants, but I opted to sneak through
a nearby train car, without any penalty to show for it.
While the variety in enemies, approaches and exploration
never let boredom settle in, the same can't be said for the occasional feeling
There are several difficulty spikes that stop Last Light's
momentum. Throughout its first half, there aren't too many situations where
you're actually forced to kill, aside from a few small encounters. About midway
through, however, scenarios arise that can make your inventory disappear in a
matter of minutes.
The first of these scenarios forced me to reload a
checkpoint three times upon death. While the rest of Last Light isn't easy,
this case was a result of me losing every last bullet and item I could use
against the charging mutants. I finally made it through after a few lucky
strikes with my melee weapon, which was a last resort. If I hadn't been
scavenging so diligently up to that point, I don't know how I could have
proceeded without restarting the entire level.
The unique currency system that carried over from Metro
2033, in which bullets used as currency can also be used for increased weapon
damage, can be a godsend in those situations. Although they can only be used
for certain weapons, the military grade bullets provide much more damage this
time around, and also ignite your target. There is a tradeoff though, as using
them means you won't have as much to spend on weapons and ammo in the next
town. This isn't a huge deal on lower difficulties, as there is a variety of
weapons lying around Last Light's environments, but the risk/reward factor
increases when there are even less opportunities for scavenging.
Despite the short-term frustration, Last Light's difficulty
spikes didn't keep me down for long. The post-apocalyptic Russian wasteland is
a compelling environment, and the promise of much-needed supplies is just
another excuse to explore it.
Metro: Last Light proves that gameplay and story don't have
to compromise. Aside from a few bumps along the way, the two coalesce to form a
compelling narrative set in a rich world, a world that elevates both to equal
Metro 2033 was a cult classic; Metro: Last Light is a shining example.
Score: 9 out of 10
This was written for Gaming Nexus