Metro: Last Light Review
Metro: Last Light is a game that teaches you to love the dark. It’s comforting and in truth, functional. Some will find the game unduly challenging due to its almost complete lack of handholding and emphasis on stealth, planning and timing. Others might point to the predictable and sometimes questionable AI and take immediate advantage. Either way, you’re presented with a unique and engaging atmosphere, a first-person shooter that plays nothing like most FPSs, an interesting story, and a well-paced adventure that will keep you riveted throughout the ten-hour quest.
The presentation really is spectacular and as always, graphics are a big part of a satisfying and effective palette. Many of the backdrops are stellar, although a few seem devoid of intrigue. There’s great variety in the visual display, as you will split time between the war-torn post-apocalyptic surface and the dank, creepy underworld of sewers and tunnels. Detail is good without being exceptional and the lighting – as you might expect – is especially impressive. The destroyed fictional metropolis of Artyom is definitely interesting and exploration yields plenty of strange sights. There are a few miscues but in general, the graphics work very well.
The audio benefits from a competently produced score and subtle, essential ambient effects. Games that often require a slower pace must rely on a haunting, gripping soundtrack and believable background effects. Last Light does admirably on both counts. As for the voice acting, because the game allows for different language settings, I did a little experimenting. It seems the Russian dialogue offers the best acting, but maybe that’s because this is a universe created by Russian author Dmitry Glukhovsky. Anyway, the effects kick up a notch during high-impact firefights, but the sound shines brightest when everything is at its darkest.
This is a sequel to 2010’s generally well received Metro 2033, which featured a world devastated by nuclear fallout. We’re in much the same environment in Last Light but this time, we’re tasked with finding and eliminating the last surviving Dark One. Obviously, there’s a significant back story to that goal, but I won’t go into specifics. Some gamers really like to go into a game fresh, especially when the plot and characters play a significant role. But I will say that despite a lack of character development and some odd design choices, this is a story worth experiencing. With multiple factions, including the Nazis and Communists, this is a true melting pot.
If you want to fully appreciate the desperation that lies at the center of this story, you’ll have to listen to the NPCs and explore a lot. Doing so allows you to gradually unravel a story that pulls no punches and takes no prisoners. You will have the opportunity to save innocents but at the same time, you never forget your predicament. The situation calls for a heavy, even drastic hand, and that makes for a compelling adventure, filled with tension and urgency. The only problem is that the plot doesn’t quite deliver on what it promises, as the latter stages of the game feel disappointing. Let’s just say the writers decided to focus on the supernatural elements.
And really, I thought that was a letdown. The foundation was there to present us with a much more heavy-hitting story. That being said, I stand by my earlier comments, especially because you don’t normally find decent, intriguing stories too often in video games. At least, I don’t. As for the gameplay, I think an apt description would be— it’s a first-person shooter but it isn’t. The “shooter” part of that label doesn’t quite fit because at its core, Metro: Last Light is a first-person stealth game, with only a few examples of straight-up FPS action. Sometimes you have to run and gun, but that’s rare; the emphasis is clear.
Most times, you’re picking your way through a series of baddies, hoping you’re never spotted. If you are spotted, you’ll have to fight to the bitter end, as heavily armored enemies will force you to expend every ounce of energy (and most of your ammo). The best way to succeed is to take out enemies carefully and quietly. There are plenty of guns available and they can be customized, too, and there are some melee weapons and explosives to round out the arsenal. Those are necessary for dealing with some of the mutants that are running amok in Artyom, and which can’t really be eliminated via stealth. When you’re in the dark, sneaking about, you’ll rely on different things, such as your excess of patience and a handy gadget.
That handy gadget is the main character’s watch, which tells you how visible you are to the enemy. You will also want to get rid of any light, such as light bulbs. Operating in the dark gives you free reign; you can choose when and how you want to dispatch the guards in the area, and observation and timing are necessary. You have to hide bodies because if you don’t, they can be found and enemies will go on the alert. At that point, your life becomes much more complicated, as they’ll actively search for you, which can really put a crimp in your well-laid plans. In addition to stealth, you have to keep your gas mask functional. If a foe breaks it, you better find another one…quick. This mechanic is good in theory but is only average in execution.
The pacing feels just about right, as extended periods of sneaking will be followed by some intense face-offs with mutants and other wackos. There are a few mechanical issues, though, and they unfortunately affect the stealth aspect of the adventure. Control isn’t as tight and precise as one would hope, and the predictability of the AI leaves something to be desired. The animations are good, though not perfect, and the lack of direction can get annoying. I’m not a fan of handholding or anything but sometimes the game almost feels a little prohibitive, at least from a normal gamer’s standpoint. That being said, the hardcore will definitely appreciate the challenge, as they often complain about modern-day handholding.
There are also a few bugs and glitches. The game crashed once and there are some obvious collision detection problems when it comes to disposing of bodies. The game just doesn’t feel particularly solid and stable, that’s all. But beyond that, there’s a lot to like here, especially where the story and diverse gameplay is concerned. It’s true that the plot didn’t take the direction I had hoped, but it’s still well-written and the atmosphere is absolutely fantastic. Next to Bioshock Infinite, I’d say this game has the most immersive environment of 2013 so far. That alone makes this an adventure worth taking; it’s doubly worth it if you’re a stealth aficionado.
Yes, you need some patience for Metro: Last Light. You need tact and a steady, strategic approach. There are moments of flat-out shooting action, but those certainly aren’t highlights of this production. The plot has its moments, the various backdrops and well-paced and various gameplay is great, and the challenge is significant. I see a missed opportunity with the story, the AI can be iffy, and the game isn’t as stable as one would like. Still, there’s no denying that Last Light is worth your money and your time, particularly because you won’t soon find another game quite like it.
The Good: Fantastic, immersive atmosphere. Great Russian voice acting. Potentially compelling storyline. Well-balanced, challenging gameplay. Good control. Exploration and experimentation is rewarding throughout.
The Bad: AI is questionable. Unstable with a few glitches and bugs. Missed opportunity with the plot.
The Ugly: “Don’t you dare freeze on me…not now…”
5/14/2013 Ben Dutka