They say time is the fire in which we burn. This has never been made more evident than in Metro Last Light. Taking place in the scorched shadow of 21st century Russia, Metro Last Light is astonishing in how it portrays its post-apocalyptic environment. Once filled with people going about their daily business, families and their children spending time together, and the peace of content, Metro Last Light’s nuclear wasteland offers another kind of stillness. It’s an uncomfortable silence of a once living and surface dwelling society. You are given glimpses into what past life was like and then quickly snapped back to how horribly bleak it has become. Your mind feels the pain of loss at what once was and the fear of survival in this brutal new world.
However not all is lost. Hope remains as you are once again cast in the role of Artyom. As with its predecessor, Metro 2033, Last Light places you in the remains of a nuclear devastated Moscow. People have fled underground and carved out a desperate living in the metro tunnel system. As you walk around these various metro cities you see the hardship the people of the Metro live with day to day. Last Light assumes you chose the dark ending of the first game and decided to launch a missile strike against the mysterious Dark Ones and their home on the surface, wiping them all out. Yet a single Dark Ones seems to have survived and Last Light has you tracking it down while you not only face off against dangerous mutants, but also violent human factions.
Arytom’s guilt over the destruction of the Dark Ones is an internal struggle that gives the game a brooding sense as you search for this survivor. In the previous game Artyom is shown to have a strange psychic connection to the Dark Ones. Last Light is layered with supernatural forces that add further mystery to the atmosphere. While these supernatural elements almost become too cerebral at times, they do serve the narrative and keep you pushing forward to the conclusion.
The story moments remain in first-person perspective in order to better serve the narrative and keep the emersion intact. Often I find that cutscenes, while cinematic and enjoyable, do pull me out of the experience I’m playing. The shooting mechanics are top notch and very solid. Each shot fired has a realistic feel and doesn’t rely on loud booming sounds to convey a sense of impact and weight. The weapons are a mash-up of pieced together parts and have a very time worn feel. This is not a military action shooter. Your goal is not to slaughter hundreds of nameless faces as you progress from point A to point B. Metro Last Light requires patience and planning in the kills. You are not a super solider with the ability to soak up dozens of bullets. In fact, the game encourages stealth and precision. I play most games on the hardest difficulty and Ranger mode, which limits hud, ammo, and increases the difficulty even further is my preferred way to play. It forces stealth in this mode, yet the blissful tension the game is masterful at creating is also increased to a panic level that makes every encounter sinister in its challenge, yet gives an exhilarating feeling of relief when you survive and press forward deeper into the narrative. Go in guns blazing, and you will fail. On easier difficulties, you can run and gun and you will have some success as one of the game’s biggest drawbacks is that the enemy AI can be pretty dumb at times.
Another one of Last Light’s strengths is the way in which the interactions with NPCs work to create a different emotional setting outside of the panic and fear of the linear missions. You will overhear conversations between friends, parents and their children and rivals. You can watch a variety show that gives the impression that even in this pit of despair the human race is living in; they work to create some happiness and entertainment for their well-being. There is sex in the game and with it comes a feeling of urgency that adds another layer to the already tense environment. The nudity can be a bit jarring as it comes when you don’t expect it and seems to remain a little too long for its own good. But in a world such as the Metro, one would expect to see the base instincts of human nature and Last Light does not stray from that.
As you travel above ground across the irradiated wasteland you are once again required to wear a gasmask at all times and keep a watchful eye on how much time your air filter has left before you suffocate and die. This adds such beautiful realism to the game as you find yourself shooting and running for your life sometimes only getting to the safety of the underground only seconds away from death before you take off your mask. The creatures on the surface are once again varied and threatening. Their AI works differently than the human enemies. They have a more all in approach and will mob and maul you to death without mercy or hesitation. The surface creatures seem to lurk and wait in every corner, behind walls, and in the deadly waters above. The human enemies can be faced with force or with silence. There is an achievement for not killing any humans in the game and for those out there who love these kinds of challenges; you will not be disappointed here. Stealth is not merely sneaking by crouched in the shadows. Last Light allowed you to interact with the environments, unscrewing light bulbs and shutting off breakers to conceal yourself in darkness. You have a meter that lights up when you are visible and the crescendo of trumpets that sounds as you are being spotted is in itself enough tension to cause you to dash for the shadows purely on instinct. I live for the tension stealth gameplay gives and Last Light delivers it in spades. My only complaint is that stealth only works when facing human enemies. The mutants, both above ground and below, cannot be avoided and you will need firepower to take them down. Speaking of firepower, once again there are two types of ammo in the game. A standard type that is homemade and easy to find and the more rare military grade ammunition that also acts as the game’s currency. When used the military grade ammo is a lot more powerful. But run out and you will curse yourself for using it when you can’t purchase anything from the various vendors throughout the Metro.
Sound and Graphics
The sound design and graphics are some of the best I’ve seen recently. I played the game on the PC and was amazed at how beautiful the game looked and how realistic and creepy every sound was. This is definitely a game to play with headphones in the dark if you want the full experience. I just hope you don’t have heart issues because you will be scared and take by surprise more than once. The sounds of claws scratching against walls or the low pre-attack growls of the mutants as they track you will give you goose-bumps and a lump in your throat as you quickly think about your survival and how best to achieve it. Walking around the surface and seeing the photo-realistic lighting and effects makes you want to take off your gas mask and soak it in. However, you are quickly reminded that doing so means your death.
Metro Last Light is a game that gives the player many varied moments to stop and breathe in the atmosphere it creates. While the enemy AI isn’t the best in the business, and the game is a mostly linear affair, it still manages to create tension in every encounter and offers a satisfying mix of stealth, shooting, and wonderful pacing throughout. The story is emotional and touching and deals with the loss and hope in a way you won’t soon forget.