The production of Metro Last Light was so troubled many consumers assumed it would be the death of the title. The game’s prequel, an adaptation of Dmitry Glukhovsky’s novel Metro 2033, found its audience on the 360 but was overlooked due to certain gameplay issues and being overshadowed by more high-profile titles at the time. Last Light was overseen by THQ and was still in development when the publisher finally collapsed, putting it in production hell. The project, team and rights were obtained by Deep Silver and ancillary features like multiplayer were cut. In many other situations this would lead to a shoddy, uneven or subpar product. Yet, despite these complications, Metro: Last Light is an absolutely entertaining experience.
The year is 2034, and what little remains of humanity in the wake of a nuclear war twenty years ago are carving out a meager existence in Moscow’s underground subway system. It has been at least a couple of months since a massive slaughter of potentially dangerous telepathic mutants called the Dark Ones, orchestrated by the protagonist, Artyom, who has been promoted to the prestigious rank of Ranger of his local government, the Spartan Order. His latest mission is to explore the rumors that the Dark Ones may still prowl the tunnels, but eventually spirals into a conspiracy of war between the Communist Red Line and the fascist Reich. To prevent such conflict in the Metro, Artyom will have to explore the radiated surface and fight against anything human or otherwise in order to expose the truth, or witness humanity’s last breath.
To put my cards on the table, I have not played Metro 2033. Artyom’s exploits in the first game in the survival-horror shooter series and how they return or influence the narrative in Last Light is something I cannot comment on. Which makes the fact that Metro Last Light does a great job at world building all the more impressive. Military grade ammunition is used as currency, or as emergency firepower in intense situations. Marketplaces bustle with activity. You even see soldiers play music, discuss current events or play chess in their downtime. All of this really goes a long way to help you believe that this is a world that feels lived in, adding weight to what is at stake.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of Artyom. During the game’s conservatively used cutscenes and loading screens, Artyom gives a voice-over that helps characterize his current state of mind. There are also collectible notepads that help flesh out the world from Artyom’s point-of-view. However, Artyom is a mute protagonist. No matter what transpires, Artyom doesn’t speak. Whenever control is taken away from the player, Artyom behaves in a proactive way, but not a single word is ever spoken in-game. It truly is a missed opportunity that almost completely undermines some major parts of the story, especially an otherwise well put together love interest.
Gameplay wise, Metro Last Light is solid all around. You will be stalking around the underground tunnels with a gun in hand, dealing with either human enemies or the mutated monstrosities up above. Each level is open enough to allow either an aggressive run-and-gun approach, or a more meticulous stealth approach. Regardless of which method is chosen, such encounters are intense. The stealth system does a great job of tracking your visibility and the challenge revolves around manipulating the lighting around you. Waiting for just the right opportunity to shoot out a spotlight and sneak past two armored guards holds just as much satisfaction and reward if you were to just fire at them from behind cover. As for sneaking past mutated creatures, it is possible, but chances are it will turn into panic-inducing fight for your life.
If there is something holding the otherwise great level design back it is linearity. The slower moments in the game where you are in populated areas are linear in order to give the narrative a strong focus, that isn’t the issue. But, it is when the game switches to its action sections that some issues arise. More than once, I caught myself going around in circles on the map, trying to find the one way out of a large open area to continue to the next area, which ultimately ended with my otherwise flawless unseen infiltration turning into a blood bath bodycount of twenty-three.
If there is one thing Metro Last Light excels at, it would have to be its atmosphere. 4A Studios really delivers on what it sets out to be. The game goes seamlessly from being a pulse-pounding horror experience while in the caves with only a flashlight to guide you, to morose journeys through the ruins of post-war Moscow to intense action when guns are on all sides and one false move means death. There are some unusual glitches at times, such as momentary screen freezing, moments where the character models dip out of sight then snap back into place, but these are very rare don’t completely break immersion. In terms of detail, the game is great, from the monsters to the art direction of the metro to the character models, even if the faces dip into uncanny valley territory.
The folly effects in Last Light are impressive as well. Ambient sounds like water dripping, the buzz of a flashlight, all of these are on display and help reinforce the atmosphere. The voice-acting is serviceable as well. No big name actors to speak of are behind the mic, but every single one of them helped make characters that will stick in your head.
Metro Last Light was a pleasant surprise. As well as being a serviceable sequel, it is still a great self-contained experience. The campaign is a solid 12 or so hours long, and the story within is one well told. It manages to balance intense horror and resource management with engaging stealth and tight gunplay, all while delivering well-crafted characters and an engrossing story. It’s been a while since a game’s replay value has come purely from its single-player campaign alone, and Last Light stands as one of them.
If you can forgive an unusually tight-lipped hero and some restrictive linearity, then Metro Last Light is a great experience to be had. Chances are if you are a fan of Metro 2033 then Last Light will serve as a great follow-up, but even if you are not, there is still some entertainment to be had.
AAG SCORE: 8.5/10
+ Great Story and World Building
+ Satisfying Action and Stealth
+ Robust Campaign Length
– Mute Protagonist Clashes With Story
– Levels Can Get Very Linear