Kiev, Ukraine. A crew works towards their goal. They don’t have the best resources, but they make do. It’s cold. their workspace is cramped. And the heating hasn’t been on for a while. But their creative fire won’t be snuffed out. If that sounds like an underdog story from a video game, you might be surprised to find it’s closer to fact than fiction.
Ukrainian developer 4A games toiled through delays, the bankruptcy of their publisher THQ, and some rather unfavourable development conditions to bring their creation into the light, so to speak. Their triumph, Metro: Last Light, is the sequel to their previous effort, Metro 2033, an FPS set in the claustrophobic metro systems of a future, post-apocalyptic Moscow. PS3 gamers were kept in the dark, as Metro 2033 was released only on the Xbox 360 and PC, but get to enter the metro for the very first time. Is the trip worth it, or should Metro: Last Light be shunned to a dark corner? My review continues after the jump.
Those familiar with the goings-on in Metro 2033 shouldn’t have any trouble getting to grips with the story in Metro: Last Light. Newcomers might be a little confused by the in-media-res experience, though, as they are jolted into the story. Some light reading is recommended if you need a catch-up. Depending on their choices in Metro 2033, the player could have unlocked one of two endings, but Metro: Last Light pre-supposes that the destructive option was selected by the game’s protagonist, Artyom. It is 2034 and the survivor, now a Ranger, is plagued by the decision that he had to make, but has to set that aside because the metro is in dire trouble again.
Moscow is on the brink of an underground civil war. Resources are scarce, and the remaining survivor factions all covet them. It is in this volatile time that Artyom is tasked on an important mission, only to find it part of a larger conspiracy. DUN DUN DUUUUNNN!!! I don’t want to spoil anything so let’s say the story in Metro: Last Light is a serviceable one. Because Artyom is the silent (but violent) type, the cast of supporting characters tend to over-quality everything they say to keep you aware of the situation and also Artyom’s intentions and feelings. As a result, the dialogue can be a bit wooden and distinctly one-sided. The only time we hear from Artyom is during the loading screens between levels.
Metro: Last Light features a minimal HUD. There are no ammo counters to speak of. No enemy indicators or enemy sight cones. No flashing indicator to tell you where the exit is. You can’t tag enemies. This game has none of the “conveniences” of modern games. It’s bare bones, and that’s a good thing for the most part. Sometimes a little direction would have been nice, especially in large open areas where you are given the most basic of instructions. However, if you do get lost, the compass in your journal will point you in the right direction. I only found this out late in the game but thankfully the checkpointing system is good, so you do not find yourself repeating actions too often if you happen to catch a few bullets to the head or run out of filters for your rebreather.
In some hazardous areas of the metro (and above it), you will need to use your gas mask to survive the noxious air. You only have a few filters that give you precious minutes of breathing time, so you need to kill, scavenge, and get out before you are overcome by the toxic air. Often times, it’s running out filters for your rebreather that will kill you, as opposed to the enemies. Well, the human enemies at least. Stealth is key to keeping things on the down-low but if your enemies are alerted to your presence, some of them just seem to run about wildly back and forth on a prescribed path. They’re so dumb that they think that socialism is another word for partying. The mutated monsters at least have their thinking caps on and pose more of a challenge. If they get a bead on you, they make a beeline for you or try a flanking manoeuvre.
The normal difficulty shouldn’t post too much trouble to the experienced FPS player, but they can’t easily bump up the difficulty as they might have done in other games. Unless you happened to have pre-ordered the game, Metro: Last Light hides its HUD-less hardcore difficulty—Ranger Mode—behind a paywall. This money-grubbing was reportedly done at the insistence of the now defunct publisher THQ, but but 4A Games’ new publisher Koch Media supported the decision, noting that Ranger Mode is aimed at the hardcore fans who would have pre-ordered the game in any case. I don’t know about you but I think that cheapens the experience. If the mode is advertised as “the way it was meant to be played”, shouldn’t the people who buy the game have access to it? The segregation is little disappointing.
What isn’t disappointing is the gunplay. Whether it be against human or mutant foes, stealth or up close, the weapons in Metro: Last Light can be suited to your needs. There is a great selection of guns including makeshift pistols, aged bolt-action rifles, automatic revolving shotguns, reliable assault rifles, and the infamous “Bastard” that jams on you at the most vital moment. You have three slots of weapons and unlike some other games that only allow one gun of a certain type, here you can choose any gun to fill those slots. Attachments like IR scopes and muzzles aid the would-be assassin while quad-barrel shotguns and extended magazines are good for direct meetings with enemies.
For most of the time, I could not shake the sense of dread in Metro: Last Light, even in the open areas. Given the subject material, the locations aren’t exactly eye-catching, but the claustrophobic setting and atmosphere is ably brought to life by 4A Games’s second-generation engine.While the environment textures could have been a bit better, the characters are detailed and animated well. Given their makeshift designs, the guns look good too. The frame rate is fine except for one or two boss fights where there’s a noticeable drop. There were a few screen tearing issues too and some glitches, but nothing game-breaking. The soundtrack fits like a glove, mournful at times and menacing at others. The air is thick with Russian accents, which makes for a refreshing change from the norm. There are many things to like about Metro: Last Light, so much so that the drawbacks take a backseat on this trip. With its solid gunplay, intriguing storyline, and absorbing atmosphere, Metro: Last Light held my attention right up until the last bullet was fired. It’s a journey I shall not soon forget. Diakuju (thank you), 4A Games.
Final Score: 9 underground prawns out of 10
Developer: 4A Games
Publisher: Deep Silver
Distributor: Apex Interactive
Platforms: PS3, Xbox360 (reviewed), PC