Metro 2033 garnered quite a bit of critical acclaim when it exploded onto the scene back in 2010. Based on the fiction of Russian author Dmitry Glukhovsky, it offered a deeply atmospheric, post-apocalyptic linear shooter experience. Now, out of the ashes of the THQ meltdown, 4A Games brings us the sequel, Metro: Last Light, this time published by Deep Silver. How does it fare? Read on, dear Rangers…
After winter comes the spring.
In many ways Last Light is the spring to 2033’s winter. Artyom, the returning protagonist from the first game, has a home, has friends, has a position among the Spartan Rangers. His life is blooming. But he is haunted by the darkness of winter – namely, his decision to launch the missiles that destroyed the mysterious Dark Ones. When his former guide Kahn comes to find him at the now-Ranger-controlled D6 bunker to tell him of a child Dark One he has seen on the surface, Artyom must once again journey across the labyrinthine tunnels of the Moscow metro system to undo his genocide, and perhaps find redemption.
Where 2033 was a tale of discovery of the other, Last Light is a quest for personal redemption amongst human destruction. Last Light is defined by guilt. Artyom cannot help but question his decision, and whether he wiped out a peaceful race of creatures under false pretences. Around him, the various factions that occupy the metro have heard of the D6 bunker’s weaponry and treasures, and a genuine arms race is beginning. Artyom must balance his quest for his redemption and the rebuilding of the Dark Ones with his obligations to the Spartan Rangers and the human freedom they represent.
Metro: Last Light’s story is a lot faster-paced than Metro 2033’s was. Artyom frequently finds himself behind in the race for power, playing catch-up. It suits the newer direction and themes of Last Light well, and rarely feels forced or confusing. To add to the ambience, a range of notes can be found scattered amongst the rubble that help flesh out the back stories of the characters involved. It perhaps isn’t as compelling a mystery as its predecessor, but it compensates with its pace and human focus.
For quite a lot of the 10-14 hour game, Artyom seems to have a companion character. Even if they’re not constantly right in front of or behind you – although there is quite a bit of that too – there is always a sense of their closeness. It’s a mixed blessing – it fits in well with the fresher themes and ideas of the new Metro, but the game is truly at its best when Artyom is alone.
What distinguishes the Metro series from its corridor shooter contemporaries is the setting. The cramped, claustrophobic interiors draped in shadows, echoing monster cries and distant gunshots. The lived-in soup of human desperation and survival that
characterises the metro stations. The blasted, toxic wastelands and nuclear winds of post-war Moscow. All return, as atmospheric as ever, with a slight twist. It’s springtime for Moscow, and Metro-ites. That means a thaw, and water, and greenery. Growth.
There is a new edge to the people of the metro system – you can sense a dread anticipation. But there is also a sense of hope, of change, of potential. Kids are about in the stations, learning and discovering. And above ground, there are storms and rains. Sunlight glances through the clouds. Grass and trees are green and fresh. No less toxic, but it’s a hint of a brighter future on the surface. It perfectly sets up the more human struggles faced by Artyom and the Metro dwellers – a time after the cold, where the new growth must decide whether it will be positive or negative.
Overall, combat has received a few small tweaks. Artyom feels stronger and faster – as well he should, considering his admittance into and training with the Spartan Rangers. Hit indicators create a great sense of visual feedback, allowing you to see and hear roughly how much damage you are doing, or whether you are shooting at armour or flesh. There some new types of mutants, but beasts are much rarer in the metro tunnels. The abundance of Nosalises gives way to new dominant mutant types. Underground has skittering arachnids – both spiders and scorpions – that have heavily armoured carapaces, but are vulnerable to bright light. Eliminating them hinges on a charged up headlamp to expose their soft underbellies and then a swift bullet or stab for the despatch. Above ground, the swampy areas are populated by the Shrimps – again, heavily armoured on top but with soft bellies. The small amphibious Shrimp bite or, at a distance, spit acid that hurts and dirties your gas mask. Larger, stronger beasts will also emerge from the tainted waters, sporting two swiping forearms that can pack a punch from a decent range. Fighting these armoured mutants requires different tactics compared to the more familiar Nosalises and Watchers, which spices up combat a bit, although fighting waves of the same mutants over and over does get slightly repetitive.
New to the mix are boss battles. A few times during the game, Artyom will find himself encountering larger, stronger, unique mutants in small arenas. The bosses are not particularly inventive or complicated to fight – most boss battles essentially boiling down to shoot it until it dies while dodging their attacks. They also tend to be bullet sponges, soaking up plenty of valuable resources. The boss battles are not spectacularly bad, but they’re not a high point either.
Underground, Artyom is more likely to encounter enemies of the human variety, and this is where the meat of the combat takes place. The Reds and the Nazis are mobilising, occupying more territory and planning final pushes. Fighting humans is a precarious and risky business, with their guns and grenades doing plenty of damage to Artyom. A frontal assault against an entrenched army is possible, but not ideal from a survival or resource standpoint. Instead, almost all fights can be approached stealthily, allowing Artyom to ghost his way through several stations and outposts.
The stealth approach is one you’ll probably find yourself favouring, thanks to the more generous stealth mechanics. Where Metro 2033’s stealth levels were perhaps a little difficult, it seems Last Light has overcompensated for that difficulty somewhat. Artyom is a stealth god, and all his enemies must be blind and deaf considering how close you are able to walk to them. Instead of the three stage visibility system, Last Light uses a two stage system – you are either visible, or invisible. In the dark, Artyom can practically run circles around a goon without them so much as batting an eyelid. Spring an alarm, though, and you will have to contend with heavily armoured guards, and possibly even gas. Numerous sound cues aid your stealth gameplay. A sheathing noise will sound when you are in melee takedown range of an enemy. Additionally, when you’re visible and an enemy is looking your way, a rising violin screech will alert you that you need to get scarce quick. They all serve as effective markers that help Artyom stay hidden and efficiently eliminate everyone everywhere. Stealth paths through levels also seem easier to pick, with observation and patience replaced with waiting for a guard to move into the shadows so you can sock him one in the face.
And Arty packs quite a punch. Get close enough to someone – aware to your presence or not – and you can either punch them out with the use button, or kill them with your trench knife using your melee button. Both actions are one hit takedowns, with the former being non-lethal. It makes the most complicated aspect of stealth body placement and the management of non-extinguishable light sources.
The weapon system has received a slight adaptation. Instead of dedicated pistol, primary, and secondary slots for weapons, Artyom can now carry any three weapons he wishes. He can also carry four types of throwables – grenades, incendiary grenades, claymore mines, or throwing knives – of which one at a time can be equipped to a throw key. There is also a dedicated melee key, which is used for melee attacks or takedowns, instead of equipping the trench knife as a weapon. Weapons are controlled through the new weapon menu. Pressing Tab brings up the weapon menu, slowing time considerably and displaying plenty of useful information. Along the top, you’ll see how much of each type of ammunition you have. Down the bottom you can see your medkits and how much gas mask time you have available. You can also view your weapon and their attachments, and select which gun or throwable you have equipped. This screen also allows you to choose between dirty rounds or military grade ammo for your rifles. It’s not the cleanest UI I’ve ever seen, but it’s sufficiently functional once you get used to it.
An extension of the original weapon system to include a mechanism for attaching modifications to your guns is incredibly welcome. Gone is the pot-luck fixed attachment system of 2033. Instead, attachments can be added or removed at a weapons dealer – for a price, of course. That means I can have my revolver with a 2x scope, silencer, stock, and laser sight for mid-range stealth sniping, as well as my extended barrel reflex sight shotgun for pesky Nosalis encounters.
Gameplay-wise, Last Light is definitely a more streamlined experience. “Streamlined” is not a pejorative, either – the core mechanics are very much intact. The developers have obviously put time into examining some of the more obtuse mechanics of 2033 and worked hard to polish their implementation. For example, when looting a body, there is a single pick up command that will loot said body of all their items – gone are the days of tapping half a dozen times to grab every skerrick of wayward ammo, or missing out on valuable shells because the body fell forwards and was rendered unlootable. One button, one press, every bullet.
Your methods of illuminating the environment have adapted. Artyom still carries his trusty headlamp and pneumatic charger, with a tiny difference – if your torch is fully charged Artyom will refuse to use the charger, and if you are charging, he will stop when it reaches full charge. It’s a nice touch that prevents unnecessary or excessive charging. Artyom can also equip his lighter by tapping the journal button. The lighter is a valuable tool, able to burn the abundant spider webs that slow you down. It also doubles as a minor light source when you are without your headlamp or night vision goggles.
The gas mask filter system has also become simpler to understand. Each filter you pick up gives you five minutes of mask time. Upon donning your mask, Artyom will start a five minute timer on his digital watch. This counts down the time to when your filter becomes ineffective. Changing your filter restarts the five minute timer. Instead of having a number of filters in your inventory and each use consuming one, picking up a filter will add to the total time you can use your mask for. You can check this total time by opening your weapon menu. It means that you always know how long you can stay on the surface for, and how long you have until you must change your filter. Clarity without sacrificing complexity.
One area in which the balance tweaking goes a little too far is in the sheer abundance of equipment. There was more of everything. More ammo, more grenades, more filters, more everything. For reference, playing on normal difficulty, I started the last chapter of the game with 1455 military grade rounds. Admittedly, I do favour a very conservative play style – I used a lot of stealth takedowns and throwing knives, explored thoroughly, traded in lots of guns and ammunition at armourers, and never shot a single military round. Even when I was above ground fighting mutants, who don’t drop ammo, I still managed to keep my arsenal topped up to the maximum.
Which brings us to Ranger difficulty. The hardest difficulty, touted as the way the game is meant to be played. Unless you preordered, it’s DLC. Paid DLC. $5. Considering how easy it is on normal difficulty, hardcore fans will be after a challenge. And they have to pay. $5.
Metro 2033 deservedly earned a reputation as a visual benchmark – the next Crysis for GPU enthusiasts. Running on its predecessor’s 4A Engine, Metro Last Light looks better than ever. Every location’s grime and detritus is beautifully recreated on the screen, with scars and gauges in walls given depth by copious tessellation. Stunning lighting effects halo around lanterns, fires flicker shadows across walls, and bright coronas appear on your gas mask’s glass. The world looks best through the filter of a gas mask – fingerprints on the glass, spider cracks around the outside, droplets of condensation, smears of blood and mud, the fog of stale air behind a used filter – it all looks utterly gorgeous. It’s still impossible to change individual advanced graphics settings on and off in the menu, which is disappointing, but the presets are functional enough. You’ll need a beefy system to get the most out of the visuals, but the game still looks stellar on lower settings. Performance does not vary too much, however you will take a framerate hit in the people-thick Metro stations.
As is expected, sound design is wonderful. Gunshots echo hollowly through the hard tunnels, with bullets impacting on concrete with a sufficiently dull thump, or pinging off a metal door or plate of armour.Guns sound rough and home-made, with the dirty bullets producing a suitably weak pop to military grade ammunition’s full-bodied snap. Monsters growl in the distance, menacing from the shadows, querying your safety. Metro stations themselves are full of crowded chatter, and the noises of those fighting for existence. The auditory clutter does an impeccable job of communicating the chaotic lives of those in the metro stations. Above ground is a whole new experience, with a much more organic, vibrant, living ambience greeting your ears. Where Metro 2033’s above ground Moscow was a desolate and quiet place, in Last Light new life has come to Moscow, and you can hear it all around.
Metro 2033 was an atmospheric gem, one that immersed players in a fully realised world and gave them a complex story with real characters. Metro Last Light is a refinement of the formula, delivering the same calibre of atmosphere and storytelling while improving upon many of the under-explained mechanics. It may have lost a smidgen of its difficulty to accessibility on normal, but that doesn’t detract from the overall quality experience 4A deliver with Metro: Last Light.
(Reviewed on PC. Review code supplied by Deep Silver. Thank you.)
ONLY SINGLE PLAYER SCORE
Story – 9/10
Gameplay/Design – 9/10
Visuals – 10/10
Sound – 9.5/10
Lasting Appeal – 9/10
Overall – 9.5/10
(Not an average)
Platforms: PC, Playstation 3, Xbox 360
Developer: 4A Games
Publisher: Deep Silver, formerly THQ
Ratings: M (ESRB), 18 (PEGI)