Metro: Last Light is 4A Games’ beautifully stunning sequel to the 2010 hit game Metro 2033.
Once again, the game is based around Atryom, the protagonist of Metro 2033, and set in the same universe as Dmitry Glukhovsky’s book, also titled Metro 2033. Last Light, however, does not follow the story of the book Metro 2034, which explains why the name of the game was changed mid-production. Some of you may be put off by the idea of non-canonical games, but don’t worry because not only did Glukovsky collaborate on Last Light, but he’s actually used it for the basis of his upcoming book Metro 2035. This game is about as canonical as you can get.
Speaking of canon, Last Light continues on from the canonical ending of 2033 (though we won’t spoil that here for you). In the post-apocalyptic world of Metro, the last remaining humans and the next step in human evolution – the mutants – are at constant war with each-other. The leaders of this mutant race, the Dark Ones, were your main enemy in 2033. At the beginning of Last Light you believe the threat has largely subsided, and your role as the Saviour of the Metro is to clean up any Dark Ones left behind in order that you may win the war for good.
Anyone who has seen Metro 2033‘s good/secret ending will instantly understand why Artyom feels a bit down on himself, so playing as Atryom the Asshole is a bit off-putting. This being said, as off-putting as playing as a “different” Artyom is, Last Light is well worth sticking with. It’s not perfect, but it a rare example of a very, very good game. Last Light is FPS survival horror done right, and is well worth your time.
The biggest problem with Metro 2033 was that the story started out brilliantly, peaked about 2/3rds of the way in, and then went to crazy-town. At times, it almost felt like they’d handed script-writing duties over to David Cage.
As you strove towards your goal of obliterating the mutants in 2033, the burden of what you were about to do weighed heavy on Artyom’s heart, and the story gripped you as you pressed on, with Artyom knowing what he had to do, but also what he could not do. But suddenly, instead of being a story about post-apocalyptic survival and the cyclical nature of war, you found yourself in a story of psychics, the supernatural and everything just went a bit mental. It was jarring back then, and it’s equally annoying this time around when the same thing happens in Last Light.
As is custom with the FPS genre, your first mission in Last Light goes bad. Your party is either killed or captured and you’re the only one who can get them back. As contrived as it sounds, this is the start of what turns out to be a very compelling campaign. You fight your way through Nazi dungeons and Communist-held Metro Stations, seeing each faction preparing for a final all-out war with the enemy Stations and neutral Stations alike. You get to see how bad the world is through your very own eyes, adding weight to what happened in the first game. You befriend a young Dark One – barely a child and perhaps the only one left that you didn’t manage to kill. Instead of exacting its revenge upon you, you work together, striving to stop humanity from wiping itself out completely. The story in Last Light is nothing short of fascinating, drawing you ever-deeper into the wretched mess that humanity has become in order to survive this self-imposed nuclear winter, while making the Mutants feel more relatable rather than simply one-dimensional monsters.
About 2/3rds of the way through though, Metro: Last Light becomes a tale of supernatural abilities, time travel and hocus-pocus. As jarring as this is, it’s still worth sticking through to the conclusion, it’s just disappointing that the developers fell back on cliche and standard sci-fi/ horror tropes.
The presentation in Last Light truly is impeccable. Once again, walking through the Metro is both grueling and awe-inspiring; not only are the graphics stunning, but the world is so thoroughly immersive that it’s very easy to forget that you’re playing a game; this is even true when you have the language options set to Russian with English subtitles. Walking around the Metro you will see NPCs sit and have conversations that don’t pertain to you, but will sit and talk for minutes at a time. You can very easily get lost in this underground safe haven, taking in the culture and soaking in the atmosphere until something catches your eye and you know instinctively it’s not right. You see an aged picture, once drawn by a small child with trees and sunshine. There are children playing happily and you realise that none of those things are part of your world anymore – the artist either long dead or grown up and of your own age. None of the children in the Metro have ever seen the light of day. None of them are safe.
Unfortunately, this incredible level of effort in world-building and stunning attention to detail is wasted every time Last Light freezes up or crashes. Screen-tear is a common problem across all platforms, even on high-end PCs. The console versions are known to crash altogether, and struggle with irritating bugs such as weapons disappearing from your inventory when you swap them out. Last Light is a survival horror game; ammo conservation is key to survival. As with Metro 2033, ammo is scarce and military grade ammunition is still your only currency – when the game makes you lose your weapons along with any ammo you have loaded into them, you are left swearing at a game which is far more of a struggle to play than 4A ever intended. Hopefully these issues will be eradicated when Metro: Redux (a bundle of both games with various gameplay and engine tweaks) is released in the next couple of months.
Your real struggle in Last Light is however, just that – survival. The world above the Metro is just as terrifyingly beautiful as it is in the tunnels; the main difference between the two is the combat in each scenario is a completely different kettle of fish. Below ground your mission is to rescue your squadmates, keep the citizens of the Metro safe from the Nazis, Communists and mutants; despite killing almost all of the Dark Ones, your mission is far from over in terms of eradicating the mutants entirely.
Fortunately, the sections below ground are fairly easy. It is entirely possible (and highly recommended) to play Last Light in a stealthy manner, unscrewing or shooting out lightbulbs, and quietly knifing guards to death to avoid detection. It boosts the oppressive atmosphere and tension, and leads to an altogether more satisfying experience than running through the game and playing it as your typical FPS. Unfortunately once spotted, stealth goes out the (train) window, and you’re in an all-out firefight. The human-enemy AI is bloody awful – enemy guards will simply hunker down and forget what they are doing, making it painfully easy to flank them. You can very easily run circles around enemies in their own bases, despite having no prior knowledge of the game layout. The AI is that bad. You can amp up the dificulty by allowing the enemies to kill you with one shot, but that doesn’t improve their AI – it just makes you play more stealthily.
By contrast, this stealthy approach doesn’t work on the surface, leaving you with the only options to either run in all–guns-blazing, or run like your ass is on fire. The scarcity of ammo means that the guns-blazing approach can very easily get you killed, and the mutant enemy AI is a lot better than that of the human enemies, meaning the mutants will very quickly outflank you if you don’t keep moving and shooting. There is a staggering difference in difficulty between the surface and the Metro sections, and that’s before you factor in the survival horror aspects of Last Light.
Once again, as with Metro 2033, Artyom cannot simply run around the surface like John Rambo. Gas masks keep you alive, assuming you have the filters to keep them working, and you don’t attack your enemies with your face; taking too much damage from the front will crack your gas mask, and you will asphyxiate and die if you do not find a replacement. Fortunately they’re pretty much everywhere, unlike in 2033 where you had to work to find a new mask at times. You still can’t afford to dilly-dally though, because once you run out of filters, you will start to suffocate. Just like 2033, listening to Artyom gasp for breath as he dies is the most ghastly thing you will hear in a game. That shit is horrifying.
While this disparity in difficulty can be quite jarring at first – especially if you approach the surface with a poorly-stocked arsenal – it does at the very least make you feel safe and relieved diving into the Metro at the end of a long run across the surface. That really is saying something – it may seem like hell, constantly fighting for your survival in your new world below the ground, but at least it’s not the surface. That place is just scary.
Metro: Last Light is by no means perfect. It is, however, a very good sequel to the canonical (albeit a bit rubbish) ending to Metro 2033. If you loved 2033, you will find much of the same in Last Light. Both games are thoroughly compelling, adding survival horror to the FPS genre in ways which no other game has done in quite the same way. Both come highly recommended, but if you don’t already own them, we’d recommend holding fire until Metro Redux is on the shelves. This updated version of the game is not only just an incredible facelift on both games, but will run a new iteration of the game engine. This should, with a little bit of luck, iron out the AI kinks and technical issues which hold Last Light back from fulfilling its potential as one of the greatest FPS horror games that money can buy.