(PC Review) Metro: Last Light

Developer: 4A Games
Publisher: Deep Silver
Genre: First-Person Shooter
Players: 1
ESRB: Mature
Reviewer: Philip Smith

Overall: 8.5 = Excellent

Minimum Requirements:
Dual Core CPU (2.2+ GHz Dual Core CPU or better), 2 GB RAM, Nvidia GeForce 8800 GT 512MB

Helmeted mutant-slayer Artyom finds himself once again facing the horrors of a post-apocalyptic world in Metro: Last Light. He might be facing similar challenges, but he’s not the same man. Instead of a green recruit fighting to stand his ground against the worst of the wastes, he’s now a Spartan Ranger, accepted after his attack on the Dark Ones at the end of Metro 2033. After helping to secure much of the once-hidden underground government base known as D6, along with its technology and weaponry, he and his fellow Rangers now find themselves guardians of the past’s greatest treasures. Their newfound windfall has come at a price, however, as civil war now looms on the horizon.

The Ranger’s hold on D6 is tenuous at the start of the game, but it’s growing increasingly stronger as they make their way through the sprawling complex, mapping its labyrinthine tunnels, cataloging its wares, and clearing it of mutants. As they occupy themselves with fortification, the other major Metro factions—the fascist Fourth Reich and the communist Red Line—are busily preparing their forces in an attempt to stake their claim to D6’s vast riches. As rumor spreads throughout the lines that war is coming, Artyom’s old associate Khan brings word that not all of the Dark Ones were destroyed. As The Destroyer of the Dark Ones, and because of his unique ability to interact with them without going insane, Artyom is given the mission to seek out and eliminate the sole survivor. Khan has a different idea, and it’s during the debriefing that he attempts to persuade Artyom that he should instead communicate with the creature, as he now believes they were never a genuine threat. So begins Artyom’s new journey.

Well, that was the plan, at least. It doesn’t take long for things to go awry and the player to find themselves a prisoner of the Fourth Reich. The entire opening sequence is incredibly strong, beginning with Artyom in his dorm, amidst the hustle and bustle of everyday Ranger life, then a glimpse of the wasteland above, and finally a prison escape. The beginning hits all the right notes: danger, excitement, and humor. The escape also introduces the game’s stealth mechanics as Artyom sneaks around with his fellow escapee Pavel, a Red Line soldier, as the two crawl through ducts, knock out light sources, and sneak attack patrolling guards. If the player is patient, they can wait around to overhear conversations that begin to flesh out the Byzantine politics of the Metro. It’s all very exciting and very well done.

The story stays strong throughout the remainder of the game. The game achieves this consistency through its willingness to knock the player around. Life in the Metro is tough—bullets serve as currency, after all—and players get a taste of it early and often as they are constantly tortured, betrayed, and ambushed. That 4A Games is so willing to put the player through hell is what makes each twist and turn so exciting, and why it’s so hard to stop playing after booting it up. World-building journals scattered around, conversations between non-playable characters, and the comings and goings of the Metro inhabitants do a great job in fleshing out and expanding the world beyond what Artyom sees. The game also has an underlying moral system that rewards less-violent players that take the time to listen to the conversations around them and help when possible with a more uplifting ending. Stumbling upon one of the side activities is one of the perks of exploring the underground hubs. Walk around long enough and players might stumble upon a back corner in Venice, where a sad boy mentions to his mother that he lost his teddy bear near the shooting gallery, which is exactly where the player can win a teddy bear after completing a few rounds. The game won’t splash pop-up text to indicate the right thing was done, but it’s noted. Despite the compelling nature of the story and interactions, they aren’t entirely free of tropes, as evidenced by an out-of-left-field shoehorned love story and a Poirot-esque reveal-all sequence towards the end. Those portions are easy to forgive and forget, especially after the hard left turn the game takes around three-fourths of the way in when things just get weird. Even after the head-tilting shift, it always returns back to the gritty reality facing Artyom. Last Line’s world is just the mixture of sci-fi, survival horror, and action.

Similar comments were made about Metro 2033, but unlike its predecessor, Last Line delivers a much more coherent experience. Everything has been improved, from character interaction to combat. Up to three guns can be carried at any time, and each weapon can be customized with different optics, barrels, and miscellaneous upgrades (a catch-all category for laser sights, stocks, etc.). Weapons come in a variety of types: most are normal magnums, shotguns, machine guns, and rifles, but there are more exotic finds as well, including air-powered rifles and quad-barrel shotguns. Secondary weapons and equipment are equally important, with throwing knives capable of quietly killing enemies and taking out lights, dynamite for ambushing groups of guards, the always-handy night vision (the game is incredibly dark), and the ubiquitous gas mask and air filters. Gunplay in general is tighter and more responsive, and the varied arsenal allows for some thrilling shootouts. A small indicator near Artyom’s watch goes off when he is visible, which allows for easier stealth-oriented play for those who enjoy sticking to the shadows—or just conserving precious ammo. After kitting out an automatic shotgun with a night vision scope, I ran through a warehouse like a true Ranger, knocking out light sources, sneaking up behind enemies for stealth kills, taking down others with throwing knives, and then getting a bead on the final group in the pitch black before letting rip with the shotgun.

The game does get stuck in a bit of a cycle in the middle. Traversable areas will lead to spots where an object has to be interacted with to summon a mode of transportation, and these are always ambushes. They become tedious by the end, and not because there are a lot of them, but because of how frustrating they are; enemies move much faster than the player and there seems to be dead zones when enemies are grouped together. The enemies that rush the player’s position are one of a handful of generic mutated types that attack wildly and quickly wear out their welcome. After summoning the transport, wave after wave rush the area. After one lands an attack, the player’s mask becomes dirty, cracked, and bloodied, a disorienting combination to be sure. If the hit came from behind, it’s best to try to run before turning around, because by the time Artyom pivots to the rear, the enemy has already landed several blows. Health regenerates over time, but it can be replenished with health kits in emergencies; however, the animation takes a few seconds to complete, and by the time the case of needles is out, the game is over. During these moments, I would also find no purchase. Even with four or five enemies surrounding me, I could somehow not hit anything with a shotgun despite them being not more than a few inches away. I’m not sure why this was, but it made these moments incredibly frustrating. These hairier encounters are also when the interact action can become troublesome. Corpses and loot stashes contain up to four items: the mask, the air filter, a weapon, and gear. These tend to be bunched together, so if enemies are in pursuit and a corpse is spotted, running over it might engage the air filter icon, which would cause Artyom to grab the filter rather than the much-needed ammunition sitting in a case right next to it. Even when there is no emergency, I still found myself doing small circles around loot in order to hit the sweet spot that would engage the needed icon.

Whenever I found myself frustrated during Last Line, I would invariably hit upon something that reached just the right note. The game is packed with little things that make it incredibly engrossing. When walking through a bombed-out house, I would notice flies sticking to my mask, which would mean there was a corpse nearby. I also found that the wild creatures could be navigated if left alone. After taking took too long during an outdoor mission and having to finish it at night time, which was very painful and confusing, I reloaded the chapter to try again and test out the environment. Not only did I find several different, shorter paths, but I also found that I really could avoid many of the encounters that had bogged down my first playthrough; by waiting a few seconds as five or six giant rats passed by, I was able to save dozens of rounds of ammo and shave minutes off my time. Having to charge a main battery by pumping a lever also led to tense situations, especially when I had to decide when to balance it against guarding myself from whatever might be lurking in the shadows. It’s those moments that cause the quick-time events, weird stripper sequence (awkward topless lap dance optional), and the random bout of slowdown or polygon clipping disappear into the ether. The 12 to 13 hours the game takes to complete has some frustrating moments to be sure, and more than a few checkpoint restarts, but they also make up a great journey.

Metro: Last Light is a noticeable improvement over its atmospheric predecessor, Metro 2033. Some lingering hit detection and pacing issues remain, but they are minor nuisances. In the end, Last Light is an engrossing post-apocalyptic shooter that should appeal to both action and survival-horror fans.

(This review is based on a copy provided by the publisher.)

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