WARNING: While this review contains no actual plot spoilers, it does discuss one particular scene that takes place early-on in the game. Again, it doesn’t spoil anything about the story, but if you want to play the game entirely blind then read at your own risk.
The underground tunnels that were once synonymous with cheap, reliable transport have become the Russian peoples’ only source of refuge from the radiation that pollutes the surface. Children don’t know what birds or dogs look like, or that they were friendly creatures, they only know of the mutated creatures of the surface that are often referred to as “demons” because of their frightening appearance and unmitigated hostility. This dark and seemingly hopeless world is the one Metro: Last Light creates — that it invites players to take part in.
Despite the nuclear catastrophe and the imposing threat of the mutants, humanity hasn’t united as one might expect. But has divided into four distinct factions: The Hansa who thrive on economic power, The Red Line who are fond of communism, The Fourth Reich who are partial to Nazism, and The Rangers who are exempt from having one singular way of thinking. Players take control of Artyom, protagonist of Metro 2033 and newly recruited Ranger.
Despite it being far from the best-looking game of its time, Metro 2033 is widely known as a performance hog among PC gamers. The performance issues PC players ran into were due to the game being a poorly-ported console game. For Metro: Last Light, it would appear that extra care was taken in the making of the PC version. The game runs great on my computer (that stutters slightly while playing Metro 2033) and features the most beautiful lighting effects to ever grace my monitor. While the game has some of the best-looking overall visuals you’ll find in any game to-date, its lighting is what really sells the game’s rich atmosphere. In fact… The lighting makes one of my favorite moments in the game possible.
Last Light is full of moments like the one shown above that make the game’s world feel like a live one. Unlike in many recent games where NPCs (Non-Player Characters) only take part in short conversations with each other to emulate the feel of a living world, you’ll come across many long, sprawling conversations that add a sense of life to the otherwise dark and hopeless atmosphere. All of these moments are easy to walk by and ignore, but the experience is exponentially more rewarding if you take the time to watch them play out. Another plus is that the NPCs have incredibly well done voice-overs.
Unfortunately, as you might expect, pulling off the atmosphere that Last Light does without any kinks is nearly impossible. The game is subject to many of the curses videogames have struggled with since their inception. One of the most distracting of which being that some NPCs talk with a very charismatic tone while standing stiffly. My time with the game was also interrupted by visual, and gameplay bugs. The former being that some fog particles weren’t loading properly and little boxes of fog kept popping in-and-out making for a rather distracting light show — during a boss fight no less. Also, in the tail-end of a chapter all enemy NPCs turned into “manikins” for lack of a better term. They would yell at me, they would shoot at me, but they stood as still as they could, even when I shot them. Thankfully these bugs were fixed with a quick restarting of the game. While virtually no game is free of bugs, that makes running into them no less jarring — especially while playing a game as immersive as Last Light.
Fortunately, despite the game’s few issues, we’re already over 700 words into this review and haven’t even started talking about the actual “game” part of the Last Light.
Last Light’s gunplay is some of the most satisfying around. A certain sense of brutality is felt with each powerful pop of your assorted firearms — in Artyom’s reaction to the shot, the sound of the shot, and the shot’s effect on its target. One of my most memorable bouts in combat was during a section of the game that takes place in a facility that is being burnt down because it holds evidence against one of the factions. I was sneaking around behind a wall made of wooden planks, and peeked out of the side of it. I guess I peeked a tad too far, as a bunch of baddies called out “He’s here!” and “Take cover!.” I quickly scurried back behind the wall and figured it would provide cover for me despite its weak appearance. Much to my surprise, each bullet that struck my cover made a chunk of the wooden planks fall off, it wasn’t long before what I thought would be a safe place to take cover (as it would be in most games) turned into Swiss cheese. In a panic I turned around and ran to a tall piece of sheet metal that was sticking out of the ground, and was quite conveniently my height. I decided that would be a sturdy enough place to take cover. While my enemy’s bullet’s didn’t seem to shoot through it, each of their shots made the sheet metal bend and deform to the point that it didn’t work very well as a place of cover. Once again in a panic, I saw a staircase and ran up it. I found that there were several holes in the floor, and was able to take out my pursuers with a pair of Molotovs.
Last Light is full of battles just like the one described above that never happen the same way twice. Even more astounding, you can approach every encounter stealthily, and if you’re a master of silence, you can even play through a majority of the game without killing any enemies.
There’s also something to be said about the game’s pacing. Both in story and in gameplay. Everything moves along so smoothly in the game, each sequence bleeds seamlessly into the next, and the story moves along quite nicely with surprising twists throughout further pushing you as you reach the climax of the game.
Considering we’re at the end of a console cycle, this year has been an absolutely — and surprisingly — incredible year for story/atmosphere-driven games. And Metro: Last Light is no doubt one of the best.