Post apocalyptic games are nothing new. From Fallout 3 to Darksiders, they’ve long been a staple of the video-gaming world. So how do game designers set themselves apart from the rest? Three things come to mind- setting, characters, and story. It’s this last bit, the story, that especially sets Metro: Last Light apart from its brethren, and the characters and setting have their part in this as well. It’s more than just another FPS, as the world of the Metro begs you to explore every nook and cranny, even when some of those darkened corners may be quite creepy to venture into. This is a game that wants you to take your time, stopping to play a musical instrument (there’s a trophy/achievement for finding them all), find and read notes which the main character of Artyom scrawls in his diary, listen to various conversations among the people you come across on your travels, take in a show (which lasts a good 20-30 minutes), and, of course, seek out supplies and ammunition. Ammo cartridges are especially important- not only do they aid you in battle with both human and creature enemies, but they also serve as the Metro’s currency, enabling you to purchase items to aid in your survival.
Metro: Last Light begins following the events of Metro 2033, but have no fears if you didn’t get the chance to play the first game that appeared on the Xbox 360 and the PC. Last Light does a fine job for newcomers, giving you just enough information for what has gone before to fully enjoy this game’s story. For those looking to have a more extensive background, I do recommend reading the novel Metro 2033 by Dmitry Glukhovsky, which inspired this game and its predecessor (in fact, there’s a nice Easter egg in the game, as copies of the book, and its sequels, Metro 2034 and Metro 2035, can be found in various camps). Set in Moscow after nuclear war has ravaged the surface, Metro: Last Light puts us in the shoes of Artyom, a member of the Spartan Order, who we learn was instrumental in bringing the downfall of a race of dangerous beings called the Dark Ones. The Dark Ones had wrecked havoc on the survivors in the Metro until Artyom launched a missile strike against them. This is all relayed early in the game, and sets the stage for what is to come. As you’re awakened by Khan, you learn that a Dark One did survive your purging, and you’re given the mission to go track him down. What follows leads Artyom through the post apocalyptic world, through dank and dark tunnels where your flashlight is your best friend, and on the surface, where a gas mask and an adequate supply of filters is an absolute must to survive. In his journeys, you encounter not only dangerous, mutated beasts (among the giant rats, shrimp, spiders, and winged demonic creatures) but various human factions as well. These factions are split along ideological lines, adding a nice political layer to the proceedings. Among those Artyom encounters are the Fourth Reich, a Nazi group, and the Reds, staunch throwbacks to the Cold War era of the Soviet Union. Dealing with these factions can prove tricky, and provide the opportunity for players to choose how they wish to deal with them.
This is a game that does give you choice, and your choices do have a bearing on which of the game’s two endings you’ll receive. You can choose to go in guns blazing with your human enemies, killing them all. Or you can choose a stealthier approach, sneaking past guards or knocking them out. Whether you choose lethal or non-lethal solutions in your stealthy approach is up to you, and is easy enough to pull off. One of the game’s flaws, though, is the human enemy AI. It varies greatly, from being highly competent, where enemies will actively search for you and flank you, to being downright clueless, making it quite simple to sneak by without them being aware of your passage. Creature AI is far different, as the beasts you’ll encounter are quite aggressive, even overly so, and will pursue you until one or the other is dead. They also often come in numbers, making survival a very tense proposition and having you hope your ammo supplies and air outlasts the onslaught. The camera can be your enemy in such attacks, especially if you’re caught by one of the winged demons, which lifts you into the air and when you’re dropped the view can be highly disorienting. The beasts do soak up a lot of bullets, so running if you can might be the better option. You can sneak by them at times, but that’s difficult to pull off, as they generally get a whiff of you and attack. You also have a limited amount of grenades to use, but you need to use them wisely. In the tunnels, spiders can be held at bay with your flashlight. Keep your light on them long enough, and they’ll go belly up, making an easy target for your gun or knife. Your lighter is quite handy in the few spider infested tunnels you encounter as you need it to burn away webbing that blocks your passage. If you’re arachnophobic, these parts can by quite creepy, but thankfully they occur mostly early on in the game and are few in number. Speaking of creepy, you’ll also encounter ghostly visions and hallucinations. Whispers echo in the dark, unnerving you as you try to make your way. The sound in the game is very effective, from the whispers to the scuttling of spiders through the dark to the sound of the guns in a firefight.
Voice acting is also strong, though for the NPCs you’ll swear you’re hearing the same Russian accented voice for multiple characters. But by stopping and listening to their conversations, you get a better sense of the environment around you. Some of these can be quite humorous, others can offer a chilling reveal, and still others can provide quite an emotional impact. It’s this depth of characterization that lifts Last Light above your average FPS, and makes it very relatable in terms of its human element. Along the way, you’ll form alliances, experience betrayal, and witness some touching flashbacks of Artyom’s childhood before it all went to hell. The dialogue never comes across as cliched or trite, and even the NPC foes don’t over-use the same phrases when they’re seeking to engage you. Graphically the game is beautiful to look at, from the little details in the rubble strewn tunnels of the Metro to the swaying blades of grass on the surface. Weather changes while above ground, going from bright and sunny to rainy. You don’t want to be caught in the open on the surface as it gets dark, so as night approaches the tension level rises. All of these touches nicely immerse you in this rich world, making it one that you want to experience.
Sadly, there are a few technical issues that hold this game back from scoring higher. Beings clip through scenery at spots or become jittery. Enemies can vanish right before your eyes as you shoot them. The game can freeze, necessitating a hard restart of your system (thankfully, this only happened to me once). Despite these issues, there is nothing game-breaking, and none of them are so bad as to deter you from playing the game. Other issues are the lack of variety within enemy types and there isn’t a large variety of weapons at your disposal, though you can customize them to a point, thus making them a little unique. again, this is nothing that should put you off from playing this, as the guns that are there are generally satisfying to use and there is enough variety to tailor to your individual play-style.
Overall, Metro: Last Light is a very strong, story oriented single player game that is well worth your time to experience. Ukrainian developers 4A Games and publisher Deep Silver have done a terrific job at presenting us with a different and unique take on a post apocalyptic world, with more story based DLC slated to come to consoles later this year. It may not reach the lofty heights of Bioshock Infinite, but if you’re looking for another story based FPS that’s not just another military shooter you owe it to yourself to check this one out. It can be chilling and at times emotional, but this journey through the dark is one well worth embarking on.
Metro: Last Light is currently available for the PS3, Xbox 360, and the PC.
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