Metro 2033 is a game I was always amazed got made and actually received a worldwide release. That’s not a knock against its quality mind you, but the game is based on a somewhat obscure Russian sci-fi book and that’s not exactly the sort of thing you expect to see western audiences get excited about. Apparently they did though and as such we now have a sequel, Metro: Last Light, a survivor of the THQmageddon and we’re lucky it made it through because it’s pretty damn good. For as well done as Metro 2033 was it suffered from a lot of the issues endemic to games developed in the eastern bloc. Last Light solves those problems though and makes for a much more playable game without losing any of the amazing storytelling and atmosphere that made the original a cult classic.
The story here directly follows up from the ending Metro 2033 (SPOILERS AHEAD FOR METRO 2033, DUH) where Artyom launches a salvo of missiles into the hive of the Dark Ones, killing their entire race. Now a part of the Rangers, Artyom learns of a last surviving Dark One and is ordered to go and kill it despite his guilt over the initial genocide. Upon arriving at its last known location the Dark One escapes from him and Artyom is knocked out and captured by the Reich (future Nazis). From there he meets up with some well-developed and interesting characters, explores some of the darkest and most ancient corners of the Metro, and learns that he must save the entire underground from erupting into war in addition to finding the Dark One he was initially sent out to kill. I really don’t want to go any farther than that with the story because it’s really well written and I would hate to spoil any of those moments or ruin any of the well executed twists and turns. That said it touches upon a lot of very interesting themes and does some amazing world building, really letting you explore and absorb this unique and poignant universe.
You see the world put on display here isn’t all dark depressing corners and tragic human cruelty, they make a real effort to show how humanity would adapt to such an environment and continue living as they always had. Fishermen hunt after horrible new breeds of aquatic beasts, the surviving actors from the Bolshoi keep the show going under the ruins of the old theater, and of course the world’s oldest profession survives in the world’s grimiest but oddly not depressing brothel. On that note this game has way more nudity than I expected and features some ever so slightly over the top jiggle physics but-and believe me I never expected to say this-it’s weirdly tasteful. You see where the nudity and jiggling is featured feels appropriate; seeing a Rockettes chorus line dancing on the world’s last stage with their various body parts moving appropriately for the disillusioned masses desperate for one single moment of happiness strikes me as very genuine. There is even a moment in the story where the jiggle motion tech really adds an air of vulnerability and again genuineness to a bit of romance between Artyom and a female character I won’t talk about for fear of spoilers. So congrats Metro: Last Light, you managed to make sexuality meaningful, now if only the rest of the industry could learn how to do the same.
Moving onto the gameplay, things have changed to conform more to the industry standard but the game keeps the majority of the quirky mechanics that made 2033 so different. For instance you still have both dirty bullets and clean bullets, the former acting as ammo and the latter acting as currency, and you still have to charge up your flashlight with a pump charger and watch your air filters when you’re out on the surface. Also the lighter and journal return though the lighter actually becomes pretty useful this time around as you can now have it equipped while wielding a weapon and use it to light torches and burn spider webs which is handy as this game has some big ass spiders, in fact if you have any sort of arachnophobia you might want to skip this one. But for all those curious and inventive mechanics that made the original so good, the most refreshing thing to see here is the refined shooting mechanics. Shaky combat was definitely one of the faults of the first game and Last Light does a lot to fix that. The shooting feels tighter, the aiming feels smoother, and the stealth has gotten much more vicious. The melee in particular is just brutal with some absolutely sickening stealth kills, Artyom has some issues to work out it seems and he does that by planting knives hilt deep into people’s foreheads. For as good as the gameplay now feels though I will say it seems to have gotten easier. While ammo is certainly not abundant I rarely found myself in too much of a resource crunch and the ability to hide in any shadow and quickly dispatch enemies with a quick click of the right stick means stealth can feel less than challenging. That said this overall easier difficulty does allow you to experiment more and employ a variety of tactics, which as I’ve said in the past is the best way to play a game. Also worth noting is the fact that the game seems far less linear than the first, while it is still overall a straight shot they definitely provide a lot of extra nooks and crannies to dig around in which definitely helps keep you rolling in bullets and med-kits as well as provide some nice extra ambiance .
The last thing I want to talk about is the presentation, the graphics specifically, as what they manage to do with them is really impressive and helps to solidify the immersion. It’s a great mix of technical excellence and a strong design philosophy, the use of amazing lighting and some super detailed animation blends really well with the dark desolate corridors and horribly mutated beasts that roam them. The feeling here is similar to that of the nudity and jiggle tech I talked about earlier; while the stuff being used here is the same kind of bombastic insane-o-tech that makes the Battlefield and Call of Duty games the exciting but lifeless spectacles that they are, this game uses those same methods to make something sincere and meaningful in addition to being a visual milestone. That said if you’re planning to play this on the PC then you’re going to want to make sure you have a pretty strong rig to play it on. Mine’s no slouch but I still was only able to run it on low settings with a resolution of only 1280X720 and even then I was only averaging an FPS of about 35-40 frames and in more hectic moments was getting some fairly heavy frame drops. It was still playable mind you and even on low settings the game is one of the best looking I’ve seen this generation but if you don’t have a top-tier machine to run it on then it might be best to play this on a console just for stability’s sake.
There will doubtlessly be some people complaining that this game gets away from its roots and has become too streamlined or mainstream an experience but there’s a difference between just blindly following the crowd and smartly taking a few cues from what’s popular. While this game does shoot a bit more like Call of Duty and have the same degree of crazy tech that Battlefield has, it uses those things for something greater and proves that you can have a lot of sizzle without losing any steak. There’s an awesome story here and it’s made all the better by the deep combat and impressive visuals, if this is the trend that the next generation of games will follow then I’m on board. I’m happy to give Metro: Last Light a 5 out of 5 stars; between this and Bioshock Infinite it’s nice to see story based AAA first person shooters making a comeback and telling modern military multiplayer claptrap to fuck right off.
[Ed’s Note: Our review copy of this game was provided to us by the fine folks over at Green Man Gaming, they have some pretty wicked deals so it’s worth poking your head over there every now and again and seeing what’s on sale.]