Metro: Last Light Review
Metro: Last Light is the best lap dance simulator of 2013.
I have not played all the others in what I’m sure is an extremely crowded sub-genre, but I am confident it is the best.
It is also a bleak post-apocalyptic first-person shooter set in the subway system underneath the radioactive ruins of what was once Moscow, but I am confident that will not get quite as much column ink.
The word that describes the Metro games, which I used a few years ago when I reviewed Metro 2033, is masochistic. Both games are very good about using their mechanics to reflect the world they’re building, and thus enforcing a bleak, desperate atmosphere. Your gun’s almost worthless, the water is toxic, fresh air is poison, everything’s radioactive, and in a genre that’s increasingly all about using the wonders of high technology to kill your fellow man, Metro is all about old knives and hand-loaded bullets that don’t quite work. The game’s setting is unrelentingly bleak on a level that very few other works of fiction, in any medium, try to reach.
Last Light is a little more user-friendly and upbeat than the first game was, which is not to say that it is easy or cheerful. It’s still very much a game for people who enjoy their own suffering. If that’s you, it’s for you.
Last Light takes off from the bad ending of 2033, because the developers have apparently discovered that most of the people who won the first game were bastards. A year after Artyom launched a salvo of missiles that took out the nest of the monstrous Dark Ones, he’s leveraged his accomplishments to become a decorated member of the Rangers, an organization of armed peacekeepers. When word comes through the station that there may be a single surviving Dark One, you’re tasked to make sure it exists, and if so, kill it before it endangers an upcoming peace summit. Complications ensue, not the least of which is that Artyom is no longer sure whether or not the Dark Ones were actually a threat in the first place.
As with the original game, Last Light places a heavy emphasis on stealth because your life is hanging by a thread. Resources are reasonably common on the lower difficulties, but it’s rare that you aren’t outnumbered six or eight to one, and fights aboveground carry the additional risk that you might break your gas mask. If that happens, you’ll die in about ten seconds. It’s better to simply avoid detection whenever possible, shooting out lights and using the shadows to hide. On lower difficulties, this is just a good idea; on anything higher, it’s simply how you survive.
What I really want to mention here are the throwing knives, which are absurdly powerful and extremely satisfying to use. If someone doesn’t know you’re there, almost anything you do to them is a one-hit kill, and the throwing knives are absolutely silent. You can attach a suppressor to most of the guns in the game, including shotguns, but that just makes them quieter. With the throwing knives, you can move through a base leaving a trail of corpses in your wake with the kind of speed and stealth that’s usually reserved for games that are expressly about ninja.
Combat in general doesn’t seem like as much of a chore in Last Light. It uses the same mechanic as the original game, where standard-issue bullets are hand-made and underpacked, while pre-war military-grade ammunition is far more powerful but is also used as currency. The cheap bullets have a little more kick to them in Last Light, and you can get by through much of the game using them and the throwing knives. It goes a long way toward setting a desperate and tense atmosphere without tipping over into frustration.
An extra nod in that direction is Artyom’s new watch, which provides an onscreen light meter and measures the lifespan of his air filters. It’s not quite as helpful as you might think, since the watch beeps when your filter’s about to give out and can thus alert nearby guards, but it’s a handy at-a-glance measurement of whether or not you’re out of sight.
In general, the real draw for me with Last Light is the world itself. A lot of Western post-apocalyptic fiction is either kind of goofy and self-aware (Fallout) or so unrelentingly bleak that every installment should end with the protagonists being put on suicide watch (“The Walking Dead”). In Metro, the designers have put a lot of thought into how people would survive, how the culture would evolve, and how they’d react to the environment. It’s a well-constructed, populated world that feels very alive and real, particularly when, say, you unexpectedly end up purchasing a lap dance. Even the simpler stations, ones that you visit for all of ten minutes before setting out on the next leg of your trip, are packed with people who are going about the business of living. There’s a long sequence set underneath the Bolshoi Theater that’s both pretty funny and incredibly sad simultaneously, especially if you hang around to watch the show.
If I had to point at its weak points, and I do, it’s that there are a few glitches. I’ve hard-locked the game a couple of times in mid-combat, which forced me to turn off the system, and enemies’ models are prone to doing strange things every once in a while. Artyom is also a little slower than he should be, which makes some unavoidable fights with the larger mutants a chore. You can’t really strafe out of the way of a charging monster; instead you have to preemptively dodge everything by sprinting in the other direction. I also hadn’t realized just how much I’d come to rely upon modern games’ objective markers until I played Last Light, which provides absolutely nothing of the sort.
Whether or not you’re going to like Last Light, though, is entirely down to what you’re looking for in a game. Most other single-player shooters coddle the player in one way or another, whether it’s by lenient difficulty or by allowing you to eventually build yourself up into some kind of murder engine. Last Light is a punishing, hardcore experience that isn’t quite like anything else on the shelves right now, and if you go into it looking for exactly that, it delivers in spades. If you pick it up looking for a quick weekend’s shoot-‘em-up fun (or a lap dance), it will crush your spirit and laugh at your pain. You’ve been warned.
Reviewed By: Thomas Wilde
Publisher: Deep Silver
This review is based on a copy of Metro: Last Light for the Xbox 360 provided by Deep Silver.