Based on the novel by Dmitry Glukhovsky, Metro: Last Light is the sequel to 2010’s Metro 2033, and although the post-apocalyptic shooter never arrived at any Sony stations, its successor pulls out all of the stops to make up for lost time.
Set in the metro systems of Mother Russia several decades after a nuclear apocalypse, Last Light follows Artyom, one of 40,000 survivors that now populate the tunnels. While the freakishly mutated ‘demons’ roam the surface and abandoned areas of the metro, the survivors have gone on to form small communities, and there are three major factions that are constantly at one another’s throats.
The Nazis are feared for their ruthless extermination of anyone that they consider ‘mutated’, and their imprisonment of men and women in large, cramped prisons. The Reds are all that have survived of Russia’s communist past, believing strongly in equality for all, but as real world events have proven, this doesn’t work particularly well. Finally, there’s the Spartan Order – of which Artyom is a Ranger – who busy themselves protecting the metro from the threat posed by the ‘demons’. While the other two factions rarely bother the Order, a plot is uncovered that implicates the lives of every survivor.
One of Last Light’s greatest assets is the richly detailed world that acts as your stomping ground. Communities you come across feel very alive, and although the game is linear, it does allow for some exploration where you’ll witness the day-to-day lives of the survivors, from domestic disputes to children being told stories of ‘the old world’ and market stall owners struggling to make a living from selling their wares.
While we’re used to praising the graphical fidelity of games like Journey and Uncharted, this is predominantly influenced by their use of colour, but given the nature of being underground, Metro somehow manages to make brown look amazing. Water droplets form on your screen, reflecting light, and the use of said lighting is some of the best that we’ve ever seen – the attention to detail is really impressive.
And it doesn’t stop there. When you first make your way into unpopulated tunnels, the amount of carcasses, of various states of decomposition, is astonishing. Last Light doesn’t shy away from a realistic and grisly interpretation of its source material, and it certainly doesn’t suffer for it. Likewise, as you gingerly venture to the surface, it’s a grim scene that greets you. Crashed cars and planes, destroyed buildings, and skeletons litter the landscape, making a gas mask a mandatory requirement to prevent suffocation in the noxious atmosphere that envelops you.
When travelling above-ground, you must take care to have a good number of oxygen filters for your gas mask at all times, as each one lasts for just five minutes and must be replaced manually – as indicated by a timer on the watch around Artyom’s wrist. When engaged in combat, gas masks can become cracked and may even shatter entirely, forcing you to search for bodies of the deceased that no longer require them.
Rather than standard money, a specific type of ammunition has taken over as currency. It can be looted from bodies or found in pouches throughout levels and used to purchase ammo, weapons, or weapon upgrades. And if you find yourself in a dire situation, it's possible to use them as ultra-powerful, albeit very expensive, bullets.
As you might expect, pressing the select button will bring up your objectives, but instead of pausing the game and presenting a menu, everything happens in real time via a clipboard. Pressing one button will raise the clipboard and another will use Artyom’s lighter to illuminate it. This small inclusion makes sneaking through the dark tunnels an incredibly tense ordeal, as you hunt for safe havens while you carefully check for your next objective. The game really maximises immersion, and fortunately the combat components are equally fine-tuned.
Shooting feels weighty and satisfying, with a decent number of weapons and stat-altering upgrades available as you progress. Each weapon shoots differently, with explosive short-range shotguns incapacitating foes with ease, pre-war automatic rifles behaving as you would expect, and home-made weapons that fire ball bearings requiring manual ‘pumping’ to maintain air pressure for maximum impact. Along your journey, you’ll come across several weapons salesmen, but most of the tools that we ended up using were looted from the deceased. Grenades, claymores, and throwing knives are also salvageable or available for purchase, though we rarely used this secondary equipment.
In addition to the filter timer found on Artyom’s watch, there’s a blue LED that lights up when he is visible (not crouching in the shadows). While this isn’t an issue when above the surface, where avoiding contact with ‘demons’ is all but impossible, sections where hostile humans are involved requires sneaking. It's possible to engage enemies in a firefight, but Artyom is frequently outgunned, and, in a game such as this, it’s a massive waste of ammo.
The sneaking is perfectly serviceable, but after a small time doing so, Last Light’s biggest flaw becomes immediately obvious. The AI is among the most frustratingly inconsistent in recent memory, lurching from enemies being completely oblivious to your presence even as you walk in front of them – as long as your blue LED isn’t lit – to using their apparent X-Ray vision to spot you behind cover. This is a real shame, as while the antagonists' erratic and crazed movements seem appropriate, the human adversaries leave a lot to be desired. Should you sneak up to a human enemy, you can either knock them out, or slit their throat, but we were often forced to circle foes until the button prompt appeared, which was a little irritating. Also, regardless of whether you dispatch your adversaries via lethal or non-lethal means, you can do so directly in front of one of their allies, and as long as you’re crouching and your blue LED isn’t lit, they remain totally ignorant of what’s happening in front of them.
That being said, it's very satisfying to remain undetected as you progress through a level, turning off lights, blowing out candles, and switching off circuit breakers as you go. In these scenarios, light is very much your enemy, but when exploring the murky sections of ‘demon’-infested track, it’s your ally. Artyom comes equipped with a torch and his trusty lighter, but the torch frequently runs low on power, dulling the light it produces. When this happens, you must pull out a piece of equipment from your seemingly bottomless pockets to physically recharge electricity levels back to normal. At several points throughout the game, it goes full-on survival horror, refusing you access to your torch and forcing Artyom to proceed into the darkness with only his lighter for company.
These segments are incredibly stressful and don't feel out of place considering that one of the ‘demons’ can manipulate the thoughts and experiences of humans. Last Light’s definitely at its best in eerie, creepy locations – a crashed plane, children’s playground, and crypt being notable examples. The game regularly throws jump-scare images on screen, and generally makes a mockery out of your ordinarily steely resolve.
Last Light is a sequel to a game that was never on the PS3, so it’s not surprising that we found the story a little hard to follow initially, although this was a benefit in some respects, as we didn’t know what to expect from the ‘demons’ that characters regularly spoke of with fear – which is why we’ve not spoiled anything here. While there’s certainly a decent narrative to follow, all the developments occur in the first and final two hours of the game, with the middle seeing Artyom taken all over the metro for a number of unimportant reasons. The character development is also somewhat lacklustre. It’s clear that some of the personalities remain from the first game, but those who are new, particularly the people that aid you during the plot’s lethargic middle portion, never really go anywhere, and when Artyom is reunited with characters that he hasn’t seen since the very start of the game, it’s implied that we’re meant to care about their well-being, but we can’t even remember their names.
Metro: Last Light really benefits from the fictional source material that serves as its inspiration. The game's world is so fantastically detailed and meticulously crafted that you really feel like you're a part of it – and the psychological horror elements put recent Resident Evil games to shame. The AI issues are inexcusable and the plot could certainly be improved, but this is still one stop that you really shouldn’t miss.