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Fantastic follow-up to Metro 2033
on June 2, 2013
Metro: Last Light is the second game in the Metro franchise and is based off of novels written by Dmitry Glukhovsky. The premise is simple; a post-apocalyptic Russia where humanity has been forced underground to live in the metro system and forge a semblance of normal life. As one would expect, a metro system is a dark and dreary place, and living there is not for the faint of heart. When pressed to describe just what the Metro games are like, I often say they're a little bit like Fallout with a hint of Resident Evil. The first Metro game, Metro 2033, has an almost cult-like following. Some gamers have never even heard of the series before, but I believe Metro: Last Light has the potential to introduce many more people to this wonderful, vibrant, and challenging world.
At its core, Metro is a first person shooter with some survival/horror elements sprinkled in. It plays exactly as you would expect a FPS to handle. To be honest, the gameplay here is not groundbreaking, but it doesn't need to be. Metro is, and always will be, greater than the sum of its parts. Individually, the parts of Last Light may be average or just above average, but when they are combined they offer a visceral, engaging shooter.
Gunplay in a first person shooter, well, any shooter for that matter, can make or break a game. In this installment of the Metro franchise, 4A Games keeps it simple, and it works well. Where Metro does veer off-course is with inventory control, swapping weapons, and gadget usage. To manage your headlamp, charger, lighter, etc., you need to hold down the left bumper to bring up separate radial menus. Holding Y brings up your items, throwing knife, pipe bomb, incendiary bomb, and claymore. While I understand the layout, and how it was intended, in practice it seems like a step back and adds a level of unnecessary interface for item control.
As this is a post-apocalyptic setting, you will need to scavenge for ammo and supplies. This is one area where I truly believe Metro separates itself from other shooters. You search for the common items such as med packs, ammo, bombs, throwing knives etc., but you will also need to find gas mask filters to use when you go above ground or venture into "hot zones. You have a meter on your left wrist that shows how much time you have left on the filter you are currently using. Once it reaches zero you either have to change it or quickly or get to a safe area - or you will die. It adds another dynamic to an already cruel, dark world.
I would be remiss if I didn't discuss my favorite aspect of the Metro games -- ammo. During your travels you will find a variety of ammo for the different weapons you can use: assault rifle rounds, pistol rounds, shotgun shells, pneumatic rounds, etc. But, you will also find some coveted military grade rounds. The rounds, as one would expect, can be switched out in your guns to do more damage during those fights where you need a little extra firepower. However, the game forces you to make a tough decision. Military Grade ammo, while offering a nice damage boost when used, is also the only form of currency in the metro. Do you use those rounds to stave off a tough mutant attack, or do you save them to buy more of what you can use later? It's a choice that is not always an easy one to make, yet that is exactly why I love that feature.
Stealth in the metro is also a very viable solution to tackling a situation. If you are a fan of the run-and-gun style you can certainly play that way, although ammo will become scarce. Personally, I love sneaking through a tunnel, unscrewing a light bulb, and moving past my enemies so stealthily they never knew I was there. There are even achievements and trophies related to going an entire playthrough without killing anyone you don't have to. As much as I love stealth-based games, the one aspect missing from Last Light is the ability to distract someone. You can, to an extent, by shooting lights or, but the true ability to distract a guard and get them to investigate, allowing you to choke them out or simply sneak past them, could have raised this game to a whole new level.
While there are a few things I would have liked to have seen done differently, they by no means ruin the gameplay experience. Last Light is a solid shooter that offers a variety of enemies and set pieces to explore and survive. Constantly being worried about enemies and the environment adds another layer of depth and enjoyment.
In comparing the visuals from the two Metro games, Last Light's graphics are much more crisp and not as blurry. The biggest improvement over 2033 in my opinion is the usage of shadows and lighting. In 2033 there wasn't really a gradient of shadow, it was pretty much just dark or not. In Last Light the shadows are a valuable entity that you can use to your advantage. The ability to shoot out lights to create more shadow, or even the ability to unscrew a light bulb to be able to sneak past people adds another dimension to the game.
Much like the movie Schindler's List or even Sin City; there is not a lot of color, which is to be expected in a post-apocalyptic game. It's dark, depressing and has a feeling of despair to it. However, there are segments where splashes of color are used for maximum impact, such as the use of red when you meet a faction of the game. Splashes of green amid the rubble of the destroyed city above add a glimmer of hope amid a desolate harsh world.
While the graphics in Last Light will not measure up to heavy hitters such as Crysis 3, the visuals can be equally stunning. Looking over Moscow with a cracked gas mask, wiping rain away from your mask really draws you into the moment and you realize the extent of the devastation that you are living in.
Sound in a game can either tie everything together, fully immersing the player in the world, or be so utterly jarring that it completely removes the player from the game. To be perfectly honest, I experienced both during my time of exploring Metro: Last Light. Thankfully, it was much more of the former than the latter.
In a survival/horror game ambient noise, in my opinion, is one of the most critical aspects of the game. It's those little noises that make you hesitate, look around, and peer into the dark depths of a corner hoping something doesn't come charging out at you. One memorable experience for me was finding a colony of Watchmen. I could hear them all around me, growling, moving, and even eating. Yet, I couldn't see them because they were in the walls. With the weapons and ammo that I had at the time, I became very anxious of what I was walking into. That combination ratcheted up the suspense of the entire encounter.
4A Games also took great pains to do the little things right as well -- walking in a darkened tunnel and hearing a steady drip of water, being above ground and hearing the popping of bubbles, rain effects, storms, etc. All the small ambient noises add so much depth to the overall experience.
That's not to say that the audio was perfect. Most of the time when I play games, I wear a surround sound headset so I hear things a little differently. One thing that happened to me a few times was the audio I was hearing didn't always match with what was going on. For example, there were a couple of times a character would be talking to me on my left, but the audio was mostly coming from my right speaker. There were also a few instances when multiple characters would speak their dialog at the same time. While issues do exist, they don't happen frequently enough to be problematic, but occur just enough to be mildly frustrating.
Amazing atmosphere and ambience
Extremely rich narrative
Military grade ammo = currency. Forcing the player to make some difficult choices at times.
Clunky control interface
At times audio doesn't match to what is happening
I have made no secret to friends in the past that I am a big fan of Metro 2033. I have been looking forward to Last Light for quite some time. For people who are looking for a run-and-gun, shoot everything and have big amazing set pieces like Call of Duty or Battlefield, this game may not be for you. However, for those gamers who have said at one time or another that they wish the gaming industry would try something new and fresh where endless gun fights do not define the story then this is certainly a game that should be on your radar. Few games offer such a rich setting with the epitome of suffering and survival that Metro does. It forces you to plan ahead with things like ammo and filters and not rely on brute force to pass a level. While there may be a few things that could have been done better, the beauty of Metro is truly greater than the sum of its parts.