Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360, PC
Release Date: May 14, 2013
Basically anyone can confirm that subways and metro systems are a drag to be in. There’s always that creepy, probably-a-pedophile dude giving you the death stare while the homeless man three seats away can’t seem to eat his crackers in an orderly fashion. No soul is ignorant enough to be happy while underground. If life is this fucked here before the nuclear apocalypse, then it must be uber-fucked after, right? Metro: Last Light, the sequel to Metro 2033, captures this phenomena, except swapping amputee bums with monsters and Russians with every chump forced to use public transit. After enduring the broken systems of Metro: Last Light, it seems comparable to these underground hell trains. It’s easy to see why it wasn’t named Party Bus: Last Light.
If you didn’t have the chance to touch Metro 2033, you’re in for a little bit of a hazy start. Last Light picks up the torch right where 2033 dropped it… well, depending on your choices. Regardless, Last Light assumes you bombed the Dark Ones, the mysterious mutant beings that humanity misunderstood for evil.
The laser-guided bomb somehow narrowly missed one small Dark One, sending Artyom, the returning protagonist, on a mission throughout most of Russia to find this evasive child-like being. On top of the rebirth of the Dark One “threat,” vault D6, a vault supposedly capable of sustaining life for the entire metro, is under dispute since it is the hot commodity. Every faction wants a piece of it, even though there is enough to go around.
Last Light‘s narrative components are all over the place, quality-wise. For every minute you spend absorbing the depressing metro lifestyle and praising the thick, grim atmosphere, you’ll spend two minutes in utter confusion trying to piece together what the hell is actually happening. Unknown or unexplained characters pop in at an alarming frequency, only adding on layers of perplexity and forcing more meaningless faces to the crowd. Artyom, due to his failure to ever open his mouth, also becomes little more than a camera with a gun glued to it. Personality and complexity? Yeah, dream on. Of course, there’s that random, out-of-place sex scene that humanizes him and really makes you feel for him. Just kidding. It’s about as dead and awkward as you’d expect.
In the midst of the confusion and disappointment, there’s a thread that opens up in the second half, one that both surprises and injects a refreshing sense of importance to the plot. Details are sparse for your benefit, but it was a direction I wish the game focused on, rather than sporadically trying to touch on many different politics. It would be like if The Last of Us was taking place within World War III, wholeheartedly abandoning Ellie and Joel’s personal story. Alas, even this plot device is forsaken in efforts to keep rotating the many spinning plates within the distraught metro. It’s a major let down, especially since this singular thread almost salvaged a game that was less than pleasant at almost every turn.
That’s a polite way of saying I hated playing nearly every minute of Metro: Last Light. “Enduring” seems to be a better synonym for “playing” in this scenario. Last Light is, first and foremost, a first-person shooter. There is a gun. You see through Artyom’s eyes. You sometimes see that gun in his eyesight and aim said firearm at the monsters (be it Russians or beasts). Functional, yes, but it isn’t very exciting. You aim, shoot, and attempt to decipher exactly which each different hit marker means. It just isn’t any fun and doesn’t offer much in the way of being strategic nor does it feel very open. Weapons have a nice feel to them and their cobbled-together aesthetic is noteworthy detail, but there isn’t much past that.
Beasts aren’t as easily desecrated, but are multitudes more frustrating. Artyom moves slowly. So slowly that I constantly had to check if I was crouching. Achieving snail speed does little to help evade attacks from clawed beasts and makes it a crapshoot whether you’ll survive against anything that doesn’t have a gun. Backpedaling while shooting and hoping not to get hit becomes the only “strategy” and an infuriating one at that. Monstrosities such as these change the pace up, but they are such a pain in the ass that it makes their inclusion puzzling. Abysmal boss fights that don’t reliably relay damage markers and the sudden drop in ammo can make these bad situations even more unbearable.
Sneaking is (usually) an option too. While no Solid Snake, Artyom can utilize shadows to move from point to point without getting detected, but that’s about where it stops being a functional system. Each guard suffers from extreme cataracts and nearsightedness, failing to notice Artyom even a foot away if he is “in the dark.” Being concealed is accurately and constantly relayed to the player intelligently through Artyom’s watch that dims to display concealment. Although that is a solid design choice, it requires too much suspension of disbelief that that guard can’t see him even if he is right freakin’ there. I get why it is a binary system, it just doesn’t make the sneaking any fun and drops the ball on making it a viable gameplay path.
Quality stealth titles almost all have one thing in common: choice. Be it multiple paths, gear loadouts, or a combination of both, finding your way to play has always made games like Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Dishonored, and Metal Gear Solid such compelling sneaking games. Last Light oddly adheres to cripplingly narrow level design, one that amputates any sense of freedom and subsequently any fun that comes from feeling like a ninja. One tight path stand between you and your (sometimes confusing) goal and the constrictive weapon design damns non-lethal players. The scavenging aspects that are instructed through the atmosphere and partially reinforced through gameplay only hint at what could have been.
Playing Last Light was a drag but looking at it wasn’t. Even on petty consoles, the twisted, bombed-out environments are stunning in their natural destructive beauty. This beauty is nearly fully realized when the impressive lighting and attention to detail are factored in. Darkness engulfs the metro for every hour of the day, literally and in tone, so these visuals enhance the mood Last Light strives for. Animation may be crude when compared to the best and the soundtrack may not have catchy highlights, but Last Light is visually impressive to carry the technical side of things.
Metro: Last Light is a hodge podge of poorly executed good ideas. Guns, monsters, stealth, Russians, and boobs are all positive aspects of life that are misconstrued and sloppily spat out in Last Light. Glimmers of hope were in the background, but ended up being completely squashed out as the bad decisions kept rolling by at every stop along the metro’s route. Speaking of which, get off at the next stop. This one isn’t worth the extra fare.
You play game:
+Lush, dirty, beautiful visuals
Game play you:
-Stealth is broken due to busted AI and utter lack of different paths
-Shooting crumbles against non-human enemies and isn’t fun against people
-Terrible design that leads to either frustration or boredom
-Confusing, poorly told story