June 8, 2013 by Pete_XXVII
It’s amazing to think that just a few months ago Metro: Last Light wasn’t even certain to be released. Originally planned to be published by THQ, their collapse meant that it was one of the IPs to be auctioned off. Luckily, it was picked up by Deep Silver – most famous for Dead Island. I say luckily because it turns out to be one of the games of the year.
You play as Artyom, now a Ranger and killer of the Dark Ones. Don’t worry if you haven’t played the original (I hadn’t) as you quickly pick up the plot threads – it’s hard not to because of the way that characters constantly talk to you to explain plot exposition. “We killed all the Dark Ones with a missile remember? You launched them remember?”. It feels like a compromise, the easiest way to fill in all the new players. It’s not the smartest way to do it but it just about works.
In Last Light, it turns out that one of the Dark Ones, a child, survived. Your job is to track it down and stop it. In the background tension in the Metro is rising. All the factions want a piece of the new D6 resources and some will stop at nothing to get it. The plot is actually very well worked out, not surprising when you think it’s an adaptation of the Dmitry Glukhovsky novel.
There are some truly terrific set pieces as well. The opening is very strong, with a nightmare scenario showing how the game is going to play with the rules separating truth from illusion. I don’t want to spoil the scene for you so just trust me that it’s very good. Another highlight is a moment on a crashed aircraft which gives you flashbacks to the passengers final moments. Moments like this really help to heighten the tension and involve you in the story.
It’s a shame then that both of these moments have a problem with them. The first contains a conversation between 5 men, none of whom seem to be talking. The second has an autosave which will leave you with 30 seconds of air, and an AI partner who takes at least 40 seconds to reach the next section so you can continue. Neither of these things are game-breakers, it’s just unfortunate that they sully the scene.
Similarly there is a scene where you can watch a full show underneath the Bolshoi theatre. They’ve put immense work into animating the entire thing so you can sit back and watch it – complete with audience laughter and applause – it really is something to be admired. Less than 5 minutes later there is a scene where you down a drink 4 times without the cup ever being filled. It seems like a small point but it’s typical of the small details being missed, something which means that the game just can’t elevate from being ‘very good’ to being ‘unmissable’.
In terms of gameplay mechanics the game stands up well. The shooting and stealth elements are worked together nicely, so when it does go loud it’s because of something you did wrong, rather than because the game didn’t work. The guns handle well and there’s certainly enough variety in style and customisation so that you’re encouraged to experiment. There is a slight problem with the action button in that if you aren’t standing at exactly the right point it will fail to recognise that you’re trying to pick something up, leading to the ridiculous situation where you have to crouch to get your gear from the quartermaster at the start.
The much debated Ranger mode is excellent as well. The added challenge, lack of HUD and scarcity of ammo really add to the feeling of having to fight to survive. It’s a shame that they decided to add this as DLC but at least it’s free if you buy the game new, and only £5 if you don’t. It’s worth the extra money to play the game as it was intended and become truly immersed in the world – though the question still remains about whether it’s a bit of a cynical money-making move.
Graphically, the game looks gorgeous. Whether it’s the dark corridors of the Metro or the post-apocalyptic wastelands of Moscow the world really feels alive. With gas mask on, the rain effects work really well. It’s not got the absolute wow factor of, for instance, an Uncharted game but it really does have an engaging environment.
It’s not all plain sailing though. There’s certainly a question mark over the female characters in the game. Despite the strong emphasis on the characters as the game progresses, the female characters are not given particular attention and tend to trend on lazy stereotypes. We should be beyond having women in games just as strippers, prostitutes and mothers. Can we not just accept that female characters should be as complex and deep as the men? It really is an unacceptable oversight from the developers.
Overall Metro: Last Light is a success, though not an unqualified one. The level in which you become immersed in the world has been matched this year only by Bioshock Infinite – high praise indeed. Yes some of the mechanics are just slightly off, and it needs re-iterating that it’s depiction of women just isn’t good enough (it’s really not getting off with that one) but it’s a rough diamond that if you give it a chance will really win you over.