The Metro series of books
I admit, I haven't read the Metro books - not because I don't want to, I just haven't had the time. So the only things I know about the Metro world are those I have learned from the video games - Metro 2033 is a game I really enjoyed, so when I heard that Last Light would actually improve on the first game I was really looking forwards to it.
The bottom line you have to take from this review is: Last Light improves on 2033 in several ways, has a few issues now and then with checkpoints and is an incredibly atmospheric game. It's totally worth the time invested in the game and it's a worthy sequel to Metro 2033.
You play as Artyom, from the first game who is troubled by nightmares and this is because the game assumes you took the bad ending from Metro 2033. Once again the game pulls you into the narrative by making the character central to everything going on around them. You have first person cut-scenes and the odd very simple quick-time button-press rapidly event. Keeping everything in first person really promotes the feeling of immersion and this is what Last Light really gets right.
Last Light is a first person shooter, but it's also so much more - there's a genuine feeling of stealth to the game and the stealth options are really varied. You have a watch which tells you the amount of time left per filter for the gas mask, lights up if you're visible and easily detected and gives you good on-screen feedback about your character's stealth-state in the world. You can unscrew light-bulbs, tip over pots of water onto fires and blow out lamps.
Moving slowly and quietly is key in this regard and you can choose to knock out (X) or Kill (Right stick click) the bad guys. It is possible to render a whole room unconscious, removing light sources and leaving no trace in many of the areas. In many of the areas of the game where you must interact with human adversaries you can ghost the lot, literally moving from place to place without them realising you've been there. It is in these moments that Metro: Last Light plays a lot like Dishonored or Thief.
If you have to get the lead out, you can do so with a variety of hand-made weapons in the Metro. You have pistols and a small array of various attachments (scopes, silencers, stocks etc) you can get from merchants or just chance on a weapon with that sweet setup already. You have rifles and sub-machine guns, as well as shotguns and ball-bearing pressure-based sniper-rifle like weapons. Each of these weapons handles different pre-post attachments and of course does various amounts of damage in combat.
Conserving ammo is a key to survival, as well as precious filters and medkits. Combat is fluid and extremely deadly when it occurs and on the higher difficulty levels - it is downright vicious. One stray shot can crack your gas mask and if you don't have a replacement close at hand, you're dead.
Metro: Last Light makes stealth and combat very atmospheric, providing lots of tactical options in the map design and tools to use. Pipe bombs, incendiary devices, claymores and throwing knives are the main tools which let you wreak havoc on your foes, or kill them quietly from a distance.
You have the map and lighter combo back from Metro 2033, and the lighter can be used to burn webs away as well as providing a clue where to go when your compass fails you.
Apart from this, Last Light plays like a traditional first person shooter with plenty of places to climb, lurk and explore on the various levels which have short loading times. Left trigger aims down the sights or scope, right trigger shoots, B button crouches and so on. Of course since this is a Metro game the wind-up personal generator is back, powering your head lamp and night-vision goggles.
The GUI is easy to use and the key combos work well even in the middle of a fight. Switching weapons is nice and quick and you can toggle ammo from regular bullets to military grade rounds - though remember - mil-spec bullets are your in-game currency too and they can be used to buy sweet gear and restock at the various towns in the game.
Metro: Last Light, like Metro 2033 really shines when you're up on the surface looking for gear, scavenging old ruined buildings and drinking in the atmosphere. Your mask fogs up and gets dirty so you have to wipe it now and then. It can crack, it can frost over and you can see your character's breath and hear audible cues when you need to change to a spare filter. As well as using your watch to see exactly how much time per-filter you have when exploring.
Apart from the monsters and exploration there's a real sense of urgency as you are limited in your delving due to the filters. But also, when you're in areas where there are other enemies who rely upon their masks to survive, those filters become a tool and they can make stealth kills very silent indeed.
The correct shot with a really silent weapon can ping a filter off the enemies' mask and send them to oblivion before you even have to get close. It's this attention to detail which really gives Metro: Last Light a solid presence as an immersive and quite tactical game.
There are also other sequences in the game which give you a break from the sneaking and shooting, letting you ride the rails of the metro - but we'll leave you to discover those for yourself.
Checkpoints are the meat and potatoes of the save system for Last Light and most of the time they're pretty solid. There are one or two which trigger in odd places and can leave you in a really tricky situation if you've managed to ruin your stealth approach and now you're taking on heavily armed guards because the whole room's been alerted and they're running everywhere with their headlamps on.
This is really the only problem we encountered with the game, and we weren't going to start the whole chapter over again.
Lastly there's Ranger Mode, for the purist and hardcore Metro 2033 fan - this DLC came with the limited edition of the game, and must be downloaded for the regular edition. We aren't fans of DLC like this which is cut from regular copies of the game, but it really does turn Metro: Last Light into a survival horror game where every shot counts since ammo is limited and the enemies do more damage (so do you). Sure you get a cool gun and 100 mil-spec bullets for trading purposes, but it makes the game extremely hard and can get frustrating in areas where the save points aren't well laid down.
The game is a visual step up from Metro 2033 and that game wasn't really bad looking either. Last Light is a really great looking game, there are a few places where the textures seem to be less detailed but when you're exploring the Metro's lost tunnels and interacting with psychic events (dodging monsters) and marvelling at just how atmospheric the whole thing feels and how immersed it makes you, you don't care at all.
The light/shadow and effects from the various light sources all combine to bring the Metro underground to life in many ways. The psychic event effects are better than many survival horror games and there are a few 'jump out of your skin' moments in Last Light too. The graphics really help bring these to life, but they excel when the scares come from a subtle build-up of effects which creep up on you. The storms which can ravage the surface are epic affairs and whilst they're scripted they look amazing and really drive home the post apocalyptic landscape changing over time from Metro 2033.
Like Metro 2033, the animations in Last Light are for the most part excellent. Highlights are the immersive actions from the first person view, which includes a lot of idle animations for the main character interacting with weapons and idling. There are a ton of great animations for the game spread across the board and Last Light really pushes the boat out in terms of enemy/character/NPC animated reactions.
Cut someone's filter off and they will collapse and choke for example.
Artyom interacts with the world in a solid and believable way. From grabbing onto ladders, knocking people out or stabbing them in a variety of context sensitive ways.
The game delivers a nice sense of weight and impact to the world in terms of physics; it has some really nice tie-ins to the animation system and delivers great explosion effects, cover damage and some lovely physical impacts from combat.
The AI in the game is a varied mix of reactions, a beautiful meal of various human and inhuman archetypes. It is an amazing thing to see in action and being hunted by many of the game's human foes through a dimly-lit area is extremely exhilarating. What really sets the AI apart from previous games of this type is, rather like Splinter Cell AI, they react to changes in their environment quite well. Leave something out of place like a rail car in one of the later sections, the AI will react to it and become alerted to something 'not quite right'.
Kill a friend of theirs and watch them react correctly if they see it. Kill a friend and watch them find the body later on. The other enemy AI is based on the type of monster, Watchmen are animalistic and use pack related tactics - Demons: they'll pick you up and drop you into deep water, off edges and cliffs or just throw you into a pack of other enemies.
On the harder difficulty levels the game becomes a tense game of cat and mouse with human opponents, and a fight for survival with the animal and mutated enemies. It's superb stuff. Human enemies make good use of cover and other tricks, as well as flushing you out and working as a team to cover each other's backs as you hide in the shadows and pray they don't find you.
Along with the great AI, visual aesthetic and detail you have a really vibrant sound library which brings the dim Metro and dark places to life. The spooky areas of the Metro are made even more so by the sound effects and ambient effects.
A great score accompanies the on screen action/adventure. It is at times melancholy, echoing the destroyed wasteland and the deep forbidding tunnels and then quite uplifting when there are areas of the surface world which look quite beautiful. The score is so artfully composed and implemented in the game it never overshadows, or completely cues the player into what's going to happen next.
There are some pretty good performances in Metro: Last Light and you can forgive some of the more flat ones because of it. It was nice to hear some familiar voice actors but also characters from the first game making a return. All in all, we can't complain about the VA in Last Light.
There are a few issues here and there with the dialogue in the game, but for the most part it tells a pretty coherent story and has some real feeling to it when involved in the more expansive first person cut-scenes. Again though, these scenes are always delivered when the player is in motion or can examine their surroundings - so you never feel locked into any long winded written expositions.
None, just the way we like it - Metro: Last Light is a gloriously single player affair and it shows in the level of polish.
This latest instalment has made me want to dive into the Metro novels, because of the meticulous attention to detail and high level of polish for the game as a whole. I can't recommend it enough and everyone who has played it has also said the same here, it's a great game with a ton of atmosphere and it feels like a polished brother to Metro 2033.
Get it if you liked the first, but if you didn't - jump in and play Metro 2033 and then get Last Light, you won't regret it. It makes a change from the same Call of Duty inspired shooters.