Metro: Last Light

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Platform(s): PC, 360 & PS3
Release: 26/04/2013
In 2006, Ukraine based developer 4A Games announced a collaboration with renown author Dmitry Glukhovsky to develop a game based on the critically acclaimed novel Metro 2033. It was an ambitious title that generally received favourable reviews upon release, but ultimately fell short of it’s potential in the opinion of many critics. Metro 2033 was praised for it’s strong emphasis on atmosphere and narrative, as well as expanding the potential of the First-Person Shooter. Unfortunately, the game was held back by technical bugs, problems with the AI, and failed to take advantage of that creepy atmosphere it delivered so well. However, this didn’t prevent the game from gaining popularity, and the following year THQ announced Metro: 2034, later to be retitled as Metro: Last Light.

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It’s no secret that this sequel has had a bit of a rough time on the road to release, and given the collapse of THQ it was anyone’s guess for awhile what would happen with the game. However, it’s finally here, and 4A games are ready to drag us back into the dark depths of the Metro. It’s not a pre-requirement that you play the original game beforehand as the game’s introduction does a fantastic job of covering the majority of what you need to know, but anything else that’s important will also be explained as you go. If you have played the original game, you may find yourself feeling a little too familiar with the experience at times, and whilst this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it just makes it all the more important whether Last Light can successfully build upon the foundation of its predecessor.

Narrative

It is often a difficult position for a sequel to be in when the developers have previously implemented multiple endings, and so it is with a level of disappointment that we confirm that your choices from the original game will not carry across into Last Light. The narrative instead continues directly from the ending where Artyom chose to fire the missiles and destroy the Dark Ones, and we couldn’t help but feel a little cheated by this decision. Of course, it should be made clear that this is no way a reflection on the quality of writing in the sequel, it’s just that Artyom’s epiphany in the alternative ending was in our opinion the defining moment of that story. It seriously bothers us that we were forced carry the weight of literal genocide on our shoulders when we chose differently.

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However, putting the multiple endings aside, there is still a lot praise we can offer to the writers. As previously mentioned, Last Light will place the player back into the shoes of Artyom following the decision to destroy the Dark Ones at the end of the first game. The rangers have since occupied the D6 military base, and tension has begun to rise slowly between the various factions. It all begins with Khan, a nomadic mystic, who has arrived at D6 to inform Artyom that he has discovered a Dark One that survived the missile attack. Of course, Colonel Miller wants it destroyed immediately, but Khan believes it is the last hope for humanity. It’s now your responsibility to locate the creature and make that decision, but a word of caution as all is not how it appears within the Metro.

The style in which the narrative is delivered is still very much in line with its predecessor, which was clearly inspired by the original Bioshock. Artyom remains a silent protagonist, whilst his inner thoughts are explored through journal pages that you will collect throughout the game. This works well to provide an additional layer of depth as the rest of the narrative is delivered in realtime without the use of conventional cutscenes. It’s evident that the team at 4A has improved the cinematic quality of the story experience, but we also found that the pacing can sometimes struggle. Ultimately, the most important advice we can provide is to be careful with your actions. The ending of this game doesn’t come down to a decision, but rather the approach you take throughout the game.

Design

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The strength of the Metro series really comes down to two core principles, and that’s setting a survival horror inspired game within a post-apocalyptic nuclear fallout, and combining it with satisfying gunplay that ties the narrative so closely with the game world. If there is one single praise we could offer for Last Light, it would be the fantastic atmosphere that truly brings the world to life. Whether you’re stalking the dark corridors of the metro alone, or casually walking through one of the crowded stations, it all feels so alive, and there are few games to that do this so well. The only problem with this is the fact that you have such a limited ability to interact with the people around you, and this often left us feeling like an observer, and not as if we were actually a part of it all.

However, a lot more can be said for all the subtle details that will certainly immerse you into the gameplay. Whether it’s pulling out a generator to charge your flash light, wiping the blood and grit from your gas mask or simply monitoring your wrist watch to know when it’s time to change a filter, it all helps to connect the player to their actions within the game. Other familiar mechanics such as makeshift weapon customisation, and the need to scavenge ammo plays just as much of an essential role. It doesn’t take much for you to go from fully loaded to running for your life, and this is even more apparent in the fantastic “Ranger Mode” DLC that was originally separated from the game by THQ in order to act as a pre-order incentive. Luckily, most copies included it for free.
 
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One of the stand out issues in the original game was the troublesome AI that powered the majority of the human opponents you would encounter throughout the Metro. In Last Light, there is definitely a much greater balance between mutant and human confrontation, and we can certainly see a major improvement in the AI across the board. However, a shift in focus due to narrative consequences brings up a few annoying issues that need to be addressed. If you’re trying to aim for the good ending, you will need to focus more so on stealth, and if you do, be prepared for frustration. On multiple occasions, we could throw a knife at a soldier taking him out whilst his companion would not even notice. However, if we as much as stubbed our toe a little too loudly, it alerted every soldier in the area to our exact location. You may not notice this in regular gunplay, but it’s definitely a problem.

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With all that being said, the game still progresses quite fluidly in-between regular chapter breaks, and because you will need to scavenge the battleground for supplies, exploration is also encouraged regularly without ever feeling forced. This actually proves quite useful as the game enjoys rewarding exploration in the way of unique weapons and massive hauls of loot. However, despite all these positive improvements that clearly step beyond it’s predecessor, we still can’t shake the feeling like we’ve done this all before. It’s possible that it’s just a case of genre fatigue, but we personally felt there was just a little too much familiarity whilst playing through the game. The atmosphere successfully kept us engaged, but we often felt the mission objectives were dull by comparison.

Gameplay

If we were to separate the gameplay from the core objectives, it is very easy to see how strong these mechanics stand on their own. Metro: Last Light provides players with the ability to inter-change and customise so many different weapons, and with every single alteration or new weapon entirely comes a renewed sense of power. When you’re staring down the barrel of your gun, it will fill you with an awesome sense of confidence, but still never fully allow you to feel over-powered either. When engaged in action, the mutants in particular will often provide a fantastic challenge, and you will never find a particular weapon that allows you to get too comfortable. It’s all about choosing the most appropriate tool at hand, and adapting to the different enemies you encounter.

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Ultimately, we acknowledge the gameplay mechanics have been greatly improved to deliver an outstanding shooting experience. However, what we really want from the Metro series is for 4A games to take the existing gameplay to that next level and incorporate some new and original ideas. All the little details they’ve incorporated definitely give this game a unique feel of its own, but they more so compliment the atmosphere rather than the players actions. We personally feel that solid shooter mechanics just aren’t enough anymore as too many talented teams have exhausted set-piece ideas to engage the player. It’s currently between a rock, and a hard place as we certainly enjoy a well made game, and yet the sense of familiarity breaks our immersion. We want to be surprised!

Presentation

At any point in time there always has to be one game that represents the pinnacle of our current graphical capabilities, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the highlighted game will be any good. The interesting thing about Metro: Last Light is that it clearly rivals some of the current powerhouses, and yet it’s not being obsessed about in the same way. When we’ve heard others discussing the game it’s often the atmosphere that is the first topic to be brought up, and this is a great thing. There is just so much more to presentation than graphics alone, and it’s refreshing to see this quality appreciated in a game. Metro: Last Light offers a near perfect balance of graphics, atmosphere, and sound design, and we honestly don’t have many criticisms to offer on this component of the game. 4A have created a world that ironically feels so alive (given the setting), and it looks stunning in the process.
 

Summary & Conclusion
     Narrative filled with compelling characters
     Outstanding presentation and atmosphere
     Lots of small details bring the world to life
     Great array of weapons to experiment with
     Well balanced and satisfying gunplay
     Some objectives feel like more of the same
     Not enough interactivity with the world
     Pacing can sometimes feel a bit uneven
     AI still suffers from technical issues

If Metro: Last Light had been released in the place of the original, it would have certainly earned a lot more critical acclaim. However, at this point in time we are sitting at the end of a long generation that has been oversaturated with shooters, and despite a lot of clever ideas from the developers, the overall experience suffers from genre fatigue. We want to acknowledge that this is not just a shooter, but a lot of objectives still play out in a way that leaves us feeling like we’ve done all of this before. If we’re discussing the negative, the narrative suffers from pacing issues at times, the AI is still a little broken, and it’s frustrating that interaction with the world is so limited.

However, Last Light equally deserves a lot of praise as it establishes one of the greatest atmospheres in any game to date and truly embraces supernatural horror in a compelling manner. Player exploration is actively rewarded, and the gunplay remains solid. We don’t agree with the decision to begin the story with a choice we didn’t all make, but we do appreciate the narrative in its own respect. Ultimately, we want to see the developers innovate in new ways that change the way we play, as well as our ability to interact with this incredible world they’ve designed so well. If this can be achieved in the sequel, we have no doubt that this series has the potential for greatness/

William Kirk

William Kirk

Editor-in-Chief / Founder at GameCloud
Based in Perth, Western Australia, Will has pursued interests in both writing and video games his entire life. As the founder of GameCloud, he has endeavoured to build a team of dedicated writers to represent Perth in the international games industry, as well as unite his local gaming community.
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Narrative 8
Design 7
Gameplay 9
Presentation 10
8.5
excellent