In Soviet Russia, Metro rides you
Metro: Last Light is the unbelievably bleak FPS from the excellent 4A Games. The original game, Metro 2033, was a graphical powerhouse, telling of a bleak dystopian future where nuclear war has forced the denizens of Russia to live underground in the Metro system. Based on a novel by the same name, it told an interesting story introducing elements of horror and science fiction in between all of the sneaking and murder. Last Light continues the story, assuming you took the ‘bad’ ending of 2033, taking you on a tour of some new parts of the underground.
Visually, Metro: Last Light is incredible. It’s not just the technical ability of the engine (which is great but really punishes even higher-spec systems and currently suffers from a few bugs) but the distinct art style. Everything is highly detailed, from the posters on walls to the objects filling up overflowing draws and lockers. As you walk through the populated stations you’ll see each has its own distinctive style and is convincing as a place where people live. As you explore the cavernous tunnels you’ll see signs of past fights and atrocities. As you scramble across the surface world you’ll get an idea of what the nuclear war (and your own actions in 2033) have done to Moscow. It’s easy to spend a long time just observing little incidental details and listening to conversations. Coupled with a beautiful lighting system and heavy use of particle effects it’s impossible to escape from the immersive claustrophobia that pervades the game.
The details follow through to the the gameplay too. Throughout your mission you’ll find yourself wearing gas-masks at various times and it’s up to you when to put it on or take it off, you can even hit LB to wipe the visor clean of mud, acid or rain, leaving little streaks behind. There’s three different methods of lighting available to you, and this is a dark game, so you have to choose whether you want the powerful bot constantly in need of manually recharging flashlight; the tiny but effective cigarette lighter, or the night-vision goggles that prevent you from seeing shadows which are oh-so important to hide in. Just like the first game you will be using high-grade ammo for money, so if you want you can literally fire your money away, but it’s hardly advisable when weapon upgrades and ammo are so expensive, and normal ammo tends to get the job done.
There’s a strong stealth system in the game, uses a combination of sound and light. Hiding in the shadows you can get almost unrealistically close to enemies before they can spot you, but fire off even a silenced pistol shot and at least enemies in the immediate vicinity will notice something. The best route is to try and creep to get behind your enemies to knock them out or slit their throats, but throwing knives and dartguns can be used at a push as long as you’re sure no-one is looking. There’s no hiding if bodies or anything like that and while the guards do have set patrol patterns they seem much more natural than is common is stealth-based games. Playing stealthily feels fluid and dynamic, with you constantly needing to change your tools and position to get through the areas, somehwat like the ‘Thief’ series. It’s satisfying to clear out a room of guards without anyone dying or ever knowing you were there, and this ties into the morality system that exists throughout the game.
Morals aren’t pushed on to you throughout the game, it’s not as clear cut as anything like Mass Effect or Fable. Instead the game is secretly counting away at how many good things you do and how many bad. It’s up to you to decide what counts as good or bad, but generally pacifism is the best option. The only thing it affects is the ending you get, out of a possible two.
Combat in the game is quick and satisfying, with all of the weapons having their own drawbacks and little unique characteristics. It’s much more interesting to fight human opponents, and you’ll be doing that much more than you did in 2033, but the monsters are good for some of the tenser moments. There’s plenty of sequences where you’ll find yourself low on ammo, outnumbered and completely out of your comfort zone, but the game does a good job of never stacking the odds too high against you, so it feels tense but surmountable as you progress. If anything Metro 2033 was perhaps a little too challenging, causing frustration rather than allowing you to get immersed in the story. Last Light is definitely easier and for gamers who want to be invested in the experience this is definitely a good thing. The game takes somewhere in the region of 8-12 hours depending on how thorough you are and what difficulty you have it on.
It’s easy to recommend Metro: Last Light as long as you have a rig capable of running it. The ‘optimal’ system specs are insane, but on our i5, 7870, 8Gb RAM machine we were able to play it at 1080p on very high at 60fps, we just needed to turn the fancy options like PhysX, SSAO and tesselation off. Even at low settings the game looks beautiful, but you’ll want to be running it at 1080p to really take in the detail in the scenery.
If you’ve got a machine capable of running it, and you’ve played Metro 2033 or are happy to read up on the story you’ll be in for a treat with Last Light. It’s the most atmospheric FPS of the year so far and up there against Crysis 3 in terms of visuals. The story is compelling (although confusing) right through to the end and, despite a few glitches, the experience is highly polished and utterly immersive thanks to some great design decisions.