When I first got my hands on the original Metro 2033, I hadn't heard of it (or the book it was based on) and had no idea what to expect. I came away from the experience incredibly impressed and having pained myself through the claustrophobic chapters - thanks to the gas masks - I wanted more. The game ended in a way that hinted something more was to come, and of course since it was based on a book that itself had a sequel, it was only logical a followup title should appear.
The game was going to be called Metro 2034 (like the second book) for a while there, but instead ended up with the name Metro: Last Light in reflection of the fact that it tells a different story to the one that appears in the novel.
The world that developers 4A Games have created here is one I wish I had an Oculus Rift to experience it with. The graphics are gorgeous, and the populated areas Artyom gets to become a part of feel alive and vivid. In these areas, everywhere you go has something happening: a conversation between father and daughter, a bar filled with dejected and lost souls, quarantined patients vomiting blood, and soldiers discussing horror stories from the haunted tunnels.
The game itself is an incredibly linear experience, but not once did I feel that I wanted to veer off the beaten track. On the surface, you're anxious to get back underground, to safety, and in the monster filled catacombs, side passages could be the difference between life and death. That doesn't mean you have to take the straight path through the game, though.
You will be rewarded for doing a little exploring, whether it be via Artyom's diary notes he writes along the way, or an extra few bullets or filters for his gas mask. There are even a few moments in the "townships" where stopping and smelling the roses will bring you nothing more than some entertainment and a breather from the incessant torture of pushing through the dread. Every step through this alternate future of ours felt like it has been crafted with an amazing sense of love and attention.
While you may be scouting the environment for bullets, gas masks, and filters, the game manages to do what a lot of other games seem to struggle with. More often than not, in games that require you to search about for things, it's easy to enter a new area and instead of taking it in and figuring out what needs to happen next, you start looking for the shiny objects you can pick up, hoping to secure that elusive achievement. Not here; you'll be surveying your situation, turning off lights to ensure you can stay hidden in shadows, and making sure that the growl coming from up ahead isn't something that could seriously ruin your day.... or your pants.
Last Light has some of the greatest sound design I've ever heard in a game. Sure, some of the voice acting is average, but I'm talking about how well they managed to pull off surround sound, the fantastically atmospheric score, and the high quality sound effects. I've been gaming in 5.1 surround for close to a decade now and I thought I'd had my last "what's that noise?" moment, as I look over my shoulder to a far corner of the room. I sure as hell haven't had that happen in the last five years, so to experience that again with Last Light was fantastic. There were moments where the sound design helped ground me in the world, and it made the tense parts all the better for it.
There are legitimately scary moments in Last Light, to the point it's almost one part survival horror to three parts first person shooter. Ammo is scarce, and running out is not something you can afford to do, literally, as the special ammo is also what you use as currency. Gas masks can break, and filters have a time limit to them (which can be monitored using Artyom's in-game watch.) When you're crawling through tunnels, turning off any and all lights you come across, with only a handful of bullets left, and your last filter is almost out, it can all be a bit too much. But it's oh so good.
Last Light claims to set a new graphical benchmark for PC thanks to the lighting effects and physics engine, and some of the stuff in here truly needs to be seen. There's a moment in the game where a character is about to show off something he's been working on; it's hidden under a patchy quilted sheet. As he and I walked towards it I couldn't help but predict there'd be an unveiling, and having never seen this done in a game before without looking terrible, I instantly predicted how bad it would look. I was wrong.... so wrong. With one fluid motion the sheet is pulled back and it flows effortlessly over the object in an incredibly life-like fashion. I smiled.
That wasn't the only moment where the game tickled that graphics hungry part of my brain, though. Early on there's a moment, a small scene that by itself probably wouldn't have been memorable, and it involves a room filled with smoke. In any standard game you'd see the characters walk through and think nothing of it, but when the two people in front of you start walking and their presence causes the smoke to part and slightly follow them, as if there was actually some form of atmosphere in that room, it's just... it's new, it looks great, and it really sells the immersion.
Sadly, there are also immersion killers. Last Light suffers from the same thing BioShock Infinite suffered from: in cutscenes, your character has arms, legs and even a body, but in-game (despite the shadow being cast from the lantern behind you) you're nothing but two disembodied arms holding a gun. A little consistency would have gone a long way, and the same could be said about Artyom's venture into the Guild of the Silent Protagonists.
Between missions Artyom explains what's happening, while a map shows us where he's heading and where he's been. They've chosen a fairly decent voice-actor for him and he sounds believable enough, but the second Artyom is talked to in-game, even if it's a fairly important question that he wouldn't mind answering... nothing. There doesn't seem to be a reason behind his decision to stay quiet, and near the end where some talking could do some good... nothing.
Those who haven't played the original should definitely start there as Metro: Last Light feels like a direct sequel in every way: it feels familiar and inviting but also new and intriguing. Those who jump straight into the sequel will probably get a little lost in the story, plus you're robbing yourself of some of the most claustrophobic gaming ever created. Last Light is a first person shooter that tries not to be one, and it'll likely be looked down upon by those wanting something a little faster and "shootier."
While the game can be played in a more traditional fashion, you're kinda missing the point of what the game is asking of you. Soldiers won't attack what they can't see, and they can't defend against your blade if they don't know you're there. While the stealth approach is clearly the route 4A Games wants you to take, even the best laid plans can go awry. While you may be able to clear an area without being noticed and without losing a single bullet, this won't be something you'll achieve easily; it only takes one soldier to create a bulletstorm.
People looking for a story-driven first person adventure will see past the small faults it contains and will be rewarded instead by being captivated by the game's detailed world. Now, can someone please get the guys at Oculus to hurry up with the retail release of the Oculus Rift?
Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC