Metro 2033 was a game that took me by surprise; its unusual setting and combination of horror, stealth and action based gameplay all came together to deliver a game that compelled me to keep playing to its conclusion, despite the often punishing level of difficulty which almost made me stop playing on more than one occasion. My memories of it were mainly positive so when its sequel was released I figured I’d give it a go and see if 4A Games could make lightning strike twice.
The first thing I noticed about Last Light is that the “Ranger” difficulty mode is locked out unless you pay for it. That’s right, a difficulty mode has now been made into DLC; I know Publishers like money but charging people actual currency for a difficulty setting? Is that what things have come to? Quite frankly, I find this a sad state of affairs and hope it doesn’t become a part of any other upcoming titles.
Plotwise, the game takes place a year after the previous game; Artyom and the Rangers have occupied the D6 bunker but they’re not the only ones after the place, the Communists and the Nazis are both looking to claim D6 for themselves. It turns out the bunker is home to a doomsday device so obviously everyone is looking to gain possession of it in order to assert their dominance over the entire underground. Meanwhile, Artyom is tasked with returning to the surface in order to kill the last surviving Dark One, having launched a devastating missile attack against the creatures at the end of the previous game (so if you went out of your way to get the good ending in 2033 then consider your efforts wasted). If that sounds like a lot to take in then it’s because it probably is, if you haven’t played the previous game then you may want to pick it up and give it a go or at the very least read the plot synopsis.
What struck me early on is how the gameplay hasn’t changed much from 2033, this isn’t a sequel that attempts to overhaul any of its main mechanics; instead it simply tries to fine tune everything featured in the previous game in order to be a bit more accessible to newcomers whilst remaining familiar to anyone who played through 2033. For starters, the stealth system has been simplified as your watch now only has one light on it (as opposed to the three LED light system from the previous game) that only appears when you’re hidden. As a result it’s much easier to tell if you’re actually hidden and not just advertising your current whereabouts to all and sundry. The air filter system has been improved as well, with the previous three colour watch face system replaced with a much simpler countdown display, making it easier to know when you need to replace your air filter.
Combat too has been made easier, I was playing on normal mode and weapons felt more powerful, ammunition more plentiful and my resistance to damage was greatly increased to that of the previous game. This meant I was able to take down human enemies much quicker, to the point where the game regularly became just a bit too easy. I didn’t even feel the need to use any of my precious military grade ammunition (the rarer, more powerful ammunition type which once again doubles as currency for trading) against enemies and as a result I’d say that the combat is the main area in which the game stumbles. It’s not actually bad, but there’s nothing in this game as tense or rewarding as the “Frontline” level from the previous game, a part I remember all too well as it wouldn’t hesitate to kill you and send you back to the beginning if you made even the slightest mistake.
The graphics are worth a mention if only because this must be the only game I’ve played that manages to make underground tunnels look good, most games that feature tunnel sections often look dull and drab so it’s surprising to see that a lot of care and detail has been put into making the titular Metro system, particularly the stations; The developers have really managed to make them look like they’re a practical place to live in whilst maintaining a cramped, crowded and oppressive atmosphere and it’s in those relatively peaceful moments between adventures that the 4A Engine really gets a chance to shine. The makeshift houses, market stalls and target ranges which populate the various metro stations all come together to leave the impression that whilst humanity isn’t totally screwed, it’s hardly thriving and is only ever one disaster away from possible doom.
Another point in the game’s favour is the characterisation, most of the people you’ll encounter throughout the campaign actually come across as very human and believable, there’s no standout heroes or larger than life personalities that try to steal the show, even the romantic subplot between Artyom and a female sniper feels very grounded and more real than anything you’ll find in most other games. The only character that doesn’t work is the main villain, he’s just a bit too smug and gloating and I can’t help but get the feeling that he’s only in the game because someone decided that there needed to be a designated villain that everyone could hate. As a result he comes across as weirdly out of place compared to everyone else. The game also regularly has you accompanied by an ally and as a result the first half of the game comes across as a bit too ‘buddy buddy’ for my liking, I preferred the second half which explores the relationship between Artyom and the Dark One as they both come to terms with Artyom’s actions at the end of the previous game whilst trying to find a way to prevent another war from breaking out between the various factions.
In fact, there are quite a few issues I’ve got with this game, I said earlier that the battles against the human enemies were a bit easy and because of that there were large sections of the game that lacked any real sort of tension, as a result I found myself breezing through entire sections with very little effort and I couldn’t help but feel like I was just killing time until the next set piece. I only started to break a sweat whenever the game ditched the human enemies in favour of the various monsters that have populated the tunnels and the surface. One of the new enemies that sticks in my mind are the spiderbugs that need to be lit up for a period of time before you can damage them, it’s no problem to take on one of them but things start to get a bit hairy when you’ve got two or more charging at you and only the one flashlight to keep them at bay.
There’s also too many sections that rely on scripted enemies. Here’s a tip: If two or more enemies are having a chat, just wait for the discussion to finish and they’ll more than likely split up, leaving themselves open and exposed for you to knock out/kill at your disposal. Oh, and the final battle that the whole game builds up to just comes across as a bit of a mediocre Call of Duty knockoff, there’s a moment where you’re tasked with taking down a tank and I figured that the way to do that was to target the soldier who intermittingly pops out from behind cover to operate the main gun, but he wouldn’t die, not even after I’d planted a half dozen sniper rifle rounds into his head. It was at this point I was genuinely wondering if the game was broken but it turns out you have to target the wheels first and then and only then are you allowed to finally take out the gunner.
The karma system from the previous game returns as well and the way its implemented sometimes doesn’t make any sense. I can understand that finding a lost teddy bear for a child or giving a beggar some bullets is good for your karma rating but how does playing a guitar or eavesdropping on someone else’s conversation help? What, does it prove that deep down Artyom is a thoughtful and sensitive soul who should be forgiven for nearly wiping out a peace loving alien race as he’s capable of playing a half decent tune on a stringed instrument? That said, there’s one area in this department that has been improved and it’s the choice of endings; the previous game had you end as either a saint or a complete tosser, so it’s nice to see that Last Light is a little less polarising; there’s still only two endings and there is still quite a difference between them both but no matter which one you get the game still manages to end with at least a bit of hope for the future of those who are left standing at the story’s conclusion.
One last thing: You may remember I said that there are Nazis in this game. I wasn’t being hyperbolic in any way, there are Nazis who have created their own Fourth Reich and they really don’t shy at going the full distance in replicating their demented heroes. They’ve got concentration camps littered with cages and they’re quite happy to gas everyone should something go wrong. They try to propagate the master race by killing anyone who doesn’t meet their absurd standards (Not tall enough? DEAD!), they’ve got their ownFührer who’s completely barking mad and they even refer to themselves as Nazis. I’m aware that this is a game based on a novel but they’re the only faction that comes across as outright evil and that’s a bit of shame, considering how much effort has gone into making most of the other characters come across as believable people.
Overall though I think Metro: Last Light is a sequel worthy of its predecessor and if you enjoyed the previous game then you should definitely give this one a go. If you’re unfamiliar with this series and looking for something that’s a little different to most shooters then I also recommend getting it. It’s not flawless but it’s definitely worth picking up.