As the number of games set in hopeless worlds destroyed by nuclear warfare continues to grow, innovation has become a necessity for these titles to make any kind of mark on the industry. Based on Dmitry Glukhovsky’s science fiction novel Metro 2033, the Metro series so far deals with heavily pessimistic themes that work to add some deeper meaning to this too-tried, too-true setting. Though the gameplay of Metro: Last Light is inconsistent thanks to some dry patches and abrupt changes in pace, and the rapport between characters is poorly developed and contrived, a brilliantly designed visual style offers the perfect setting for some kick-ass monster-shooting. It’s a bit difficult to take seriously at times, but far too sombre to mock at others.
First up I’ll mention the difficulty settings. Offered as additional DLC is Ranger Mode, the “way it is meant to be played” (though I can’t help wondering how, then, we are supposed to play the game without purchasing this add-on, hmm?), meaning no HUD and scarcer resources. Left with only Original Mode, players who take on M:LL on Normal difficulty will probably find themselves breezing through the game in less than eight hours, with minimal points of trouble. With the thought in mind that by the end of the game I had garnered over 45 minutes of supposedly precious filter for my gas mask, I recommend any capable FPS player to play on Hardcore difficulty for any sort of challenge.
Anyone familiar with recent first-person shooter titles would know what to expect in single-player campaigns; some kill-or-be-killed firefights, some live-and-let-live stealth sections, some seriously-why-does-it-only-take-damage-when-I-shoot-in-the-back boss battles, and some did-they-really-think-I’d-be-impressed action cutscenes, all of which are delivered in M:LL, for better or worse. For better since it covers a variety of play-styles; for worse since it is very predictable, as if the developers have a checklist of all mandatory elements.
The lack of variety in enemies isn’t a bother but since players are quickly introduced to each type of baddie, there’s soon no opportunity to be surprised. The variety in weapons is what keeps the gameplay feeling fresh and since these tools are dispersed all across the metro and the surface alike there are constant opportunities to try out the next firearm of fun.
While the bullet-to-baddie action is fun, the atmosphere created through splendid quality graphics and well-designed (and perfectly sordid) environments that reflect the deeply troubled themes, the story attempts to push forward is the element most deserving of praise. Every metro tunnel and underground chamber feels uniquely drab and unpleasantly claustrophobic (as they should), while some open areas on the surface provide wide landscapes that work well as screenshots for my desktop background. Though the aesthetic design fits very well, the levels are tragically linear, with very little room for improvisation, and the spots that do contain backchannels hide treasures hardly worth the effort.
I found it hard to connect with any characters throughout Metro: Last Light, much like in any triple-A FPS title nowadays. It seems people are quick to hate on the single-player campaigns of the Call of Duty series and dismiss character developments as contrived and plots as nonsensical, while lesser-grossing titles such as M:LL are perceived as being somehow better, despite using identical story-telling facets. Plagued with poorly implemented action scenes and “Press E rapidly to do X” sequences, there are many moments of M:LL worthy of a heavy sigh and disappointed head-shake, missing the mark by far. Similarly, emotionally-driven events are utterly underwhelming. The game introduces a character, establishes very basic personality traits, then assumes you just accept them as they are, without developing their relationship with protagonist Artyom at all.
At one point towards the end of the narrative, the ghosts of families killed by a nuclear detonation flash before Artyom, a depiction of death and hopelessness that requires no explicit explanation. The companion (I’m being vague to avoid spoilers) ruins this sombre sight with a completely unnecessary narration in their irritating voice. Every step in the plot is over-stated in this same fashion to make sure even the most oblivious of players have a simple grasp of their own motives. Those more involved in the plot may be relieved that collectible notes are filled with Artyom’s diary-like monologues, yet these tend to be reiterations of recent events and quickly become tiresome to read. The narrative is quite simply designed for the simple-minded, and those that wish to delve further are not appeased. Since this series has such potential for deeply intriguing fiction, this is an unfortunate disappointment.
This under-performing story is delivered in at least an appropriate way, though this is hindered by more technical faults. Artyom is often caught in lengthy, heavily one-sided conversations with various NPC’s, and though there is much time spent simply walking and talking, it is better than reading it aloud yourself from blocks of text and works well enough. When these NPCs stare their thousand yard stare in the direction they expect the protagonist to be in while he is in fact behind them, or pass straight through his body since he was standing in their path, it is rather difficult to remain lost in their discussion of abstract thoughts and harsh realities. It is awfully silly and surely would have demanded only the most simple of fixes, with a weighty pay off. Surely?
I have listed many faults against Metro: Last Light, all of which are valid, but not necessarily central to the gameplay–I’ve definitely highlighted the negatives here. In any case, it at least testifies to the ability of the underdogs to create a game that easily surpasses some of today’s triple-A titles. As a narrative, M:LL begins with a promise of intrigue but quickly feels like another entry to generic-brown-FPS series. If not for its exploration of deeper, pessimistic themes and weapon variety and customisation options, this would fall into the same category as other FPS titles that underestimate the intelligence of their players. Though it does only fall into the category only one or two steps up from that one, which isn’t that much better.
Select Start Media was provided with a review copy of Metro: Last Light by One To Another.