Metro: Last Light Review
Visually lavish and dripping with atmosphere, Last Light is a marked improvement on its predecessor despite retaining a few of its shortcomings
If you played 2010's promising but rough Metro 2033, you know that the series has the potential to become something really special. The blend of well crafted post-apocalyptic environments, diagetic HUD elements and frantic firefights didn't quite come together as well as they could have in the first Metro game, but it was easy to see the potential the series had to become one of the most unique and compelling shooter franchises around. With Metro: Last Light, the developers have bolstered the previously uneven game play and further improved on the setting and narrative aspects, resulting in a significantly improved sequel that almost completely lives up to the series' lofty potential. While a few problems remain such as minor pacing issues and buggy human artificial intelligence, Last Light is a compelling and engrossing experience that fans of post-apocalyptic settings and immersive first person games will relish from beginning to end.
Trips above surface are vivid and memorable
Last Light continues the story form 2033, with the city of the Dark Ones being destroyed and tensions escalating between the fascist Reich and communist Redline. At the beginning of Last Light, you learn that a single Dark One survived the bombing and set out to finish the job, once again playing as the Sparta ranger Artyom. While on the surface chasing the remaining Dark One, you are taken prisoner by a Nazi patrol, and escape from captivity with the help of Pavel, a Redline Communist who proves to be one of the most interesting characters of the series. Pavel serves as your companion for a time, with a series of excellent stealth focused levels making for a very strong start to your journey. The story goes in some strange and interesting directions as it progresses, and you will need to be open to supernatural goings on in order to suspend your disbelief and make sense of it all. Visions and ghosts from the pre-war era make a return in some segments, and even weirder things start happening related to the Dark Ones later in the game.
It is appropriate that there is a good chunk of stealth gameplay so early on because this is the area that has seen the most improvement in Last Light. While Metro 2033 had stealth, it was a clumsy trial-and-error affair, with enemy patrols going from standby to full alert mode the moment they caught a glimpse of you. This has been greatly improved in Last Light, with a bevy of small adjustments coming together to make stealth a much more viable option. As with its predecessor, a small light on your watch will come on when you are visible to enemies, although it now accurately indicates whether or not you will be spotted. You can now perform takedowns from behind instead of having to rely on your unwieldy knife. Throwing knifes make a return from 2033, along with the addition of silenced variations of many weapons that can be used to eliminate foes unnoticed. Once again almost every light source can be manipulated; you can walk up to bulbs and lamps to turn them off, or shoot them out. Kerosene lamps are common, and if you shoot them, they will burst into flames catching nearby objects on fire. This will draw attention to the area, something that can cause you to be seen, or it can be used as a distraction.
Escaping from a Nazi prison is an early game highlight
There is still one elephant in the room when it comes to stealth however, and it takes the form of enemy artificial intelligence. When you have gone unnoticed and the enemies are going about their pre-scripted business, everything is fine, and when they are fully alerted to your presence, they will take cover and try to flush you out with grenades. However there is an incredibly awkward middle ground when the enemies see a light get shot out or find a dead body. Sometimes they will behave in reasonable ways, patrolling the area and yelling to other humans to start looking for a potential intruder. However all too frequently the AI will break, with enemies running into walls, getting stuck in corners, walking through closed doors and generally ruining the immersion that the game does such a good job of propagating. These moments of AI bugginess are jarring since everything otherwise feels so well crafted. The stealth segments are still hugely enjoyable thanks to the well designed levels and much improved gunplay, but it's a shame more care wasn't put into ironing out bugs in the AI.
If you are not a big fan of stealth and would rather engage in out-and-out firefights, there are no situations where you are strictly required to sneak past enemies. Open combat with human opponents has also seen improvements, mostly in the form of an expanded arsenal and much tighter gunplay. Great weapon sounds and enemies which react well to being shot make firefights really intense; enemies will take cover and throw grenades, communicating with each other about your position. In many sequences that could otherwise be completed with stealth, getting into a firefight will result in an alarm and reinforcements of often heavily armored soldiers that can take a good deal of damage before going down. Normal soldiers usually go down pretty fast, even on the hardest difficulty, although Artyom can take quite a beating before he finally drops, reducing the overall difficulty of human encounters compared to 2033.
Beware the Communist with the Hitler 'stache
Last Light retains military grade ammunition as its main form of currency, and it can be spent at friendly metro stations throughout the game on weapon upgrades and normal ammunition. While you can still load your currency into your guns if you get desperate, I rarely had trouble finding enough ammunition, and only needed to load the precious military grade rounds into my weapons on one occasion. Resource scarcity is never really an issue for that matter, with ammo, medical kits and gas-mask filters existing in relative abundance for the duration of the game. There are a handful of situations in the second half of the journey where limited ammunition is a factor, but these are few and far between, something of a disappointment given the tension these moments bring to the table.
If you aren't dealing with levels filled with human opponents, there is a good chance you are fighting mutants. Steps have been made to improve the variety of these beasts, with the standout addition being giant spiders which are heavily armored on the top. These spiders are sensitive to light, and if you shine your flashlight on them they will eventually flip over exposing their soft bellies. There are some really tense moments where you have spiders coming in from multiple angles and you are forced to try and shine your light on them the entire time, all the while desperately scrambling to keep the flashlight batteries charged. Other new mutants are less interesting but still exciting to fight, such as 'shrimps' which spew acid at you and a praying-mantis like monster with heavily armored front limbs it uses to protect itself. These usually make appearances during your many trips to the surface, which are far more frequent and memorable than they were in 2033.