I admit that I never played Metro: 2033. It was always one of those games I wanted to play but just never got around to it. The premise interested me most as I have been fascinated with post-apocalyptic worlds since I was kid and first saw The Road Warrior. The idea of a world full of mutated animals, warring factions and where currency is only bullets sounds amazing to me. So when Metro: Last Light finally released under Deep Silver this past month, I jumped at the chance to visit the Metro. Unfortunately that excitement subsided once I delved into what Metro: Last Light had to offer. While mechanically sound, down-right gorgeous at times, the game suffers from some notable technical issues and a general lack of engaging characters.
Into the Darkness…
Players take the role of returning Artyom. Picking up a year after the events of Metro: 2033, Atryom has now joined The Rangers, and lives in the D6 military compound after the defeat of the Dark Ones. As it turns out, a Dark One has survived and Ranger leader Colonel Miller tasks Atryom with killing the surviving threat. He sets out with Anya, The Rangers best sniper and Miller’s daughter. From here the adventure begins proper and the game does manage to surprise at nearly every turn.
From a narrative standpoint Metro: Last Light is frustrating because none of the supporting characters leave much of an impression. A pivotal event in the game didn’t effect me as much as it maybe should have on an emotional level in any way. I didn’t care about the character involved, I cared that it had happened to me on principle. Those are hardly the same thing.
Furthermore, between the action-centric chapters, Artyom will find himself in various settlements throughout the Metro. Here 4A makes every attempt to build the world and show how the people are getting on in this new world underground, but since I could only interact with gun and ammo merchants, it came off as an animatronic museum. It was not unlike Bioshock Infinite’s Columbia, only here I could only walk, very slowly, on a path until I reached the next area. Yes, you can eavesdrop on conversations that do somewhat build the world around you, but I’m a big fan of “show, don’t tell” and considering that video games are the one storytelling medium that allows the viewer to participate, keeping things at arms length is all the more disappointing. Especially when games that have done this much better have existed for over 10 years, like Half-Life 2 and The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay, to name a couple.
While the story didn’t connect with me overall, I did quite enjoy the horror elements on display, like seeing ghostly apparitions of bodies, and families and children either in the aftermath of a catastrophic event or in the moments before. It was unsettling and elevated the game above standard shooter fare.
4A was more successful with the environments of this devastated, dystopian version of an annihilated Moscow. Each settlement looked cobbled together from whatever materials the survivors could find and I really got the sense that the people were trying to do the best they could in a terrible situation. There were 7 act shows, brothels, strip clubs, markets–everything to survive and also maintain some semblance of normal, pre-war, above ground life.
…And Into the Light
Speaking of above ground, it’s the moments when Artyom makes his way to the surface when Metro: Last Light’s art direction really shines. I cannot recall a single game I have played that has a more beautiful rendition of a devastated world. Gorgeous, beaming sunlight belies the fatally radiated air and mutated animals that hunt for the prey that dares set foot into the rubble-strewn streets and marshes. It truly is a sight to behold and I could feel myself perk up when an outdoor environment was upon me. The variety in the outdoor environments is impressive–swamps, vehicle-strewn streets, gutted buildings with remnants of the former occupants lives–all on display and realized with staggering craftsmanship.
Metro: Last Light is a perfectly competent shooter. The guns feel good, aiming and shooting feels as intuitive as ever in this post-Call of Duty world we live in, and combat scenarios involving the mutated beasts of the world are tense and satisfying. Little touches like wiping the visor on Artyom’s gas mask are welcome and effective, if somewhat pointless, additions to the already solid first person mechanics.
Pressing the Left Bumper brings up a UI menu, which details the different items you can use. The left side of the screen shows items mapped to your D-pad. This includes your lighter, the charger for your flashlight, etc. The right side of your screen is mapped to your face buttons for quick access to your flashlight, gas mask, filters for your gas mask and night vision goggles. It works well and while this menu is up time slows down making it manageable. What’s great is that using the menus doesn’t take you out of the environment like menus often do. Sure, it’s not an innovation, but it is streamlined. However, outside of the menu Up on the D-pad is the lighter, Down is health, but Left and Right are not used at all. Why couldn’t the battery and the weapon pump be mapped to those buttons, eliminating the left side of the UI when bringing up the menu and making it that much easier?
The most glaring issues with the game are purely technical and the game suffers from a general lack of polish. First, the game is surprisingly buggy. The game has an emphasis on stealth; the player is able to interact with lights either by shooting them out, blowing out candles or by turning off the breaker for that area. Awesome, right? Well it would be if the AI wasn’t so inconsistent in reacting to the environment. At times I literally dropped bodies from walkways onto patrolling soldiers only to have them do nothing. They just kept walking without even acknowledging the dead comrade that just fell in front of them. Other times they would spot me from across the room, in the dark. Without good, consistent AI that reacts to you, the stealth isn’t nearly as engaging, suspenseful or satisfying as it could be.
During one entirely optional rescue mission, I entered the area crouched and ready to get my stealth on. I lined up an enemy in my sights, shot him in the head, and his body just stood there. He was definitely dead as I could pass through his body, but for some reason the game didn’t animate his death or the deaths of any of the other enemies I killed in this sub-area. All of the bodies stood where I shot them, looking straight ahead with dead eyes. It was creepy and amusing at the same time.
Lastly, the game would freeze for a moment from time to time and in my case, it completely locked up 3 times during the final confrontation of the game. It’s not game breaking, by any means, but frustrating and disappointing all the same.
A Beautiful Place to Visit But I Wouldn’t Want To Live There
I didn’t dislike my time with Metro: Last Light, but by the end of the game I didn’t really care much for what happened to anyone in the game because I never felt any connection in the first place. It’s unfortunate because I know 4A put in a lot of details that should enrich the world. And while they were successful to an extent, I was ultimately left underwhelmed by the story I was experiencing. Coupled with the awful AI, glitches and bugs, Metro: Last Light is hard to recommend for anything beyond a rental.
Sean completed the campaign Metro: Last Light on Xbox 360 in approximately 9 hours and completed 17 of 52 achievements. The copy of the game played was a rental and was not provided by Deep Silver.
+ Gorgeous outdoor environments
+ Solid shooter controls and mechanics
+ Brief but well executed moments of horror
-Lack of compelling supporting characters
-AI is almost non-existent
-Bugs and glitches
Available on: PC, Mac, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Version Reviewed: Xbox 360