Metro: Last Light is everything a sequel should be

Metro 2033 is an acquired taste. Combining elements from first-person shooters, survival horror, and stealth, it remains one of my favorite games of this generation. Most of what I love about 2033 comes from the terrifyingly realistic shooting mechanics. The handmade guns jam, kick like mules, and are a tool of desperation—not bravery. This very intentional design decision adds so much to the game’s atmosphere; It is also exactly what most reviewers criticized 2033 for back in 2010.

Three years later its sequel, Metro: Last Light, directly addresses all of the criticisms leveled at its predecessor’s combat. The gun controls feel tight, largely due to a Call of Duty–style snap-to-target aim assist. The ability to silently take down unaware targets, a feature woefully missing from the original, feels appropriately intimate. Resources are more plentiful and easier to find. These improvements make it far easier to appreciate the care and attention to detail 4A Games have put into worldbuilding Last Light.

Metro Last Light 4

This puts me in a weird place. As a fanboy I say: “How dare they make the game more accessible!” As a critic: “The desperation and bleakness that made the first game stand out is diluted by Western, ‘hand holding’ design influences.” But my heart says, “Shut up you two!” You’re right, Heart, Metro: Last Light is a fantastic game.

The semi-supernatural elements are executed far more coherently than in 2033 and still left me gaping at the screen thinking, WTF did I just see?

Last Light is set one year after the default ending of Metro 2033 where you, Artyom, must deal with the consequences of the game’s events. Yes, I know the statute of limitations on 2010 spoilers has expired, but it was revelatory for me when I played it so if you’re curious you’ll have to play it or read about it elsewhere. What I can say is that Last Light doles out exposition gracefully over the first couple chapters. To those looking to jump into the franchise now, walk slowly and you can pick up all you need to know.

Last Light is an incredibly dense game. The dilapidated metro is a microcosm of humanity. Every inch of the once-functioning subway system/fallout shelter is drenched in story. The walls have been corroded over time by splatters of rust-colored blood from bodies that now lie just below. The construction of the shanty towns that make up the hubs of the game have a meticulousness about them rivaling BioShock or Uncharted 2. Not only does each piece of corrugated sheeting feel as if it could collapse from the slightest bump, but the level design oozes the personality of each station.

Metro Last Light 2

Do you spare the murderous Nazi eugenicists? You can, but should you?

Another benefit to walking slowly is being able to eavesdrop on the people that inhabit the apocalyptic world. Even when the voice acting and lip synchronization fall short, the writing stands tall. A testament to the writing’s strength is how far off the primary path it is placed—showing 4A’s confidence that players will seek it out and be drawn in. All of these completely optional stories delve deep into the psyches of humans without hope. One group of refugees in particular, having just been raided by bandits, was cracking at the seams. The group’s grandmother’s descent into hysteria still haunts me just thinking about it.

The bandits, to their misfortune, were only just around the bend. When I heard the screams of the captured women being beaten, the hairs on my forearms bristled with rage. Knowing the captives would certainly be shot if I went in guns blazing, I opted for stealth. While stealth usually requires a level of patience, the bone-chilling cries for help added pressure and an adrenaline rush I have never felt in a stealth game. Each kill was personal. The unsuspecting rapists and murderers grasped at severed arteries after I crept past in the shadows. One particular stealth kill animation shows you plunging your knife into the bandit’s heart as he stares into your eyes. Too surprised to react, he sinks to his knees. You cradle him to the ground as a parent lays a baby down to sleep so that he won’t make a sound. That’s the kind of game this is.

What makes the violence so powerful is the constant reminder that, for the most part, killing is a choice. Last Light has a vague morality system working behind the scenes. Similar to Dishonored, players have the option of knocking enemies out or avoiding them entirely. Through playing mercifully, it’s supposedly possible to achieve another ending to the game. By hiding this feedback from the player, the choice to kill or not doesn’t feel like a min/max game mechanic, it feels like a personal choice. Do you spare the murderous Nazi eugenicists? You can, but should you?

Besides the stories happening around you, the journey of Artyom is a bit of a mixed bag. The first two thirds of his journey are more of a bus tour around the metro. Chase one bad guy, escape from one bad guy, chase a new bad guy, and so on. Pretty standard videogame writing provides justification for stealth combat, exploration through giant, spider-infested tunnels, and a few trips topside. When the story really picks up steam is when Artyom starts being an agent of his own will, seeking to expose the truth about the Dark Ones and bring peace to the metro. The semi-supernatural elements are executed far more coherently than in 2033 and still left me gaping at the screen thinking, WTF did I just see?

I finished the game satisfied with its denouement that was both exciting and appropriately bleak. While I do not know what the other ending entails, my ending, based on my vengeful approach to combat, was fitting of the anti-hero I was roleplaying. When I play through the game again, I won’t murder everyone in my path.

Metro Last Light 1

 4A Games addressed the previous game’s failings and created a sequel worthy of praise from hardcore fans as well as newcomers to the franchise.

Speaking of multiple playthroughs, I made a mistake. As a reviewer I should have played on normal, without any pre-order content. But as a huge fan of the Ranger Mode that was added to 2033 post-launch, I decided to buy it, despite believing including it in the standard SKU would have been a smarter business decision. For my first time through, I decided to play on this hardcore mode, which disables nearly all HUD elements including ammo counters. While it is as immersive and challenging as advertised, I strongly advise saving it for a second playthrough. Even though the promotional material states Ranger Mode is “the way it was meant to be played,” Huw Beynon, global brand manager at Last Light‘s publisher Koch Media, admits the ad is somewhat misleading.

We do not recommend Ranger Mode for a first playthrough, and this is made very clear in-game. We expect Metro fans will want to try Ranger Mode for a subsequent playthrough, and we think that for this hardcore player, Ranger Mode offers a richer experience—but only once you’ve clocked the game at least once.

One other mistake I made was not properly adjusting the gamma settings. By allowing too much light into the environment, I essentially removed realism and lighting-based challenges from the environments. I could see all the ladders, spot all the traps, and prowl around undetected without the use of a flashlight, infrared goggles, or my trusty bullet-shaped lighter. About halfway through the game, I realized my error and properly adjusted the settings, drastically changing the look and feel of the game to be even darker, scarier, and more tactically exacting—more like the original.

Metro: Last Light is exactly what we demanded it should be. 4A Games addressed the previous game’s failings and created a sequel worthy of praise from hardcore fans as well as newcomers to the franchise. It builds a world around the player with a density and realism that quickly envelops the player. To those yet to play a Metro game, Last Light is a must-buy. For fans of 2033’s quirks, no other game will even come close to scratching that Eastern Bloc Metro itch.

Four stars - Buy