Review: Metro Last Light [Update with Video Review]

By Chris Davis on May 19th, 2013 (14 comments)

Post-apocalyptic fiction is very commonplace today, available on every bookshelf, DVD collection and every video game console imaginable.  Post-nuclear exchange stories are easily the most visible of the entire genre, especially so since our species discovered a way to extinguish us within the span of just half an hour.  For the majority of these titles, however, the exposure most people experience comes from a Western point of view with creations like The Day After, Jericho, Alas Babylon and more giving us a capitalist nation perspective after the world has ended.  Thankfully, we have more Eastern fiction breaking into the marketplace today than ever before with experiences like Dmitry Glukhovsky’s Metro series bringing us a Russian perspective.

Two years ago a team of Ukranian developers formed by former employees of GSC Games World (STALKER series) released Metro 2033, based on the novel Glukhovsky published in Russia in 2005.  Glukhovsky went on to publish a sequel, Metro 2034, four years later but the plot and direction didn’t fit the pacing and nature required for a video game.  With 2033’s success as a sleeper hit, 4A Games and Glukhovsky teamed back up for Metro Last Light but, in an age in which single player games are far from the norm, does this next entry in the saga of life in Moscow after the bomb have the stuff to prove to publishers that a single player shooter doesn’t need multiplayer to be great?

Metro Last Light
Developer: 4A Games
Publisher: Deep Silver
Release Date: May 14th, 2013 (PC, 360, PS3)

Turmoil Below the Surface

Twenty years after a nuclear holocaust engulfed the planet, the last known survivors in Moscow, isolated from the rest of the world, hide in the tunnels of the former city’s metro.  In the two decades since, after the survivors realized that the government wasn’t going to return for them, a power struggle between a fascist division, a neo-Soviet communist movement and the various independent metro stations has whittled down the remaining members of humanity from two hundred thousand to barely a quarter of that.  To keep the war for power from expanding to the entire metro and to combat the growing threat of mutants born of the lethal surface radioactivity, the Sparta Rangers act as an independent faction, doing their best to instill peace and try to save our species.

In Metro 2033, players took on the role of Artyom, a child at the time of the nuclear fire who came of age in the cold concrete confines of the metro system.  Artyom journeyed throughout the metro to deliver a message to the leader of the Rangers and stop the Dark Ones, a new mutant threat that looked powerful enough to wipe us off the face of the Earth.  With his help, the Rangers discovered a legendary command and control bunker from the pre-war era known as D6 and were able to destroy the Dark Ones in a massive missile strike.  Only as the missiles began their flight did Artyom learn the truth however: the Dark Ones had been trying to reach out to humanity in hope of peace and he could do nothing as he watch the bombardment destroy their hive.

One year later, the events of that cold day on the irradiated surface still haunt him.  Artyom’s connection to the Dark Ones and his role as a Ranger conflict him within and it is only when Khan, a friend who helped guide him through parts of the metro a year prior, approaches him with the news that he saw a surviving child of the Dark Ones does he begin to feel that this last one just might be his chance to redeem himself for the sins he committed the previous year.  His journey will be just as hard as his first though: war is brewing in the metro as the legend of D6 has all but been confirmed by the other factions and it is clear that the one to take the bunker will control the entire metro system.

Pep rallies in high school were never this... fanatical.

Artyom’s second video game story is, in many ways, an extension of what 4A Games attempted to do in 2010.  You will find yourself exploring new sections of the metro while trying to mitigate the threat that the Reich and Red factions pose on the safety and security of the remaining stations.  You will venture onto the surface and explore the ruins of Moscow.  You’ll interact with old comrades and new enemies alike.  What you won’t do is really explore a lot of new narrative ground.

In the twelve or so hours that you will put into your first run through Metro Last Light you will take note that, while some of the new elements really offer some interesting propositions as to character interaction and potential plotlines, a few don’t really deliver as promised.  Several plot twists that appear in the later parts of the game don’t exactly pay off that well and either were quite transparent from the beginning or are simply resolved in a quick and confusing manner.  In fact, the only unique plot element I found myself really enjoying was a late game companion character that, while I won’t detail specifically due to it being a spoiler, offered quite a unique take on the conflict within the metro.  Beyond that, however, I found myself wanting a deeper take on the metro universe and while I received that in some aspects by the end of the game, there were so many more that weren’t even approached.  We never get to take a look at Hanza, one of the major factions in the metro, the Children of the Underground are not even mentioned and we never get to see Artyom return to previously explored territory like Exhibition Station, Artyom’s home, a year after he left.  For me, there’s a lot that could have been explored and while I enjoyed the story 4A brought to the table, I wish it hadn’t been so direct and allowed me the chance to learn more about the universe.

Of Tunnels and Horrors

If there is something that can certainly be said about Metro 2033 it is that the gameplay was a love-it-or-hate-it one as its complexity was very polarizing.  The game’s stealth system could be confusing at times and the combat was a bit more balanced in favor of the enemies.  4A Games seems to have heard these complaints and have addressed them properly.

The game’s emphasis on stealth seems to have remained unchanged thankfully but the mechanics have seen some refinement.  Players can turn out or destroy most of the light sources found in the game and your watch has a light indicator to tell you just when you are hidden or exposed.  In addition, a music cue plays upon being glanced at by an enemy but a player that quickly move out of sight will reward the cautious by having the enemy ignore what they saw.  This system also extends to the mutants this time around as some areas that are overrun with them can be snuck through if the player is careful.

One of the more frustrating parts of Metro 2033 was the fact that stealth, at times, could be a bit of a crapshoot with human enemies.  This is probably the most improved aspect of Last Light as the AI seems to have been all but completely rewritten.  In a manner quite reminiscent of Metal Gear Solid 2, the enemy will investigate tripped alarms, strange noises and potential sightings of the player without going into a full alert mode, allowing the player some leniency.  Once fully spotted the enemy will warn his teammates and they will attack you in force.  In addition, tougher enemies will enter the area wearing heavier armor and potentially more deadly weapons.  If they lose track of you however they will enter a state of heightened alert, actively patrolling for you.  The system works very well and is easily one of the major new additions to the series.

You're fired.

In addition to new human AI, 4A has added in new mutant threats to be wary of.  2033 sadly limited most encounters to ones featuring Nosalises and Watchmen, huge mole and wolf/rat-like mutants respectively, and Last Light offers new additions to the arsenal.  Spiders, giant arachnids that are burned by exposure to light, replace the Lurkers as the principle hit-and-run foe and their environments are just as creepy as the sound of them crawling through the walls is.  Shrimps appear in water-focused environments and usually only attack when the player either gets too close or causes loud noises.  Last Light also sees the addition of mutant boss battles which are quite intense encounters.  While some of the previous species from Metro 2033 do not make an appearance, the roster this time around seems much more varied and offers some unique challenges to overcome.

One disappointing aspect that doesn’t seem to have been particularly updated is the weapon variety.  Though you won’t see any new weapons added to the arsenal (the fact that the Volt Driver isn’t in the game was a bit upsetting) the game now features a customization system to make up for this.  Whereas the previous game forced players to either locate or purchase upgraded weapons, this new title allows you to purchase sight, barrel and various other enhancements to your current weapon selection.  It’s a much needed new feature and definitely allows the player the ability to specialize far better than you could before but, given the narrative and gameplay possibilities that could have opened up by the game’s stronger emphasis on D6, one would have hoped to see a larger variety of weapons.

What amounts to being the best parts of Last Light’s gameplay are the ones that just haven’t changed.  The game retains the bullet currency system from the previous game and keeps the dynamic of forcing the player to choose between killing enemies easier and having cash to spend later quite engaging.  The ghosts of the metro continue to offer a creepy, pace-changing moments throughout the game, adding wonderfully atmosphere at much needed moments.  The game’s “morality” system is intact, offering moments both big and small that determine the outcome of the story. 

The highlight of these elements, however, has to be the game’s emphasis on exploration.  While the Metro series is definitely a linear one in design, many areas offer branching paths as well as nook and crannies to explore that could yield much-desired items and equipment for the player.  Finding Ranger and bandit stashes in the dead city at the risk of setting off deadly traps is great and exploring Spider-infested side areas that may hold enhanced weapons or military-grade ammunition definitely offers the player plenty of incentive to explore.  Heck, several moments in the game either encourage or discourage doing so by trying into the “morality” system.  I can think of no less than six major instances throughout the experience that I either didn’t investigate or did based on the implications of that decision.  This definitely adds to the replay value and makes a second or even third playthrough all the more enticing.

One final note I feel must be emphasized is is that this is, without a doubt, a mature title.  Though the game is a particularly violent one, the mature nature of the title comes more from the pornographic content featured in a particular portion of the game.  In one optional scene the player can pay a stripper five bullets for a topless lap dance and given the attention to detail put into both the animations and the graphical quality of the character model it is quite clear that this wasn't a spur of the moment thing.  This is the kind of scene that clearly caters to the male demographic and so I must warn even the most leniant parents that Metro Last Light is something you do not buy for your 10 year old.  Although, I have to wonder just how that mo-cap session worked and how long it lasted...

A HAPPY PLACE TO BE

The Soul of the Metro

4A Games chose to create their own engine and Metro 2033’s first use of it was a very nice freshman effort.  Last Light features a refined graphics palate with a much better lighting system than before.  The game features a much stronger particle effects system which is a very nice touch.  The makeshift nature of almost everything you saw in 2033 is repeated to a very enjoyable degree, putting even more emphasis on just how desperate the world of the metro actually is.  Faces seem to be the only item left almost untouched save for a few specific character models.

Probably the best part of the visual design is the updated environments and the variety thereof.  Tunnels infested by spiders are incredibly creepy and many of the flooded sections of the metro feature some nicely done water.  Visits to the surface are the clear winner here, however, as the environments melting snow has yielded greener environments and swampland, making for a nice change of pace from the greys and browns seen in the metro.  There’s a lot to love here.

As much as the graphics system has been refined, the sound design has remained unchanged.  Though this may seem to be a mark against Last Light it is actually a strong compliment as the previous title was easily one of the best I’ve heard in years.  Everything from the wind flowing through the tunnels, to the scratching noises and growls of Spiders and Nosalises to even the weapons fire is sweet, sweet nectar for any audiophile out there.  Even the voicework is well done though, I implore you, consider playing entirely in Russian.  Believe me, a HUD-less, Russian-voiced playthrough is the way to go.

One final note I think the reader should be aware of is the PC version’s inclusion of several bonuses.  The final product comes with a free PDF copy of Metro 2033’s novel in case you find yourself wanting to learn more about author Dmitry Glukhovsky’s expanding universe.  In addition, the game features a rather nice benchmarking tool for those wanting to put their system to the test.  They are small items, sure, but they’re definitely nice additions.

Bugs get big in Russia.

The Last Light of Hope

Metro 2033 was a sleeper hit for THQ three years ago and the dedicated team at 4A Games certainly deserve to be praised for their hard work on the game.  With Last Light however we have an even more wonderful experience to take in.  While the story doesn’t deliver in some departments, the overall experience is rather fantastic.  If anything, the best description I can offer is that Last Light is a gameplay refinement on 2033 that offers a continued story in a universe ripe with potential.  It proves that a shooter doesn’t need to have multiplayer to survive and I’m very, very glad that a publisher like Deep Silver would be willing to rescue a title like Last Light from the debacle that was THQ’s downfall.

The transition year for two generations of consoles always yields a crop of very impressive titles and if you were forced to choose only one title to end a generation on, amongst greats like Bioshock Infinite and plentypotentiaries such as The Last of Us, you’d be a fool not to consider Metro Last Light.

Score: 85%

80-89%: Great - Only very minor issues get in the way of greatness.

Tags: Review, 4A Games, metro, Metro 2033, Metro Last Light, PC, Deep Silver, THQ

Chris Davis

I am 4Player's video and feature producer. I've been writing about games for years and I enjoy every minute of it. I'm pro-developer and I have a few friends who have gone on to successful careers in the industry. I may only be an amateur but I've got things to say.

Comment!
  • Jager 1 year, 3 months ago

    Great review Chris. Very glad I have this game pre-loaded and ready to go for the Friday release here! It's nice to hear about the small improvements to the stealth system which may fix the frustration it caused for me in the first game. Also great to hear about the new enemy types! Variety is what the previous game was lacking for me. What difficulty did you play on? I picked the first game up at a later date and played through it on Ranger Hardcore my first time round and I found it quite challenging at times due to how scarce ammo was. (Did you get the preorder difficulty?) Bit upset the Volt Driver isn't in the game, it was my favorite weapon in the previous installment. Who knows, DLC?

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    • Chris Davis 1 year, 3 months ago

      For the purposes of the review I played on Normal. Ranger mode was not made available to reviewers unfortunately. I do look forward to do a second run on Ranger though.

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      • Jager 1 year, 3 months ago

        Great, cheers!

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      • Carlos Ottino 1 year, 3 months ago

        It has been said by the game's developer that Ranger mode is "the true Metro Last Light experience" or something like that. It is available for $5 to those who did not preorder. That warrants a ten point deduction for every dollar. -50 points. Final score: 35% Still better than Colonial Marines. Carlos out.

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        • pioshfd 1 year, 3 months ago

          @Carlos, yeah that part bummed me out...

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  • Skyliner 1 year, 3 months ago

    Nice! Lovely review, Chris. Yours and Joseph's sneakiness had me wondering. "Even the voicework is well done though, I implore you, consider playing entirely in Russian. Believe me, a HUD-less, Russian-voiced playthrough is the way to go." Er, I assume there are English subtitles? I'm derpy. Also, christ, 4A. Post-apocolyptic underground Russian strippers? Glad to know the necessities are thrown in. -.-

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  • Locked 1 year, 3 months ago

    Very good review, great depth in explaining some of the new mechanics. That AI has me excited to see how the game plays out. Keep up the great work. :D

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  • Sokka06 1 year, 3 months ago

    Great. Now I really need to play this game right now just give it to me god damn it

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  • Cramoss 1 year, 3 months ago

    Been waiting for this game since forever. cool review

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  • SelfTorment 1 year, 3 months ago

    Awesome review Chris. I'll be picking up this game soon and i'll have to order the new book online. On a side note i think every game needs post-apocalyptic Russian strippers in every game.

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  • William Brown 1 year, 3 months ago

    Everyone is so up in arms about the DLC being available for day one. But you have to think of it from a buisness standpoint. They (Deep Silver) just dropped about $28.5 Million on aquiring Metro:2033, Metro:Last Light, and Volition Studios. So they have spent a pretty penny. Lets face it, their other series' (Dead Island, Risen, Sacred) aren't exactly BIG TITLES. So plopping down that much money on something that is already completed (more or less) would be a rather large investment. I would venture to say that this move was not because they wanted to be dicks to the community, but instead to get some money going back into the studios in charge considering they may have lost quite a bit of assets in the transition (employees, code, computer hardware). Think of it like buying a horse at the Kentucky Derby that broke its leg, and taking it to a petting zoo so you can pay for the vet bill to fix the leg, its either that, or put it down. This DLC, while being a "Taboo" because its launch day DLC, is very much needed if the studios are to survive, and given that so many studios are closing these days, if we want original games that push boundries, we need to support the studios, and sadly, the publishers, to keep them afloat.

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    • Iki_Iki_Tchikiriupow 1 year, 3 months ago

      I think you got it wrong. Day 1 DLCs are a difficult pill to swallow but people usually end up swallowing it. The problem lies with how the DLC was advertised: “The way it was meant to be played”. If this is true, then why punish me by making me pay extra? I understand they have bills to pay and what not. But honestly, that's not my problem and the argument is weak because everyone have bills to pay. If they want to make day 1 DLCs to make profitable the investment for the acquisition of the IP, they should have made in-game items like everyone does. And they did! Or make some collectable like a figurine or a bullet or whatsoever. Telling me "Here's your game, but to experience it like we think you should, you have to pay me extra" makes me feel I'm being ripped off. Because of this feeling, I won't drop 50$. I'll wait for a Steam sale where the game is 10-15$ including this DLC. And that's if I even consider buying the damn thing. 0-15$ instead of 55$, that's not very profitable from a business standpoint...

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  • Burnzie79 1 year, 3 months ago

    Great review Chris. In 2033 Khan was my favourite NPC I came across in the game; even my most liked character in the book. Now I've only gotten a few minutes to play before I got distracted, but quickly noticed the personality change in Khan in comparison to 2033. From a very serious, soft spoken and kind of mystical and mysterious just the way he acted; to a bit loud and even sort of a laid back "bro". Given I'm taking all this with roughly 10 minutes before I had to shut it off. Does he revert back or is this to stay?

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  • Waari 1 year, 3 months ago

    I will have to pick up this game when I am in a better financial situation or when it hits a sale. Great review Chris. Metro 2033 is a fantastic shooter and I am glad to see that Last Light is of similar quality

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