There are few games like the Metro series out there, and that’s honestly a shame. The original, Metro: 2033, broke away from the masses when its developer shunned the idea that a FPS needs to be nothing but bullet porn and then pulled us into an uncomfortable world with an outstanding level of immersion. Metro: Last Light tried to improve upon that formula, and while its team did so in some key ways, they seem to have lost track of what made Metro just so great to begin with. What’s left is a fine game in its own right, but it may not be what people are expecting to sit down with.
I’d like to start this by quoting one of my idols, Randy Pausch. “When there’s an elephant in the room, introduce them.” Metro 2033 owed no small part of its success to its unique “Ranger Mode,” and publisher Deep Silver has opted to not include it in the main release and instead offer it as a $5 piece of DLC. Deep Silver did issue a statement stating that had they been in charge of the publishing from the beginning, this wouldn’t have been the case, but as it stands their hands were tied.
Regardless of whether or not you accept this explanation is moot, but it’s an issue that needs to be addressed. Ranger Mode is the “way the game was meant to be played,” so playing without it feels like playing a slightly watered down game. It’s not a massive issue, and for five bucks it’s hardly going to break your bank, but it’s something that irked me as a fan of the original. And as that mode wasn’t included with the game at launch, we’ve decided to base this review on the “core” game as it stands.
Metro: Last Light picks up right where Metro 2033 left off story wise. The game opens up with players reprising their role as Artyom as he is sent to the surface in search of the only surviving Dark One. From there, you’ll have to navigate an incredibly hostile world ripe with not only horribly mutated monsters, but with the ever present threat of war from the Reich and the Reds as they look to wipe out the Polis.
Fans of Metro 2033 will be thrilled to know that the chilling atmosphere has been recreated damn near perfectly. During the few occurrences where you find yourself around “civilization,” you’ll overhear conversations discussing how bleak their life is as they cry into their mushroom soup. Picking through corpses in hopes that I could find an unused air filter for my gas mask on the surface while silently praying that the myriad of beasts didn’t see me never failed to keep me on the edge of my seat. And when I found myself crawling through abandoned metro tunnels, I felt an overwhelming sense of loneliness. Very few pieces of media convey their atmosphere this well, and it’s almost worth playing through the game just to experience this alone.
To top it all off, the game knows exactly what type of atmosphere it’s created, and just how to use it against you. In Metro 2033, the claustrophobic tunnel system was by far the greatest danger, whereas in Last Light you can never really feel safe anywhere. The surface especially carries its own brand of terror as I felt completely exposed and vulnerable from the very moment I put boots on the soil until I was able to retreat underground again. While I saw remnants of society all around me, this world now belonged to the monstrosities that surrounded me and I was a foreigner.
Metro: Last Light should serve as a beacon in the dreary world of FPS clichés. I completely understand why developers have adapted the “If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it” mentality, but it’s starting to feel played out. Metro aims to fully immerse you through the first-person perspective as opposed to simply having it as a HUD to view your weapon. Your flashlight will run out of batteries, usually at the absolute worst moment as well, and the only way to get it back on line is to holster your weapon and manually charge it. As you battle with bastardized versions of woodland creatures on the surface, gore will slather across your gas mask, and you’ll have to wipe it off yourself if you have any hopes of seeing what’s coming. While you can keep track of how much clean air you have through your watch, it’s damn near impossible to keep an eye on it during a firefight so the only warning you have that you’re about to start suffocating is when it quietly beeps with a 60 second warning. These are all small points on their own, but in combination they create immersion that is almost unparalleled.
Sadly, while Metro: Last Light looked to build upon its predecessor, it ended up losing track of some of the things that made the game great in the first place. Combat has been completely revamped, and while it’s definitely solid in its own right, it can be hard to feel truly scared if I’m a certified badass capable of taking out entire armies on my own. Bullets and air filters were more plentiful than I remembered, and the silent weapons are dangerously overpowered. It wasn’t long before I had a silent shotgun and was able to take out members of the Reich without them even knowing I was there. Upping the difficulty would certainly swing the odds a bit, and using Ranger Mode may help usher in some more of that paranoia, but as it stands there wasn’t a real incentive to not try an aggressive approach. On the PC version at least, I imagine some dedicated modders will fix this in the near future if nothing else.
The plot itself is also fairly weak. This sequel tried to walk a fine line between a supernatural action-horror game and an engrossing political chess match, but never went far enough in either direction to make it really feel fleshed out. It had some fantastic moments for both, but at the end of my 10 hour playthrough I really didn’t feel like I had enough of either to really know what the game was trying to tell me.
The first third of the game involves a bit more handholding than I would have liked as well. While I understand that this is a necessity with modern games to acclimate them to the mechanics and teach them how things work out, it just seemed like it went on a bit longer than usual. Add in missions that seemed more linear than normal, as well as sometimes feeling extremely short, and it sometimes felt like I was chasing the carrot on the stick more than I was completing something crucial. This is an extremely minor gripe, and I may very well be alone with this, but I’d be interested to hear if other people took away the same feeling.
There are also a few technical issues that could have been ironed out. The game looks fantastic, but there were some frame rate issues I had to power through. Even more shocking was the fact that I encountered a few instances where my PC completely crashed out and gave me the blue screen of death. I use a fairly beastly rig for testing games with We Got This Covered (12 GB memory, a 6970 and an i7 970) so there’s nothing here I shouldn’t have been able to handle. A quick Google search showed that I wasn’t alone with these issues, and while Steam did download a patch last night, it really shows there was some poor optimization somewhere along the lines. I’ve also heard accounts of the console version of the game having a few stuttering issues as well, but I can’t comment on them with firsthand experience.
Metro: Last Light may not be the tremendous step forward I was hoping we would have seen after Metro: 2033, but it’s still a fine game in its own right. I’m a bit torn while writing this, as I know that adding Ranger Mode would either fix or help alleviate a decent amount of issues hardcore gamers will run into, but I can’t in good faith consider that part of the core product offered at launch. If you were even a casual fan of the original release then there’s definitely enough to merit you coming back to the tunnels for more, while the uninitiated are in for a treat from one of the most immersive titles in recent memory.
This review is based on the PC version of the game, which was provided to us for review purposes.