I knew the industry had it in it, to make a first-person that isn’t drowning in cliche war rhetoric. Admittedly I’ll probably be one of the first people to stand behind a series like Call of Duty, but I can at least acknowledge the series’ downfalls. Yet a game like Metro: Last Light feels especially refreshing, even in light of BioShock: Infinite’s welcoming experience from earlier in the year. Most impressive about Last Light’s fascinating tale of post-apocalyptic survival is its pacing, despite how frustratingly slow the game starts. Yet just like its predecessor, it manages to slowly build its way up through its staggeringly atmospheric tension, immaculately moulded around a source material powered by themes of war and survival.
Last Light appears to be a game sternly held up by its source material and for the most part it is. What sets it apart more than anything is how it manages to balance the fallacies of a post-nuclear holocaust society with an experience seemingly afraid to tread the run-and-gun waters so commonly entrenched in the genre. Last Light doesn’t want you to remember it because of what it is — a moving journey through a fractured world — but rather what it isn’t: a shallow, cliche-riddled backwater of violence and mindless killing.
It’s in the deep, dirty confounds of Moscow’s metro system that Last Light sets off on its unique journey, and for the most part, it successfully leads you to an experience brimming with subtle social commentary and emotional interaction. Somehow in between all of that is a modest shooter with a delicately-balanced array of weapons that coincide with the troubled world’s obsession with sustainability and survival.
Undoubtedly, Last Light’s most powerful punch comes from its tale: its supernatural themes and horrors are refined next to a dogged tale of corruption and human sacrifice, as underground factions battle for control of the metro. It’s not the terrifying battles with mysterious creatures that hold Last Light’s experience up: rather, it’s how the game manages to build tension — through cutscenes and during gameplay — as main character Artyom interacts with his comrades through damning environments with troubled pasts. You can tell that something terrible has happened before Last Light takes place, and the atmosphere tells a story without saying a word. That makes for a very emotionally-jarring experience because you know the characters are merely at home with what is seemingly such a terrible time to be alive.
Interestingly, the game’s dying world is intertwined with Artyom’s interaction in different settings. Subtle mechanics like switching air filters on a gas mask initially seem tedious, but they add a distinctive sense of survival later on as the story progressively dims and the battles ramp up a notch. In the first hour you’re merely coming to terms with how the characters interact with this, but in its closing stages, you realise just how tough they have it.
Combat, be it with mutant or human foe, is an engaging blend of stealth and action, bringing elements of darkness into the fold and encouraging multiple angles when approaching a potential enemy. I found firefights to be mostly challenging, which is certainly on par with the makeshift weapons the game introduces you to in the opening stanza. Last Light wants you to go all guns blazing, but only if you’re prepared to balance it out with some silent kills in the dark. Turning off a light lets Artyom use the darkness to his advantage, either with a sneaky kill from behind or a surprise cornering for a fast execution.
Never does the combat feel too easy: the weapons do incorporate a realistic sense of amateurism, as survivors make do with tools and weapons found in the metro and out in the radioactive world. Guns jam, shotguns take a year to reload, while the kick on your handgun will set you back long enough for an enemy to come charging back.
Last Light’s legacy will be in its story: it isn’t too obvious with its emotions, sometimes relying on silence to encourage your own interpretation of what Artyom’s looking at or engaging with. There’s some nastiness in the game’s world — human or otherwise — and it provides a rather unpleasant look at the unfortunate consequences of when our race is on the brink. It’s fascinating, if a little convoluted at times, but it’s at least successful in providing enough moral influence to drive the actions of its characters.
Metro: Last Light certainly improves on its solid predecessor, proving that shooters definitely don’t need to stick to the shoot-everything-in-sight mantra. It’s more Chronicles Of Riddick than anything in that sense, sticking to a powerful narrative that slowly but surely paces you into it’s jarring closing hours. If you’re looking for something a little deeper ahead of E3, Metro: Last Light should be your pick of the bunch.