Review: Metro: Last Light (Microsoft Xbox 360)

Metro: Last Light
Genre: First Person Shooter
Developer: 4A Games
Publisher: Deep Silver
Release Date: 05/14/13

Metro 2033 was something of a love it or hate it affair, though more people came down in the former category than the latter. Developed by 4A Games, a development team founded by members of the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. development team GSC, Metro 2033 was a game that shared more than a passing similarity with S.T.A.L.K.E.R.. Aside from the shared development team members, both games were based on Russian science fiction novels; Metro 2033 is based off of a novel of the same name, while S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is based off of the novel Roadside Picnic. Both involve traversing a mutated Russian wasteland, slaying mutated monstrosities alongside human enemies, and incorporate survival horror elements into their first person shooter core. Where the games diverge is in their handling of the subject matter; while S.T.A.L.K.E.R. tends to be more about people in an otherwise normal world working within an irradiated wasteland, Metro 2033 deals with a post-apocalyptic scenario where the world is in ruin and humanity is trying to survive. The theme is the game’s biggest selling point, and also the best aspect of the game; between the destroyed and irradiated overworld, the converted underground cities, the ghostly remnants of those who died in the nuclear fallout and the mutant monstrosities surrounding you, the game is silly with atmosphere. On the other hand, the original also had some AI and interface issues, and stealth was often a touchy proposition, making it a game that clearly didn’t impress everyone, as staff reviewer Branden Chowen was generally not a fan of the original game.

As those who have followed my work might gather, the fact that I one hundred percent cleared Metro 2033 of its Achievements implies I fall into the other school of thought on the game. Metro 2033 was an ambient masterpiece, and one that didn’t hold your hand to get you to where you needed to go, and while sometimes that could be frustrating, the overall experience was one that motivated you, as the player, to explore everywhere to see what the game had to offer. It was amazing if you could appreciate what it did, and I was absolutely looking forward to the sequel when it was first demonstrated at E3 2011. Well, two years later, THQ has gone the way of the Dodo, but Deep Silver, bless their hearts, has picked up Metro: Last Light for release, and by all indications touched nothing, allowing 4A to complete the game to their expectations. This was the best possible thing that could have been done, it turns out, as 4A seems to have learned from their prior release (what a concept); Metro: Last Light loses some of the “wow” factor of its predecessor if you’re a fan, but it makes up for that in spades by being a game that’s much more accessible, functional, and mechanically sound.

Metro: Last Light is a direct sequel to Metro 2033, rather than an adaptation of the novel Metro 2034, for those who are curious. We once again step into the shoes of Artyom, who, as the game begins, chose the “bad ending” from the prior game and nuked the Dark Ones into oblivion, leaving their home in the Botanical Gardens a smoldering, radioactive crater. As the game begins, he’s become a full-fledged member of the Order, though his mind is no less clear and his conviction no less resolute. It doesn’t help that the three warring factions in the game world, the Nazis (white supremacists, as you’d expect), the Communists (everyone is equal, except the enemy, who deserves to die) and the Order (think the Brotherhood of Steel from Fallout only less zealot ridden), are still highly hostile towards one another to various degrees. When Khan comes to him with the knowledge that a Dark One appears to have survived, what seems as though it should be a simple elimination mission goes belly-up almost from jump, leaving Artyom in the hands of the Nazi’s. This starts an escalating series of events that ties the fate of Artyom, the Order, the Communists, the Dark Ones and (to a lesser extent) everyone in the Metro to the fate of D6, the facility discovered in the prior game that the Order owns and everyone else wants. Suffice it to say, there are a fairly large sequence of events going on surrounding Artyom and those he meets, and the game strikes a fairly interesting balance between interpersonal interactions, political intrigue and horrifying mystical concepts, one that’s quite intriguing all in all.

The plot of Metro: Last Light is very well written, all in all, and in many respects, benefits from being able to go in its own direction rather than following any specific piece of source material, as its predecessor did. Freed from the narrative of the original novel, the game weaves a story that incorporates several disconnected threads of plot into one universal storyline that works surprisingly well, even with so many different events running concurrently to one another. It’s also interesting to note that the game employs a lot of the same basic themes as its predecessor, like the distrust of the Dark Ones, the mystical nature of post-apocalyptic Russia and caring for a child, but in ways that are (arguably) better than that of the prior game. Metro 2033 provided basic concepts to work with that were interesting, but not always fleshed out, while Metro: Last Light tends to do more with its ideas and creates more of a living universe as a result. The ending is also one of the rare instances of a game actually building to events in a way that’s logical and makes sense, and wraps up the tale being told in a way that neatly resolves the franchise (should there be no further games in it) while still leaving room for a sequel if the need arises. In other words, Metro: Last Light is, so far, one of the best written games released this year, and it’s unlikely too many other games will top it.

Visually, Metro: Last Light is using an upgraded version of the 4A Engine from the prior game, meaning that the visual aesthetics are very similar to that of the prior game, they’re also noticeably improved overall. Humans look less waxy and robotic than they did in the prior game up close, and the animations of humans and mutants alike are much improved overall. The environments also look significantly more imposing and appropriate, and it’s easy to lose yourself in the ambiance of the environments before being brought back to reality with the discovery of a ruined bathroom or playground, reminding you that this is the remnants of our civilization, not a long lost one. The special effects surrounding the Dark Ones, ghosts and anomalies also look much cleaner and impressive here, and sequences involving these elements have a more ethereal feeling to them than in the prior game. There are some occasional visual hiccups with legs wrenching up into the air while a character walks, and the ragdoll physics are occasionally silly, but for the most part, the visuals deliver well. Aurally, the game features a fantastic vocal cast for the English voice work, as the various actors and actresses are all either English speaking Russians or good enough at approximating the accent as to be indistinguishable from the real thing. This gives the game a real legitimacy it needs to sell the ambiance, and the fact that all of the actors and actresses are at least above average or better is also a blessing. The music alternates between fitting ambiance when you’re simply exploring the Metro or the ruined Russian cities above and driving compositions when you’re in pitched firefights or surviving mutant onslaughts, and everything here fits beautifully. The audio effects are also generally spot-on, as gunfire sounds powerful and effective, lots of ambient noise permeates the environments to good effect, and there aren’t any effects out of place in the least.

Metro: Last Light, at its core, plays like your standard first person shooter, more obviously like Call of Duty and its derivatives, and fans of that franchise should feel at home here. The left and right sticks control movement and aiming respectively, the right trigger fires your primary shot, and the left trigger zooms in for aiming or, occasionally, fires an alternate shot of some type. The A button jumps, the X button performs a manual reload, the B button toggles crouching, holding in the left stick allows you to run, and pressing in the right stick enables a melee attack. The only novelties specific to the game involve the inventory management buttons. Pressing Y allows you to cycle your default weapons, while holding it in allows you to manually choose your primary weapon, as well as your secondary weapon, such as knives or grenades, which can be used with the right bumper. Holding in the left bumper brings up your inventory, allowing you to use your flashlight, gas mask, lighter and so on as needed, though the lighter and medkit are set to the top and bottom options on the D-Pad by default. Finally, pressing back on the D-Pad brings up your Journal, which allows you to flip on your lighter immediately as well, while also offering you a list of mission objectives and a compass to pinpoint your next destination. You can change the controls around a bit if you’d rather, and for those who are fine with crouch being on the right stick and melee being on the B button (IE people who don’t like Call of Duty), the third control option maps all of the most useful tools you’ll need right to the D-Pad, making it an ideal control schematic. Regardless of what control scheme you use, however, all of them work just fine, and you’ll find all of them to be useful and functional.

The primary thing that sets Metro: Last Light apart from its contemporaries, however, is its world and how that impacts the experience. The game world is literally post-apocalyptic Russia, and the game mechanics sell that concept in a few different ways. For one thing, all of your weapons and bullets are basically complete trash, manufactured after the bombs fell, and while they’ll certainly kill things, they’re not particularly effective at it. Rather, military-grade ammunition, being somewhat scarce and not easily replaceable, is the currency in the Metro; while you can certainly use it in battle, and it does much better damage overall, it’s far more useful for purchasing bullets or gun upgrades as the case merits. Further, while the guns have improved in quality over the prior game, many of the weapons you’ll find are still very much garbage guns, cobbled together from God knows what and made to work by necessity rather than design, so instead of finding machine guns with a stock they’ll have a post screwed into the back, or you’ll find a revolver that fires single shotgun shells. The pneumatic ball bearing and arrow firing guns from the prior game also make their return here, complete with the pump-up action needed to get them into skull-piercing condition, and they’re as ridiculous as they ever were, making them a welcome staple of the series that are unique and fun.

Outside of the weapons, you’ll also find that you’ll have to make good use of your tools in order to survive. You’ll start the game with a head lamp (and, later, night vision goggles) with its own charger, which is essentially a hand crank you’ll have to pull out every so often and charge with repeated presses of the right trigger to keep the battery charged. The aforementioned pneumatic guns also use a similar mechanic, for those wondering, and for those asking “how does that work in combat?” they’re silent by default making them great for sniping, not so much in close quarters combat. Also, when you journey to the surface, the air is stagnant and generally irradiated, making breathing almost impossible without a gas mask. Gas masks have filters that generally need to be changed every five minutes, give or take, meaning that you’ll have to pay attention to when they’re going to expire… and to whether or not you have enough filters to take your time or if you’ll have to run like hell. The game improves on its predecessor by giving you more obvious indicators as to when your battery power and filter need to be dealt with, making these less frustrating to work with than in the prior game and more intuitive overall as mechanics. There are also some rail car segments that either allow you to ride sidecar and fire on enemies or drive around yourself through the tunnels, mostly to break things up a bit, and these work fine.

Insofar as combat itself goes, the core combat is very similar to that of the prior game, albeit with some improvements to the overall flow and functionality of the experience. Generally speaking, the game offers you a linear objective of some sort of another and tasks you to complete it, whatever it may be, though how you choose to get to said objective is your own call. You can certainly blow through the game, guns blazing, if such a thing appeals to you, as in the prior game, though if you value life this may not be the best choice, especially on higher difficulties. The stealth mechanics, which were a bit spotty in the prior game, are much improved here in a few ways. You can take out lights in an area, either by shooting them or turning them off somehow, allowing you to sneak by undetected (though enemies will occasionally investigate if they’re around to notice) if you’re using a silent weapon. You can also silently take out enemies with stealth melee attacks, allowing you to either knock them out or kill them outright, depending on your personal choice (there are Achievements relating to both), and if you can manage to do so in the shadows, you can potentially sneak through an entire zone undetected. Locations are broken up into zones, so you won’t have to worry about alerting the guards in one area only to have them swarm you in the next, allowing for more experimentation options and less worries if you mess up. Of course, when mutants come into the picture this all goes out the window, as it’s all about shooting them fast and hard and using every tool in your arsenal to survive; needless to say, of the few “boss” encounters that come up, they’re all based around large, violent mutants, so be prepared.

You’ll also find yourself in the odd settlement or three throughout the game, which, aside from offering you a break from combat, also allow you to goof around town and perform various interactions with people in the Metro. The most obvious things you can do are interact with vendors to purchase and upgrade guns and acquire ammunition, but these are by no means the only things you can do. There are people of all sorts to interact with, who might ask for your assistance or bullets for food, or might simply carry on conversations you can listen to for information or simple flavor for the world. You’ll see a larger variety of civilized locales this time around, as well, such as a variety show in one town and an adult club in another, giving the game more of a “lived in” feel over its predecessor. There are also a fair amount of options and choices that come up that impact Artyom’s morality to one extent or another, which seems like it likely impacts the ending, as in the prior game; I can’t speak on this since I tend to play “Paragon” and likely got the best ending, but it seems like behaving like a jerk can impact this significantly. Even if you have no interest in helping others or doing good around the towns or in the game world, it’s still somewhat fun to just wander around the cities you find, given the chance, as there’s a lot of detail to them that makes them interesting to explore before you head out into the wastes once again.

You can generally get through a single run through of Metro: Last Light in around fifteen hours or so, depending on how much time you spend exploring for hidden items or people to talk to, though there are plenty of reasons to come back. The game offers three difficulty levels to plow through by default, and those who pre-order the game get access to the Limited Edition, which offers up the “Ranger Pack” as in the first game. The Ranger Pack unlocks two new difficulty modes, Ranger and Ranger Hardcore, which make the game significantly more challenging and remove a good bit of the user interface, to make the game more reliant on your being able to read cues from the environment and figure out your own path. For those who love a challenge, this is an excellent one, especially given all of the different ways you can potentially accomplish objectives. Further, there are an extensive amount of Achievements to earn across the different stages, and you can drop into any chapter you wish once you’ve completed it, allowing you to go back and try to earn stage specific Achievements if you want to clear the game out entirely. This is a huge improvement over the prior game and makes such a thing more accessible than it was previously (as my six playthroughs of the prior game to clear everything out will attest). Regardless, Metro: Last Light is just a fun, ambient, well designed game, difficulty levels and Achievements or no, and it’s a game you’ll likely want to come back to if you like what it does.

That said, for the sort of player who is looking for a more conventional shooter experience, there’s a fairly decent amount of down time and inventory management to Metro: Last Light that may be off-putting to the gamer looking for a simpler experience. There are certainly plenty of sections that allow you to cut loose and slaughter everything you see, but for the player who wants to just shoot everything and move on, there are a few plot-intensive chapters that involve simply walking and talking to or listening to others that may drag the experience down for those players. Also, while the game improves on a lot, it lacks some of the wonder of Metro 2033 if you’ve played that game, as you’ve seen a lot of the tricks the game has to show you. The combat sequences are much improved, to be certain, but when you begin to deal with the ghosts and the Dark Ones and such, aside from a sequence involving… hands… there’s not much you won’t have seen here. Conversely, if you haven’t played the prior game, you’ll find a lot of the experience interesting, but this game doesn’t do much to explain what these things mean or why they’re here (which was done in Metro 2033), and while Metro 2033 is available readily enough, offering more explanation to the player might have been welcome. Finally, on the “minor” side of things, a boss glitched on me and necessitated a reload (though the checkpoint was right before it and it only happened once), a couple Achievements may be glitched (I performed the requirements but they did not pop as of yet), and there’s some female nudity in the game, so for those who are bothered by that thing, be aware.

To be frank, however, that Deep Silver picked up Metro: Last Light after THQ fell apart and allowed it to come out with minimal, if any, intervention is basically the best thing that could have happened, as it’s honestly one of, if not the, best games I’ve played all year. The plot is an intricate piece of work that ties together many disconnected concepts expertly, and the game looks and sounds impressive and ties the experience together in a way that’s immersive and aesthetically pleasant. The game is generally simple to play for anyone who’s spent time with a first person shooter ever, but offers all sorts of novelties to make the game feel like its own unique thing, and there’s an extensive amount of depth to the game, on its own and through repeat playthroughs, that make it worth the asking price. The game spends a fair amount of time asking you to not shoot things, which may not play well to the twitch gaming crowd, some plot elements lack the punch they’d have for those who hadn’t played the prior game while others lack explanation for those who are coming in fresh, and there are some minor technical hiccups in a couple of places, to be completely fair. That said, though, Metro: Last Light is one of those rare games that significantly overcomes what minor issues exist within it in such a way that it’s not only a strong game in its own right, but basically improves on its predecessor in virtually every way a game can. For anyone who’s a fan of first person shooters and doesn’t mind some plot in their shooting game, Metro: Last Light comes strongly recommended.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Metro: Last Light takes the concepts that worked in the prior game, fixes those that did not, and improves the overall experience in such a way that it’s not only an amazing sequel, but an amazing game, even with its minor flaws. The plot is exceptionally well assembled, crafting a storyline that offers several concurrent threads that manage to come together effectively in the end, and the game is an artistic and aural treat, with visuals and audio that bring an engrossing feel to the experience throughout. The gameplay is simple enough to pick up and work with if you’ve ever played a first person shooter in your life, while offering unique elements that play into the aesthetic while also working well on the mechanical end, and the game offers a wide variety of experiences and options for players, either in your first or subsequent playthroughs. There are some plot intensive sequences that may put off those who want to shoot first and talk much later, the game features occasional sequences that work better both for fans of the original in some cases and for newcomers in others, there are some mild technical issues here and there, and there is female nudity here if such a thing offends you. That said, Metro: Last Light is in nearly every respect an improvement over its predecessor, and one that’s much easier to recommend as a fan, as it improves on both the things that didn’t work and the things that did, making it easy to recommend to anyone who can accept some plot in their first person shooting games.



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3 responses to “Review: Metro: Last Light (Microsoft Xbox 360)”

  1. […] After playing Metro: Last Light I will be making time to play the first one.  From talking with Mark, they’ve made some marked improvements over the first game between framerate and AI, and other […]

  2. […] After playing Metro: Last Light I will be making time to play the first one.  From talking with Mark, they’ve made some marked improvements over the first game between framerate and AI, and other […]

  3. […] Royale, God Mode, Metal Gear Solid HD Collection, Ninja Blade, To the Moon, Recettear, Terraria, Metro: Last Light, FTL) 01:15:21 – News/Discussion (EA dropping online pass & Wii U support, Chloe Sagal […]

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