With no shortage of excellence in several categories, Metro: Last Light is, without question, the best multiplatform title to come out so far in 2013.
Continuing a year after the terrifying Metro 2033, Last Light once again puts us behind the eyes of Artyom. Having determined the fate of the Dark Ones to be nuclear holocaust, Last Light begins with Artyom and a comrade chasing after a young straggler of the forsaken race to put an end to the former menace once and for all. While chasing the remnant of the annihilated, Artyom and his partner are captured by soldiers of the Nazi Reich. After being captured, Artyom and a new friend in a similar situation, Pavel Morozov, escape their clutches and thus begins Metro: Last Light, or similarly, Metro: Artyom Gets Betrayed Again And Again.
While Last Light won’t win awards for storytelling (and it’s certainly a good story, don’t let the above deter you from its fine construction), it excels in delivering an incredible game experience. 4A Games really knocked it out of the park, crafting a Triple A title with a fraction of the budget that others have and in less-than-desirable conditions.
The game is gorgeous, however. Despite running a relatively high-end gaming rig, I couldn’t max out the game at its highest quality. In fact, not even two SLI GeForce Titans could without a bit of chugging, which certainly speaks to the amount of detail that went in to crafting the visuals, both in scenery and character modeling, both of which offer distinct personality in their own right and showcase volumes of attentiveness. Last Light doesn’t just simply excel visually, however.
Where Last Light shines is how atmosphere is handled. Constant feelings of unease, the unpleasurable sense of loneliness, the tickle of disquietude in the pit of your stomach—Last Light is a marvel. In a post-apocalyptic setting, grays and browns are bound to be plentiful, but with a severe sense of class, 4A have managed to a expand a believable universe and offer diverse backdrops that evoke a less-than-flourishing lifestyle and capture the essence of unspoken contention.
Beyond the offered palette, the aura Last Light exudes is nothing short of excellence and makes all the difference above what could have been a generic shooter with a post-nuclear holocaust setting. Sound design is a major part of what pushes this new Metro title to new heights, taking that tone of agitation visually and amplifying it a hundredfold with qualities that recall a survival horror title, despite not quite being one. The skittering of unsavory creatures beyond your field of vision causes the hairs on the back of your neck to rise every so slightly, as do the distant howls of other unwanted beasts during surface segments, never knowing if they are simply noise or a real threat to your safety. More than that, the soundtrack past the music, the real atmosphere of Metro: Last Light, enhances that discomfort, never presenting a situation that is too quiet or feels too safe from danger.
Despite the obvious linearity, there’s no deep sense of hand holding present, offering players choices on how to approach situations, usually either by charging in guns a’blazin’ or stealthily dispatching human foes while less stealthily putting bullets into anything that crawls. Taking a more subtle approach in some cases often means being patient, waiting for some characters to finish performing a certain task (like maintenance checks or walking a preset course) before you can sneak out of their field of vision, but some options you have during your quieter moments are, for example, turning off lights to mask your stealthy stepping, and using non-stick cover to move undetected.
Of course, these same tactics don’t work on the disfigured creatures of the future, so your best option here is to give ‘em both barrels/a full clip/whatever gun-related shooting term you’d like to use. Not an outstanding deal of variance among these abominations of genetics, most instances being constrained to massive crab-spiders and lizard-dog-things, but their presence is far removed from being a standard nuisance and far more integral as entities that cause you to look over your shoulder instead.
It’s 4A Games’ attention to nuance and detail that makes Last Light really special. Several examples include: the way you need a gas mask to traverse the outside world; how the thick plastic shielding your face can crack if you take damage (and can be replaced with a new mask should one be found); how if you do battle with your mask on, blood can splatter on it and obscure your vision putting you at a disadvantage, which in turn can be wiped away to regain some clarity; how you need to change the filter on your mask no matter the situation, so even if being hounded by enemies, a contribution to your demise could easily be asphyxiation; how certain weapons like the assault rifle allow you to use iron sights while the shotgun forgoes that feature in favor of using that same input to fire both barrels (because what idiot is going to iron sights with a shotgun?).
And so on. All these little things make a big difference on how Last Light not only presents itself, but shows major players in the genre their continuous missteps. It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what makes Metro: Last Light so good, actually, but there are certainly a great deal of items that contribute to its superb quality. This review has been a difficult write for several reasons, but most importantly, Last Light gets so very much right and falters infrequently, despite falling into similar tropes that have been expressed in many games before it.
Metro: Last Light was developed by 4A Games and published by Koch Media/Deep Silver in conjunction with Square-Enix. This title is currently available for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 for $59.99 and PC for $49.99. A PlayStation 4 version has been announced, but no availability has been set.
A PC digital download for this title was provided to Save/Continue by the publisher for review purposes.