Metro: Last Light highlights why I’m starting to get sick of shooters. I can’t think of a development tactic less advisable than badly aping another franchise of a different genre.
It’s more playable now, but why would you want to?
Metro 2033 is a novel, as the game is quick to remind you, about the struggles of humanity after a nuclear war that was an escalation from World War II. The survivors hid out in the Metro system and now Russia and most of Europe continue to war decades later over resources and factional divides. It’s a brilliant and immersive story that the first game brought to life. While it had some serious playability issues that made it hard to recommend, you can’t deny the immersion. Metro: Last Light sacrifices some of the immersion to make the game a more palatable experience. While it does iron out most of the previous game’s playability issues, it develops some awkward new ones that make the whole effort feel entirely unnecessary.
Once more you play as Artyom, a Russian ranger with a strange connection to a race of mysterious mutants known as the Dark Ones. In the previous game Artyom destroyed the Dark Ones as their attempts to communicate with humans tended to cause people to die or go insane. In this game the titular Last Light is a surviving Dark One you’re tasked with hunting down that seems to be able to communicate with Artyom. This plotline gets obscured for most of the game by lengthy sequences wherein you’re captured and try to make your way through the Metro to wherever you think the Dark One is or your home station, uncovering various factional plots along the way.
Since Artyom never speaks his motivations are unclear. Objectives are dumped on you by NPCs whose opinions of you must shift from distrust to reticence to open friendship over the course of their own monologues. This leads to nearly all NPCs having schizophrenic personalities and awful dialogue throughout the entire experience.
Most of the changes to gameplay from 2033 to Last Light seem to be taking notes from more successful shooters. While that’s not inherently a bad thing, designers seem not to realize that mechanics serve different purposes to different genres. Call of Duty and Metro: Last Light are different genres. Call of Duty offers competition and empowerment while Metro promises immersion and survival. They deliver on fundamentally different experiences; the fact that they share a camera angle and predilection for guns is superfluous. Where Metro: 2033 made you feel you characters cold hands wrapped in rags with its plodding reload times and gun sway, Last Light features lightning fast military reflexes for reloading, weapon swapping and gas mask changing. Where Metro: 2033 made you value your sparse light sources and weigh heavily the advantages and disadvantages of shooting them out before engaging in a fight, Last Light snaps night scopes onto every gun and head lamps onto every enemy for an easy and empowering hunter/prey relationship.
Your gas mask now features a digital watch telling you exactly how much breathable air you’ve got left. Your knives, throwing and otherwise, are generally instant kill weapons with luminous handles for easy retrieval. Lights and IR scopes are plentiful and easy to activate and deactivate. In Metro: Last Light you will be considering your resources to plan out how best to win every fight while expending the fewest bullets. In Metro 2033 you clung to your resources hoping you wouldn’t have to use them because no fight ever truly felt like a victory. This total dynamic shift ruins the underlying reason to play Metro and betrays the genre that was at its core. Even the playability issues aren’t gone. Half the time when in a tunnel or climbing a ladder most of the controls are disabled and you’re unable to go backwards, so if you decide to put your gas mask on a little too late you have no choice but to crawl headlong into death wondering why your arms have stopped obeying your commands. There is simply no player agency here. You’ll trudge from corridor to corridor shooting and stabbing until the credits role and that’s about all.
It’s not all bad, though. It’s obvious the designers didn’t forget about the immersion entirely. Thankfully the game does not feature multiplayer or any objective markers telling you where to go. You’ll have to explore bleak environment and get lost a few times while counting the seconds remaining in your gas mask’s filter. It even seems to introduce the environments harsher elements slowly, layering in progressively darker and more stressful environments until the game almost feels as good as its predecessor. That is until you get the infrared binoculars that remove any reason to spare environmental light sources, doing for this game what THQ does to a stock portfolio.
And of course, like any good stealth, survival game, the finale ends in a huge gun fight with infinite ammo in a well lit and constrained area. Because who would ever end a game with a climax that utilizes and reinforces the games themes and mechanics when you can have a brainless adrenaline rush instead?
There’s really not much else to say about it. It tried to live up to the first game but failed and it’s not like that was a particularly high bar in the first place. It’s more playable now, but why would you want to? I can’t think of a single reason to recommend this game over Metro 2033 and I had a hard time recommending that.