Metro: Last Light is a survivor. Not only did it suffer multiple delays, but it also managed to get through its publisher's unfortunate closure unscathed. The result is an excellent, albeit slightly troubled, first-person horror shooter.
While some reviews note a few performance- and technical polish-related shortcomings, they agree that Last Light's universe, story and unique, dark atmosphere is hardly something that can be ignored. Here's a few snippets of what reviewers are saying.
Some games seem bad because they are. With Metro: Last Light, it's more a question of expectations: what do you want from the Metro series? For me, it's a scary and dark post-nuclear Russian underground, a first-person survival horror-slash-shooter with scarce resources and terrifying scenarios. There's a bit of that, to be sure. But if you also want tits, QTEs and hand-holding companions, then congratulations — you're part of the wider audience this game is looking for.
The story, at least, is a faithful extension of Metro 2033. You again play as the mute Artyom, a ranger in the strange subterranean world of the Metro. In case you aren’t familiar with the game’s setting, here’s a crash course: World War III led to a nuclear apocalypse forcing the residents of Moscow to survive in the city’s Metro tunnels. Now the surface is irradiated and filled with mutants while savage living conditions have turned the Metro into a warlike no-man’s land of tribalism.
Atmosphere went a long way towards helping you forget the frustration of shooting things in Metro 2033. The gunplay was shoddy enough to break the illusion. (...) It takes precious few moments with Metro: Last Light to appreciate the mechanical upgrade. On a controller, the controls are much more streamlined, and allow you to swap tactics on a whim. This translates to the mouse and keyboard, as well, and reflects a general shift in combat design to encourage more than popping off rounds and hoping for the best. The way it feels is harder to describe. It just... feels like a modern shooter, and is no longer a distraction. The Metro games aren't about the power fantasy in so many other shooters, and it doesn't reinvent shooting a gun. Now, rather than fussing with the controls, you can easily fire away, and focus on surviving the hellscape.
The economy of bullets established in Metro 2033 returns in Last Light. In the supply-starved metro underground, military grade bullets are rare, powerful and traded as currency, which can be used to upgrade your weapons. But Last Light squanders this intriguing economy's potential by making standard, non-military grade ammo abundant and attachments mostly boring. The shooting is fine without this system, though. The guns feel strong, and each weapon has trade-offs that make it difficult to pick a favorite, as everything feels useful.
You aren't required to go toe to toe with human opposition. You can use darkness to your advantage, twisting light bulbs and flipping circuit breakers to keep yourself hidden, and then sneaking through bases to avoid combat altogether. You can be silently murderous, sidling up behind a guard and slicing his throat, and then quietly flinging a knife into another's back. Human enemies go about their actions in realistic ways; they follow patterns, of course, but they aren't always so regimented as to seem unnatural. As a result, the stealth is fun and tense, though you can always shoot your way out of a bind if you need to.
Unique checks and balances add additional flavor to Last Light's trigger-happy moments. The air in some regions is toxic and will kill you within seconds if you don't cover your face with a gas mask, and without a steady supply of fresh filters extended exposure to the haze could be fatal. Your flashlight constantly runs out of juice too, requiring you to stop what you're doing to hammer away on a hand-powered generator until it's ready to go again. The heightened sense of risk that results is palpable, but the tension really ratchets up when you're in the middle of caving a fanged mutant's head in or high-tailing it from a gang of heavily armed troops.
Despite technical irritations, I very much enjoyed the majority of my time with Metro: Last Light. (Oh, the power of well-wrought atmosphere!) It's a game of stark, nightmarish beauty, and while it borrows liberally from many other games—among them S.T.A.L.K.E.R., Half-Life 2, Far Cry 2 and its own predecessor—Last Light still manages to forge a weighty, worthy identity of its own.
Top image courtesy of Gergő Vas.
Questions? Comments? Contact the author of this post at andras-AT-kotaku-DOT-com.