Metro: Last Light review
Post-apocalyptic wastelands are prime real estate in the world of video games – they might not be a pleasant place to live, but they make some damn fine shooting galleries. Metro: Last Light is the latest release to dust down the Geiger counter and step out into the light. It's the sequel to 2010's Metro 2033, returning players to the Metro system underneath Moscow, the only place that escaped the radiation following a catastrophic nuclear war.
It seems that launching a missile strike against the Dark Ones - mysterious creatures with psychic powers that appeared following the war – wasn't enough to bring peace to the tunnels, as a new man-made threat could snuff out the lives of everyone living there. Players have to take up arms as the protagonist Artyom and make sure that doesn't happen.
Improvised weapons are dotted throughout the Metro system – among the gas-powered pumps built to fire BB pellets at lethal velocities, hollowed out revolvers that fire shotgun shells and sawn-offs that are better suited to the cramped tunnels you'll be crawling through, you'll also find guns from the old world that are highly prized for their reliability. Oddly though, weapon attachments seem to be in abundance – the developers have clearly taken a page from the Call of Duty playbook, adding red dot sights, night vision scopes, silencers and replacement stocks are all available to customise your arsenal.
You'll need everything at your disposal to take on the fascist Reich and communist Red armies, who are fighting for control of the Metro, as well as to defend yourself from the mutants that live down there. It's possible to take on your enemies directly, but you'll live much longer if you use stealth. It's often crucial to stay hidden, particularly when navigating through opposition strongholds, as triggering alarms will alert heavily armoured reinforcements. Light plays to your advantage here, as you unscrew light bulbs and extinguish gas lamps to stay hidden in the darkness. A light meter built into your watch lets you know if you're well hidden, or whether enemy patrols will be able to spot you.
As you might expect for a game set mostly underground, Last Light is a dark game that's best played with the lights off, but even in the gloom it looks fantastic. The lighting effects are truly next generation, casting accurate shadows and illuminating rooms with stunning levels of detail. Considering the small Ukrainian development team allegedly had to smuggle development kits across borders and resort to mobile generators when the national power grid failed over the winter, it's incredible that they have managed to create a game that looks better than some of this year's multi-million dollar blockbusters.
It looks even better because your view isn't obscured by an immersion-breaking HUD – your gas mask cracks and fogs when it's time to swap air filters, your weapons have magazines that let you see how many bullets you have chambered at a glance and you have to physically pull out a map to see where your next objective is. If you turn on Ranger mode at the start of the game, the HUD disappears completely, although this also hides the control hints at the start of the game so it's best to familiarise yourself with the controls first.
Even in the normal mode, where you get a small HUD listing your ammunition reserves, Last Light is incredibly immersive – the Metro tunnels are filled with NPCs that go about their routines around you. Each one has many lines of dialog, so it pays to take these quieter moments at your own pace to get some background on your situation. Headphones or a good surround sound setup are a must, as the background audio ramps up the tension in some of the later stages once your NPC companions have left you alone in the Metro's abandoned tunnels.
There are also plenty of hidden caches for you to uncover, which usually hide the military grade ammunition used as currency – although you can of course load them into your weapons for a damage boost.
It's absorbing and looks fantastic, but Last Light isn't perfect – it's a very linear game that plays heavily on its set-pieces. You're often forced for enemy NPCs to finish their lengthy conversations before they begin their patrols, making it impossible to progress without setting off alarms. There are some awkward boss fights and a completely tasteless section mid-way through the game involving the famous Bolshoi ballet doesn't fit the tone of the game at all. We were also disappointed that the challenging Ranger Mode is only available in the special edition version of the game – arguably it's the way Last Light should be played, but a lot of people are going to miss out by buying the regular edition instead.
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If you can look past these flaws, there's still a lot to like here. You'll need a very powerful PC to play it smoothly at maximum settings, and the limited configuration menu means you'll have to dive into .ini files to lower the graphics to any significant degree, but with a decent graphics card Last Light can look stunning. It's atmospheric, challenging and well worth a look.