Metro: Last Light is out now; here’s our Metro: Last Light review.
“You played Metro 2033, right?” the PR rep asked as I sat down in front of a TV the size of the Enterprise’s viewscreen. It was time to play Metro: Last Light.
“Oh yeah. Loved it.”
“So you know what you’re doing. I don’t need to worry about you.” A hearty pat on the shoulder.
“Probably not,” I said with a confident smile, slipping the headphones over my ears.
Then I set myself on fire in a broom closet with a Molotov cocktail.
Put it down to excitement or overconfidence, it could have been either. Metro 2033 was one of my favorite single-player shooters in years. It left me with countless vivid memories: coolly standing at a barricade against a teeming mass of mutant Nosalises, armed with nothing but a revolver and dead aim. Desperately scrabbling around the blasted streets of Moscow looking for a way back into the underground while my character’s breathing grew more labored. Slowly, respectfully backing away from a hulking Librarian, knowing he’d rip me to shreds the second I broke eye contact. Metro 2033 always feels like it happened yesterday, and that tricked me into believing I remembered the controls better than I did.
Which is why the first thing I did was whip a Molotov at my feet.
I threw open the door to the closet and came running out, still ablaze, into a darkened hallway patrolled by a pair of slightly oblivious guards. I took stock of the situation and it dimly registered that this was supposed to be a stealth sequence. An easy one. Looking back, I’m not sure emptying a silenced pistol into a man’s chest before using his Kalashnikov to kill his friend counts as stealth, but I like to think the silenced pistol was a respectful nod in that direction.
More importantly, Metro: Last Light easily flows between kinetic violence and quiet stealth, much more than 2033 ever did. 2033’s greatest flaw was that it tended to whipsaw between near-impossible combat and near-impossible stealth. Worse, it was often hard to tell the two apart. Last Light, by contrast, usually offers a couple viable approaches to any encounter and makes them much easier to identify, without making it so easy that I felt led around by the nose.
Instead, once I got comfortable with Last Light and stopped setting myself on fire, it became a great action-stealth game, with very little trial-and-error. I could usually crouch in the shadows and consider my options, and then either fight or sneak depending on my mood. Better yet, screwing up and breaking stealth leaves you in a dangerous position and leads to awkward, difficult firefights, but I really enjoyed the sudden eruption of shouting, shooting, and explosions. Unlike, say, Dishonored, I didn’t feel like I’d failed at stealth so much as I’d had a dramatic encounter.
When it did come down to gunfighting, I noticed a couple nice things. First, my enemies weren’t agreeable “stop-and-pop” cannon fodder. When the AI characters notice you, they hit you with everything they’ve got, and from every direction. When I didn’t have the advantage of surprise, things quickly got desperate as I tried to return fire in the brief gaps between showers of lead.
What worked in my favor is the way the AI characters sometimes had trouble tracking me through Last Light’s murky, claustrophobic environments. They are far from omniscient and would quickly lose track of my exact position if I could just scramble to a new hiding place. When I could manage that, Last Light started to feel a bit like Rambo (the good one) as enemies fell victim to me in the darkness.
But this is still Metro, and therefore not really about the shooting. It’s about the twisted, vestigial civilizations that have made their home in the Moscow underground. Like its predecessor, Last Light is packed with evocative details. Guards kill time in barracks, swapping stories, while nearby a group of laborers are painstakingly welding an armored train together. It’s hard to get through even one room without finding two interesting things to look at or listen to.
It’s particularly gratifying to see characters talking about your exploits in the last game. I heard a pair of Soviet guards chatting about a terrifying massacre that occurred at Bridge, the contested border between the Nazi and Soviet kingdoms. It’s a sequence I recall well, and I was fascinated to hear about the aftermath, and the way the story has grown in the telling.
What I loved about this exchange is that while your character, Artyom, may have become a legend after the events of Metro 2033, you’re still just as weak and terrified in Last Light. These characters speak in hushed tones about earlier exploits, but the irony is that you were simply trying to survive against overwhelming odds. Same as your are now.
Even survival feels extraordinary in this horrible, monster-infested world. At one point I was driving an armored railcar down some abandoned tracks. The further I went the more the walls and roof were covered in webbing and packed with spider holes. From time to time, I could catch a glimpse of skittering spider legs vanishing deeper into the warren above, or following along in the shadows behind. Finally I came to a closed blast door and, with a growing sense of dread, dismounted.
Casting frequent glances behind me, I made my way over to the door handle and gave it a tug. No power. The hydraulics remained inactive. The power switch, I realized, was probably a few hundred yards back, in one of those side passages that looked so dangerously infested. I stood there, back against the wall and Kalashnikov pointed into the darkness, delaying the moment I’d have to go back.
This is the essence of Metro, in many ways. It’s a linear shooter. You have some choices about how to approach an objective, but as often as not you don’t. You’re going to head back down that tunnel, and you’re going to meet whatever is waiting for you back there. But it felt like I had to make a life-or-death decision. The world is so well-realized, the art and sound so evocative, that it’s hard to remember that I’m just playing a game. That it’s not my ragged breathing and hesitant footfall I’m hearing.
Last Light imprisoned me so effectively in another place and time that it was impossible to remain detached, to treat it as just a series of scenarios to be won. And when my playthrough ended somewhere in that bug colony, with mutant eggs hatching around me and the room lighting up with muzzle flashes, I was at once relieved, and eager to return.
Metro: Last Light comes out on May 14.