Review: Metro: Last Light is the most fun you'll have in post-apocalyptic Russia
At a Glance
Following in the footsteps of 2010’s Metro 2033, Metro: Last Light improves upon the gameplay of its predecessor without destroying what made the series great in the first place: the setting. Last Light takes you back to the post-apocalyptic Russian wasteland, employing an excellent soundtrack and bleak, desolate imagery to deliver a first-person shooter with surprising pathos and one of the most genuine game narratives in recent memory.
Boot up Last Light and you'll be dropped into the boots of Artyom–a man haunted by memories of his mother, or lack thereof–as he attempts to leave the Russian Metro to capture “a dark one”, monstrous remnants of the world before it was devastated by all-out nuclear war. Of course, nothing goes smoothly for Artyom, and along the way you'll be captured by other survivors and work together with another captive, Pavel, to orchestrate an escape. Artyom's quest ranges across the Russian wasteland, ultimately leading you through areas devastated by nuclear destruction and nests of enemies mutated by the apocalypse before culminating in one of the coolest and most intense firefight finales I've ever experienced.
But frenetic, fast-paced combat is tiresome without a meaningful reason to fight, and Metro: Last Light tells a meaningful story through emotionally-charged flashbacks to the moment the nuclear missiles struck, and how that moment affected the Russian people. It’s a series of powerful scenes scattered throughout the 9-12 hour campaign that don’t force themselves on you, allowing different players to experience as much–or as little–of the narrative as they like. That’s one of Metro’s greatest strengths: it doesn’t force anything on the player. There’s plenty of optional areas to explore at your leisure, allowing you to intuitively control how long you spend in Metro: Last Light's bleak alternate reality.
Moment to moment, the actions you're taking in Metro: Last Light are very similar to those you performed in Metro 2033: exploring, scrounging, and fighting for your life with a hodgepodge of unique and innovative post-apocalyptic weapons. Even your weapons tell a story, like the handmade submachine gun that has a magazine that slides left-to-right, through the weapon, as shots are fired. It’s a little thing, but idiosyncratic touches like this do an excellent job of showcasing the unique, alien nature of Metro's alternate reality Russia.
Of course, those crazy cobbled-together weapons can be customized to fit your tactical preferences using Military-Grade ammunition, high-quality bullets manufactured before the apocalypse and now used in Metro as a form of currency. Paying a gunsmith to modify your armament with a silencer, lasersight, stock or foregrip is a simple way to significantly change the characteristics of each weapon, allowing you to tailor the game to your liking.
Your limited inventory also forces you to make some meaningful tactical decisions: mod a semi-automatic pistol to be fully automatic and pair it with extended clips, for example, and you can use your new pistol to replace the submachine gun in your inventory. That in turn allows you to drop (or sell) the SMG, using the newly-opened space in your three-slot inventory for a long-range tool like the rifle. It's a seemingly small decision that could mean the difference between living and dying when you're exploring the wasteland on your own.
Metro’s score is one of the best in the business and continues to establish not only the singular tone for any particular moment within the game, but a consistent and omnipresent theme throughout the entire narrative experience. Pair this with the spot-on sound effects–terrifying gunfire, wet gurgling screams, the frantic cries of communication between both enemies and the occasional comrade–and you’ll a sense of aural immersion to rival that of any great blockbuster war flick. The sound design remains exceptional throughout the game, though there’s a bit of weirdness with characters occasionally acting out of sync with their audio.
Unfortunately, for as strong as Metro: Last Light is, it suffers from a myriad of bugs and issues that can often disrupt the atmosphere it works so hard to evoke. Crashes to the desktop and random minimization happen all too frequently, destroying any sense of pacing that you might have.
Occasional hard locks and freezes join the list of serious technical problems, but by far the most frustrating bug I came across was the seemingly random times that the player would become immobile and unresponsive, regardless of whether I was using the keyboard or the gamepad. It usually happens when both the protagonist and an enemy–especially the mutated creatures–make a melee attack at the same time, causing Artyom to become unresponsive, almost as if stunned.
Bugs aside, Metro: Last Light still isn’t for everyone. It suffers from a lack of direction that often left me backtracking and searching the same areas multiple times before figuring out what to do or where to go. Some may find this lack of guidance charming, but it feels like even the most simple of navigational suggestions are absent and the experience suffers for it.
But the main challenge of Metro: Last Light isn't just poor directions–the game is hard. The two difficulty settings, Normal and Ranger (a special, harder difficulty setting that was made available as DLC to players who preordered the game) are a perfect balance of what you want in a game like Metro. I can't speak to Ranger mode, but Normal is just hard enough that it forces you to slow down and think tactically in situations where, in other first-person shooters, you’d normally just run through guns blazing. That kind of recklessness will get you killed immediately in Last Light.
Despite its technical flaws and poor guidance, Metro: Last Light is a uniquely challenging and heartfelt experience, a bleak first-person shooter that does more with its narrative that some films. It works well as an isolated experience too, making it a great entry point into the Metro series.