By Terry Randolph
Developer: 4A Games
Publisher: Deep Silver
Release Date: May 14, 2013
Rated: M for Mature
Systems: Xbox 360 (Reviewed), Playstation 3, PC
Forgiveness is incredibly hard to successfully convincingly convey as a concept for interactive mediums. It’s a weighty topic that is based more on inferences and individual concepts than a real collective whole. Not to mention, it takes time to be able to craft a tale dealing with such a theme that will gain a collective assessment of it being comprehended. Even then, if you asked for a consensus that singular concept of forgiveness is a bit muddled. That’s also because of the perception of wrongdoings and the wounds they leave behind and how long it takes for them to heal. So, really, how do you tell a convincing tale of forgiveness?
Metro: Last Light, the sequel to the sleeper hit Metro 2033 takes place in a world laid bare by a nuclear apocalypse. In this world, humanity is struggling to survive underground in the metros while coming to grips with the possibility their days are numbered. Scant resources are dwindling, radiation is slowly closing them in and it is nigh impossible to go outside without fearing facing a mutated beast. However, for this particular period of time is another story that hangs in the background quietly confident. As much as the tale of Last Light is a complex, layered tale about examining the human condition in an extreme setting, it is also a tale of personal growth and redemption. This is examined through Artyom, our silent protagonist.
Taking a place one year after Metro 2033, Artyom is now a full-fledged ranger. Just recently, the Rangers had uncovered a bunker rumored to have enough resources to sustain the metro indefinitely. While they attempted to keep this news under wrap, spies from other major political factions the Reds (Communist) and the Fourth Reich (Nazis) have found out and told their respective parties. Tensions are now running high between the three, and it’s only a matter of time until someone makes the first move.
At the same time, a mystic named Khan wanders into the Metro looking for Artyom, stating that there was one more Dark One still alive. Dark Ones were mysterious beings appearing after the nuclear apocalypse and the main antagonists of Metro 2033. Khan tells Artyom they have to protect this little Dark One, as it would be the key to humanity’s salvation. The story then begins a suspenseful tale of forgiveness and redemption coupled with Artyom having to warn the Rangers about the potential of war before it’s too late.
The world you explore in Metro: Last Light feels alive; underground “cities” are dark, dirty and gritty. People are scavenging for any little thing they can find to survive; finding something that might be common to us like a toy is rare treasure. Parts of the Metro are uninhabitable due to the slow creeping of radiation from the bombs. Food is rationed and barely enough to stave off starvation, but humanity is getting by. Those who lived before the bombings recount the stories of a world once beautiful outside. Adults wonder if the kids will ever learn what a clear blue sky might look like, or the stars splayed out across the night. There is this small hope that one day, humanity can return outside and live there again. For now, it’s survival. This is what the Metro series has always been strong at, and Last Light serves as a solid reminder.
When you step outside, it’s a record of just how sudden life stopped when the bomb drops. Plane wreckage litters the ground with skeletons still strapped into their seats. Buses and cars sit still in an eerie silence and buildings stand prominently. Beasts mutated from radiation run the land and sky, creating this gnawing anticipatory tension for when Artyom is going to be fighting one. Overall, it does a good job solidifying the atmosphere as brooding, suspenseful and difficult.
However, while I praise Metro: Last Light’s storytelling, it has created quite a divide because the last third of the game the spotlight shifts from focusing on the world and more on Artyom’s internal story of forgiveness and individuality. Personally, I felt that the transition was smooth and loved the shift into a spiritual/mystical exploration of Artyom. It also reminded me a lot of Ayn Rand’s exploration of the concepts “We” and “I”. Artyom has to learn how to think for himself (I), instead of blindly following orders (We) like he had in Metro 2033. On occasion, the story goes a little over-the-top in theatrics during the hallucinations and spiritual realm sequences Artyom experience towards the end. The moments where these sequences do succeed creates an evocatively unsettling experience that packs a few good suspenseful moments in.
The voice acting for the game is very hit or miss. Some of the pivotal, defining moments felt a forced in the actors’ delivery that made it unbelievable. Especially the loading screens with dialogue from Artyom, the voice didn’t cut it for me. It also made me aware that I was playing a game, when usually I get too immersed to really notice it. Those moments also felt unnecessary because it only served to reinforce what was happening in plot. Other characters, like Pavel (the main antagonist of Metro: Last Light) line deliveries were inconsistent in delivery and would snap me out of the moment.
What really astounds me about this game is 4A Games’ ability to create this complex story and fit it into a First-Person Shooter/Survival game. Currently, the video game market is heavily saturated with on-rails, frenetic first person shooters where it’s react first and think later. Metro: Last Light is refreshing in being the opposite; it forces you to pick your battles carefully and to think while in battle. Bullets are something you have to scavenge for while traversing the levels. When you find some, more than likely it’s a small amount that will never feel enough.
The game also has a brilliant currency system that will frustrate you in a good way; aside from the bullets more common in the game, there are also military grade bullets that serve as money. Using these bullets can give you a clear advantage in battle; they are stronger, tougher, and deal heavier damage than the more common bullets you find. However, these are also the ways to buy upgrades for your weapons, ammo or secondary ammo ( knives, grenades, etc.).
One thing I’ve always felt a little on-the-fence about games are the inclusion of boss fights. I understand that these battles are supposed to carry a feeling of grandeur and accomplishment. Most of the time, it’s come off as more frustrating and feeling unnecessary. Metro: Last Light fell under that category; boss battles just come off as tedious, repetitive and frustrating. Most of them had a pattern like shoot them in this spot, keep running to the right, shoot spot again, run to the right, repeat. If there’s going to be a boss battle, it shouldn’t feel thrown in there just for the sake of it.
Yet, refreshing aspects of this game that sets it apart from the pack is it’s pacing for gameplay. Most of the game allows you to go through it through two play styles, stealth or guns blazing. While guns blazing can certainly be fun (and probably more appealing), the extra challenge of being stealthy feels very rewarding. You can also choose to kill your enemies silently, or just knock them out. For anyone reading this that enjoy games like Dishonored or Deus Ex: Human Revolution, you would enjoy the feel of the game. Finally, I love how big of an impact morality leaves on the outcome of the game; like its predecessor, Metro: Last Light has a hidden morality system within the game that determines the ending you get. All of these aspects add to the replayability of the game. By the time I had finished my first playthrough, I wanted to start it over to enjoy the experience and see the other ending.
Sadly, no game is without its flaws; the biggest issue I have with Metro: Last Light is level design. The Metro series is all about exploring little nooks and crannies to find supplies yet the level designs are extremely linear. Even the places that you can explore feel like they are holding you to certain paths with little real exploration. Several times, I ran into “Invisible walls” that blocked me from exploring paths that seemed interesting. This is, I’m assuming, done to keep the player entrenched in the story/vision being displayed. For most of the game, it didn’t bug me as I was too caught up in the story to really pay attention to it. The only times I really found myself aware of this was when levels felt really open, and I was being held back by something invisible. Depending on the player, this can be tolerable or a deal breaker. For me, it was tolerable up to a point.
Metro: Last Light is a brilliant game held down by design flaws that are hard to ignore. That shouldn’t stop you from getting the game and putting it into your console. The risk is certainly worth it for the powerful story that deftly handles a tale of survival in a post-nuclear apocalyptic world and personal growth. Plus, in a genre ravaged by hundreds of Call of Duty clones, the slower pacing and different approaches to combat, scavenging and unsettling atmosphere make this game very refreshing. Overall, you should give this game a chance and play it.