Metro: Last Light. We get so used to ignoring game titles, filled as they are with the kind of advertising tricks, catchy slogans and empty language that makes them almost laughable. But with Last Light it’s all there. The desperation, the hope, the coming end. The image of a world of darkness, pinpricked by a single, fragile light.
The world of Metro was first written into being by Dimitri Glukovsky in his novel Metro 2033, and adapted into a complex but flawed first person shooter by developers 4A games. Now, Metro Last light picks up where it left off, following the story of young ranger Artyom once more. For the first hour newcomers will be playing catch up, as they begin to understand the politics, people and stations of the metro but once they are immersed in this dense world, there will be no escape. It’s a plot that ranges in quality of writing and clarity, but in atmosphere and detail it’s unbeatable. Showing the kind of maturity that few games ever reach, its portrayal of the dangers of extreme ideologies, and the atrocities that man is able to commit in the name of ignorance is startlingly well observed.
But it’s not just Last Light’s themes that reach beyond its genre, its gameplay does so too. Offering the possibility for non-lethal sneaking, aggressive stealth, or frantic, kinetic combat its firefights have distinctive depth. Adaptive enemy AI, spreading fire, destructible scenery, and a light and dark stealth mechanic, all combine to create levels that feel fluid and varied. It’s possible to sneak through many encounters un-noticed, but discovery leads to thrilling combat as often as death. Yet you are not the only deadly thing hiding in the dark. Much like Metro 2033, Last Light pits you against Moscow’s vicious mutants in frenzied close range combat. Though sometimes possible to bypass by careful stealth, these are much more straightforward affairs, resulting in a combination of backpedalling and blind panic. Thankfully, unlike Metro 2033 these encounter benefit from a wider variety.
This comes down to the 4A’s new take on the surface world of dead Moscow. No longer a frozen wasteland, it is now home to a burgeoning and unforgiving new eco-system. Mutants now comes in all shapes and sizes, but these are no longer just simple enemies. Last light instead goes out of its way to portray these twisted creatures as a new form of life, challenging you to take a second look before you shoot. There’s a startling beauty to your frequent trips to the surface, whether it’s in the dynamic weather system that sees incredible storm-fronts rolling in or in a demon protecting her newly born child. But it’s a beauty that can never be lingered over, with the slow decay of your gas masks filter, or the call of a stalking predator always driving you on. The message is clear, this may be the first spring of a new world; but it’s not yours anymore.
Metro Last Light is not without its problems, with technical issues arising from 4A games’ incredible ambition for such a small developer. But what starts off as simple quest soon balloons into an epic of love and war in the skeleton of the Moscow metro. Shot through with quiet exploration as well as explosive set-pieces, Metro Last Light strikes a stunning balance between its surface world, and the flame lit tunnels below. Both have their moments of beauty and humanity, but they also have moments of horror. The message they carry is clear, and it’s a damming one. After all this is an apocalypse that humanity has visited on themselves, a fact Last Light never forgets. It’s a profound message for a game to carry, but it never becomes too overbearing, thanks to the irresistible presence of Last Lights strongest emotion. Hope; even when the light you carry may be the last.