Surviving the Russian Nuclear Holocaust. Reviewing: Metro: Last Light

Metro: Last Light (PC/XBX 360/PS3)

Price: $49.99

Hours Played: 16-20 Hours (Single Playthrough)

Well it has been a while since the Earth got nuked again – but the wait is over as 4A Games brings us a grim desolate vision of Moscow ravaged after World War III. Though Russia isn’t an uncommon destination with shooters – but an entire game flavored with Russian-accented English isn’t that common in gaming. Survival horror really hasn’t had a good run of late with the likes of Resident Evil 6 and Dead Space 3 releasing to mixed reviews. Does this sequel to the sleeper hit Metro 2033 have what it takes to take up the crown of the quintessential survival horror game?

Story and Character: The story continues from where 2033 concluded with the protagonist Artyom eliminating the ‘Dark Ones’ (a sort of alien race) threat. However, it is discovered that one of the Dark Ones may have survived and might be the key to humanity’s survival in the future. What follows is an adventure through underground cities and barren wastelands in search of the surviving creature, which is spruced up with conspiracies and deceit for added flavors. The story in itself is pretty straightforward but the journey it is tied to allows players to experience multiple characters and factions with their own ideologies, highlighting the efforts of humans to reorganize and bring order into a world where the only goal is survival.

Meet the People of Metro:

The story has many interesting characters, the least of which happens to be the protagonist, Artyom, who the player controls. It’s not that Artyom is a bad character, but there isn’t any in-game script for him to really make him feel part of the story, given his previous history which makes him critical in the Metro world.  . What you do get are some narrative tidbits from Artyom during loading screens in-game, but that’s as far as it goes. Although it doesn’t take away anything from the overall story but an effort to really make the character fleshed out with dialogues would have been appreciated (Booker Dewitt from BioShock Infinite has really spoiled us). (9/10)

Game Design: Metro: Last Light has multiple layers in terms of game design. Players can arm themselves with up to three weapons at any point of time and have access to secondary weapons such as throwing knives, grenades and mines. The weapons are a pretty standard affair but not as extensive in shooter terms although they still have a unique look & feel to compliment the wasteland setting (especially of note being the pneumatic weapon class to fire ball bearings or arrowheads). Players can customize their favorites with a limited, but effective set of upgrades which can be bought using one of the most unique in-game currencies- bullets from the old world (Which can also second as ammo for guns  in case  players runs out of standard bullets)

The other aspect is the intelligently balanced take on lighting. Flashlights provide illumination in dark areas and can be used to fend off against certain monstrosities but also pinpoint the players location to enemies both human and monsters. So it is left up to the player’s better judgment about how sparingly or how extensively they utilize the light sources in the environment. A player can similarly choose to be the gung-ho warrior, going in guns-blazing or be the silent assassin who manipulates lighting to maneuver an area in darkness. The maps as well are a good mix of linear and non-linear areas where in players can discover alternate routes to attack or evade enemies and letting them experiment with their approach.

Visiting the wasteland requires players to don a gas mask in order to breathe. The mask adds a time dimension to the experience as players are required to traverse environments before they run out of air filters for their masks. The lack of a map and objective markers is a welcome relief as players only rely on a compass for directions which adds to the exploration and survival element of the game. And last but not least, scavenging is downright critical as players will often find themselves running out of resources. Overall, the game design is an elegant blend of all these elements which will see players adapting their tactics to suit a given situation enabling a sense of achievement seldom experienced. Topped off with a very subtle morality system which can reward players with alternate endings, the game design is executed beautifully. (9.5/10)

Put on that Gas Mask:

Game-Play: Action in Metro is incredibly fast and intense even on normal difficulty. Enemy AI uses cover smartly and won’t stand in open field for too long, as soldiers flank the player putting them in a tight spot extending the duration of firefights. Melee based monsters will require players to move quickly around the map as the creatures close in to devastating effect as compared to most games where these kind of enemies would pretty much be cannon fodder.

Most stealth based games have protagonists with exotic abilities which make players feel powerful but more often than not the foes they are up against don’t have the same kind of resources and skills. Since stealth is an essential part of the game, 4A Games strives towards balancing the playing field – at no time will players feel they have superior abilities or resources as compared to the enemies. 4A Games gives players the option to manipulate the environment and create shadows to move around and tackle a situation as compared to having any outright advantage over enemies.

The tense action sequences are balanced with intermittent visits to safe zones in the form of underground cities which players can explore.  Although these safe zones have limited activities and interactions but nonetheless these are a welcome relief to the action which can get overwhelming and draining. There are some minor technical flaws such as bugs which result in floating bodies which may or may not rear their ugly heads during game-play but are overshadowed by the perfection 4A Games has achieved here. (9.5/10)

Life and Death in The Metro:

Production Design: When people think of survival horror, atmosphere has probably saved more crappy stories than I can think of. The players witness two different worlds in Metro: Last Light – the overcrowded and clustered underground cities and the grim and desolate outdoors. Indoor environments range from cities bustling with people to spooky lengths of tunnels which players traverse as their flashlights light the way ahead. The outdoors as well has its vistas of bombed buildings with swamps marring the outdoors as sleets of rain blur the players’ vision. Similarly, the character models are incredibly lifelike as they go about their business (except for female counterparts who all seem to have similar haircuts and a very demented level of make-up at times). Most games usually have corpses which look like mannequins, but the production design out here is to the point of facial expressions on corpses also which litter the world in various states of decay.

What is on screen is also complimented with sounds – cities filled with voices of idle chatter and vendors screaming as they sell wares. The wasteland sounds as empty as it looks, but one can hear gunshots in the distance, or even the skittering of creatures around the player in the grass which can make a player jump and scan the area again to reassure that they are in-fact alone. There are just as many music sequences as there are empty sections in the game which makes what is on-screen stand out. The music adequately captures the mood at any given point of time, but it is the empty sequences wherein the player is just exploring a dark corridor or a ravaged wasteland which really compliments the whole vibe of the game.

The infamous gas mask adds another layer to the production design. Players will experience blood trickling down the gas mask clouding their vision which they have to wipe off to see clearly again. The sound of Artyom’s breathing is a constant reminder of how long they have till they need to replace the air filter. The glass of the mask will crack if the player takes too much damage. In all, the mask brings the audio and visual production design together to create a sense of paranoia which third person shooters cannot capture. (10/10)

Final Verdict: If you have been aching for a really worthwhile survival horror experience, look no further. If you aren’t a fan of survival horror, you should still look at Metro: Last Light. It isn’t very often that you get games where it’s hard to point any flaws. Yes the game has flaws, but the perfection 4A Games has achieved here requires every individual to sit up and take notice. I read an article which spoke about survival horror being a genre where developers have a bag of tricks they can utilize to shock or spook players and it’s hard to sustain that bag of tricks if developers want to create sequels. I don’t entirely disagree with that statement, and yes Metro: Last Light is also a heavily scripted game where you will be surprised or shocked when something happens for the first time but a reload won’t have the same effect. But what I can assure you is that at no point in the game would players feel that the developers are using the same tricks repeatedly and a reload may take away the surprise but it definitely doesn’t take away the challenge. The bag of tricks is there but its strategic use leads to a fresh experience all through with very little repetition.

Final Final Verdict: It is a crime to not get your hands on this ASAP!!! Buy or Die!!! It should be a serious “Game of the Year” contender in my opinion.

PS: I really appreciate the extra effort 4A Games made to utilize the Alienware’s lit keyboard with the lighting effects on-screen to make the experience more special. I think people who played it on an Alienware would agree with that.

SCORE: 9.5/10

Buy Yours:

Digital Download via Steam

Retail Copy via Lynx2games (PC/PS3/XBX 360)

Watch The Trailer:

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