In a world where modern game development concerning the the single-player experience is becoming an afterthought--especially in the realm of first-person shooters, where the infinite variations of multiplayer deathmatch rule the day-- a game that eschews this tradition and delivers an incredibly solid single-player title that includes a tremendous storyline deserves a great deal of recognition.
With that, welcome to the world of Metro: Last Light. Just make sure you’ve got your gas mask. And plenty of filters. The game serves as a sequel to 2010’s Metro 2033, and it puts you back in the avatar of Artyom and his adventures in a bleak, post-apocalyptic Moscow, which is in ruins, thanks to a good, old-fashioned nuclear war. Our protagonist’s goal is pretty simple: stop an opposing force from unleashing a biological attack that will kill everyone in the underground “city” that comprises the Metro.
There’s also some stuff with the aliens that Artyom nuked at the end of the first installment in a story that is fantastically accentuated by developer 4A Games, and the visually stunning world they have created. Never has a nuclear wasteland looked so good, and that is with absolutely no offense to the actual Fallout series. The environments, be it in the underground tunnels or moving through the radioactive above ground settings, are so visually impressive, you owe it to yourself to see the game in its wide-open-graphics-settings state.
Of course, how pretty a game looks means little if there’s nothing to do in all those polished locations (yes, a nuclear-blasted Moscow can look polished), and while the first-person presentation may lend itself to linearity regarding single-player storytelling--unless you’re going the open world route--the story that drives Artyom and Metro: Last Light is so good, the end result is a frankly stunning offer that deserves the attention of mature gamers, especially those looking for a break from routine that is the modernized deathmatch environment.
While you may come for how impressive M:LL looks, you’ll stay because of the fantastic story that drives it. If you didn’t play Metro 2033, it may seem somewhat confusing, but it doesn’t take long to get the gist of the overall arc; one that takes our hero through many (narrative) twists and turns as anticipation for the endgame builds. Not only does the story expertly illustrate what long-term survival in a nuclear-blasted wasteland would be resemble, it also makes a player consider how their actions can cause ripple effects that have tidal wave-like results. Just ask the young Dark One who shows up during the game about all of that. In an effort to avoid spoilers, I’m going to limit my discussion concerning the details of the story; however, it is safe to say--at least to this reviewer--that the story is so solid; it masks any repetitive gameplay issues that come with the first-person shooter presentation.
While M:LL is firmly rooted in its FPS gameplay, the ways in which players can use their skills and equipment plays an important part here. When entering a new environment/combat area, players can either choose to negotiate these obstacles in a stealthy manner; or, if they want to test their shooting skills against AI enemies who will rush, flank, or surround players, you can try the balls out/clear the room approach. While the stealth approach is often suggested by the narrative, if things happen to go badly and enemies become alerted to your presence, most experienced FPS players will be able to survive the human encounters. Battles with the various mutated animal-like nasties that also populate the above-and-below world of the Metro environment are another story, however. Many of these beasts can absorb a lot more ammo than the human enemies can, and considering the scarcity of bullets--especially, in the areas where players will meet these mutated attackers--opening up on a herd of rat/bear-like mutations is probably not the best strategy.
When players attempt to go through an area in a quiet, undetected manner, they are presented with options to help their stealthy approach. You can turn off lights, use silent throwing knives, and there are normally alternate pathways for players to take, provided you are patient enough to go around a handful of enemies that are strategically placed by the developers to impede these attempts. The lack of a quicksave option may cause some players to forgo the stealth approach, however, especially if there is a noticeable delay between the automatic/progress saves.
How a player respects his/her weapons and equipment plays an important part in these attempts as well. If you’re trying stealth, make sure you have at least one gun equipped with a silencer. Furthermore, many of these environments require the use of gas mask, which uses filters that have five-minute life spans. Considering players do not have an unlimited amount of these life-saving filters--resource scarcity is a prominent feature of M:LL, as the developers hammer home the effects such a devastating war would have on life--you won’t be able to take all the time in the world to quietly get by these unfriendly obstacles.
It should be noted that while the enemy AI is quite serviceable, there were times during my stealthier attempts where I would move right in front of an enemy’s line of sight, but for some reason, they failed to notice me, or their fallen comrade about 8-10 feet away from them. While this is not a huge issue, it can make some of these stealth attempts seem a little lucky if you happen to pull them off.
As many of you probably already know, there is no multiplayer feature included with M:LL. The developers indicated they wanted to concentrate on making the single-player experience as fulfilling as they could, and in this endeavor, they succeeded with flying colors. Some may question the replayability of a game with no multiplayer, but because the game features two different endings (one for the “bad karma” approach to the game--in other words, going through the game, killing without mercy-- and one for good), there is reason to try different approaches after you’ve finished it for the first time. Just be sure to bring a good amount of patience, because again, there is no quicksave feature.
Another area of concern is the difficulty level. Out of the box, M:LL comes with the Normal mode. In order to access the harder Ranger mode--unless you pre-purchased the game--you must purchase it as DLC, and no, I’m not joking either. When asked about this, representatives of Koch Media, the parent company of Deep Silver, the game’s publisher, indicated that because the retail industry demands pre-purchase exclusives, which becomes DLC content after the game is released, the publishing houses decided the Hardcore mode was the best, perhaps only thing they had to offer. For about on that sticky subject, you can read the interview in PC Magazine.
Whatever the case, if you want to try M:LL in its hardest mode, you will probably have to pay $5 for the right to do so, and while there is replayability with the normal mode, which I’ve already discussed, the absent-unless-you-buy-it Hardcore mode does bruise what is now the final product, however slightly.
After finishing the game, I had to step back and process what had just happened, something that doesn’t always happen in the modern gaming world. While the gameplay may be somewhat unremarkable--thanks to the inherent limitations associated with the FPS genre--the story and its presentation is so good, overlooking these shortcomings are not difficult at all. The world 4A Games created is living and breathing, even though it may be infected with the cancer that is nuclear fallout. In many cases, the beauty of the design shines through, even through (or perhaps because of) the bleak environments.