Metro: Last Light begins around a year after Metro 2033, a game that, sadly, many PS3 owners won’t have had a chance to play, never having been released on Sony’s console. If you didn’t play the first game on 360 or PC then a little crash course is in order to bring you up to speed, though I’ll be sure to stay away from specifics.
Metro 2033 was set in Moscow 20 years after a nuclear war wiped out all but those who were able to flee into the underground Metro system as the bombs fell. Small pockets of humans survive in the old stations of the system, but they are now besieged by mutated creatures and ‘Dark Ones’ who roam the surface and tunnels between.
You played as Artyom as he went on a journey across the Metro, battling through the dark tunnels, occasionally venturing up onto the surface of Moscow and into areas controlled by the New Soviet Union and The Fourth Reich. His goal? To try and save his station and all the others living in the Metro. Last Light sees the Metro’s populace hanging in the balance once more, teetering on the brink of a full blown civil war.
The tweaks and polishing cover everything from Ayrtom's watch to the animations of characters.
As you would expect from a sequel, Last Light refines a lot of what we saw in 2033. The beating heart that is the game engine now seems to be able to push many more characters on screen at the same time, giving the potential for grander events in the plot, whilst there is a increased fluidity to the animation, breathing new life into the interactions with the wide range of people that Ayrtom will meet on his new journey.
The game sticks to a practically HUD-free first person view, aiming for a raw and realistic view point, and here the most noticeable change comes in the form of Ayrtom’s humble wristwatch. 2033’s traditional analogue watch that featured a simple timer and bolted on traffic lights to show your visibility has been replaced with a digital design. It’s now always in view and features endlessly cool Nixie tubes which gently glow the time at you or show how long you’ve got left on your gas mask’s filter.
Additionally, it has a simple blue light which appears whenever you’re in a place bright enough to be spotted by enemies. It’s a change which seems so minor, but has a telling impact. Though you have rechargeable health, it’s still quite easy for you to die if you try and go toe to toe with too many enemies, so stealth is a more appealing option. Having a simplified indicator to show whether you’re hidden or not should be a great refinement.
If anything, though, I found it almost simplified things too much. There wasn’t quite as much doubt any more, and it sometimes felt like I was utterly invisible just because I was in a shred of darkness. Enemies felt completely blind to my presence on Normal difficulty; they’re too easy to hide from and too quick to dismiss any noises I made as being a rat scuttling by.
That’s not to say I wasn’t discovered though, as a simple mistake can get you spotted and drop you into the middle of a firefight. The trusty Bastard submachine gun makes a return, as does the simple double barreled shotgun, but these weapons really do stink in the heat of battle. You’ll want to scavenge better guns from your fallen enemies as soon as you can, make trades and upgrades when there’s a trader to visit at a station, and look out for little hidden areas which might contain some goodies.
Up a flight of broken stairs was where I found my magnum with an extended barrel and sights, a very handy weapon to have alongside an AK-74 when I found myself backed into a corner with heavily armoured troops coming at me. Even then I felt the AI was a little lacking though, a little too willing to hide behind cover and wait for me to pick them off one by one. Of course, they’re still more mentally challenging to fight than the mutant Nosalises which just rush at you in large packs.
Once I’d finally escaped the military base I started out in, it was time for me to head onto the Metro lines with a track car. As I passed through the tunnels, there were often little off-shoots and optional side quests which I could tackle. A doorway off to the side led to a green, glowing, Nosalis infested trap, at the end of which I was able to find the gas mask filters I quite desperately needed at that point. It took me a few attempts to manage to fight my way back out of there successfully. What I would have given for a quicker firing shotgun at that point.
There aren't all that many friendly people in the metro.
Even when you’re not deviating, there feels like a fair bit more variety in the places you’ll visit this time around. The locations in Last Light are set to explore the less appealing sides of humanity in this the post-apocalyptic world, as one rather colourful station played host to a more… adult theatre. The ESRB description would say this game contains “jiggling”, that’s for sure.
The warmer reds of the theatre stand in stark contrast to the aforementioned military base, bathed in blueish-white lights, whilst the occasional trips to the surface are always a welcome change of scenery and can lend the engine’s wonderful lighting system to some truly stunning vistas, even when seen through the gas mask’s glassy distortions and accompanied by Ayrtom’s strained breathing.
I certainly feel that Last Light is set to be a worthy successor to 2033. It feels like a better polished production, with more colour and variety to the locations and a tale that will shake the Metro to its core. Most importantly it should keep the thick, heavy atmosphere and gameplay that made the first title into such a cult hit.
Metro: Last Light is set for release on the 14th of May in the United States and the 17th of May in Europe and the UK for PC, Xbox 360 and PS3.