When former publisher THQ closed its doors in late 2012, an auction was held the following month to sell of the company’s IP. As writers and gamers we never relish the fall of industry stalwarts though the aftermath was an ongoing tale of intrigue in which many began to speculate which publishers would pick up THQ’s catalogue of franchises.
One of the most interesting games up for grabs was 4A’s Metro: Last Light which eventually went to Deep Silver, much to our surprise. During the twilight months of the THQ debacle the shooter sequel had been shaping up nicely and there were fears that the company’s liquidation would harm its development.
Thankfully that wasn’t the case. Last Light was by no means a perfect game yet still proved itself as one of the more interesting hits of 2013.
This was largely due to the game’s story and setting, based on Dmitry Glukhovsky’s sci-fi novel, Metro 2033. Over the past several years post-apocalyptic backdrops have been used left, right, and centre, making it a go-to setting for any developer looking to anchor a serious, moody video game.
However, the way it was presented in Metro 2033 was different. Following a catastrophic nuclear fallout, the people of Moscow are relegated to the city’s underground rail network. Here they have rebuilt civilisation through scavenging, salvaging and keeping themselves safe. The world above is hostile and dangerous; if the irradiated atmosphere and terrain doesn’t kill you then the hordes of mutated creatures will.
Where 2033 was mainly about exploring the Metro and unveiling this universe piece by piece, Last Light expands on this. After just a few missions you realise that mutants aren’t your only worry. Hitting rewind on modern society has led to the rebirth and galvanising of far wing political ideologies, creating a rift between several of the game’s human factions.
The fact that this all takes place in Moscow is just as refreshing. Where we’re used to playing as commandos and elite squads of allied marines, it nice to sit down with a shooter that doesn’t cling to such tropes.
It’s also worth mentioning the sheer number of details 4A has woven into the game. As you walk through one of the several metro communities, nearly every character model is unique and doing something, whether skinning dead rats, playing guitar, or doing a spot of target practice. This even carries into gameplay with players forced to wipe the lens of their gas masks and change filters amid other well executed touches.
Immersing players in a tense, authentic environment is one thing but to keep them there is another. Though Last Light will have no doubt enticed a sect of shooter fans not content with the likes of Call of Duty or Battlefield, I felt that the game fell short in a few areas. The most prolific of these were the pacing and Metro’s tendency to dupe players with the occasional dose of nonlinearity
Artyom’s adventure through Moscow is a hoot but too often did I find myself being pulled out of the experience. Last Light strikes as having one of these road trip sorts of narrative in which characters and places come and go, to the extent that I could never really focus on my end goal. The first few hours demonstrate this well, sandwiching some awesome stealth/shooting gameplay between laborious navigation and in-engine cutscenes.
With games like BioShock and The Last Of Us we’ve seen how well-placed story beats go hand in hand with edgy pockets of gameplay. Instead of blending the two together seamlessly however, 4A Games occasionally separates them in a way that can come across as self-indulgent.
Compared to the original, Metro: Last Light is a step closer towards the first person shooter mainstream but is just as divisive. If you’re looking for an alternative post-apocalyptic scenario and don’t mind a few recurrings issues then it’s certainly worth a shot.