Game Review: Metro: Last Light

Game, Metro Last Light“Metro: Last Light” Official Website

Rated “M” for Mature; Reviewed on Playstation 3

This is the 2013 sequel to the 2010 game, Metro 2033, which was based on the novel of the same name. While the first game closely paralleled the novel, the sequel presented an original story that picked up a year after the events of the first.

[This was another game offered for free on PS Plus and is maybe the 20th example of something worth the price of admission all by itself. Seriously, if you own a PlayStation device, you’re crazy if you’re not subscribed.]

Considering only gameplay, this is an above-average first person shooter. The areas and weapon selection is varied enough to support multiple styles of play although stealth is clearly favored in many places. Much of the design is comfortably traditional. Many areas are large or offer convoluted side passages, but the narrative is exceedingly linear. Boss battles often feature oversize enemies in arena situations.

World Building at its Best

The genius of the game (and the novel that inspired it) is the setting and elaboration of the world. The story is set decades after a world-annihilating nuclear war has driven the remaining population of Moscow into the vast Metro tunnels to survive. There they’ve evolved a complex society balanced across the economic and trading power of the Hansa; the military might of the resurgent communist party, the Reds; the brutality of new fascist regime, the Fourth Reich and the remnants of modern civilization in the powerful, central multi-station city of Polis.

As these factions maneuver for power and territory, the  Rangers of the Order attempt to rise above the politics and work to protect and defend the metro as a whole. As in the first game, you play Artyom who has, based on those events, been accepted into the Rangers. His adventure spans much of the Metro as he tries to avert an impending war and redeem himself for his past actions. All the while, on the poisonous surface, monstrous nuclear mutants continue to chip away at the edges of the metro pushing humanity ever faster towards extinction.

Morality Done Better

The player is often presented with moral decisions. Most of these are obvious. Do you kill or stun your enemies? Do you show mercy? Help others or take advantage of them? Others are more subtle. Do you respect the new natural order on the surface or do you blindly and egotistically rampage through it? While no indication is offered at the time, they collectively determine the quality of the ending you receive.

Immersion is clearly the goal of the minimalist interface and the hardest difficulty level features no HUD at all. Personal status is communicated via audio clues (heavy breathing or heart beats, for example) or real-world indicators such as weapon magazines, gauges and counters. Your wrist watch is visible and is used to time your precious respirator filters while on the surface.

Your tools are makeshift, but exquisitely tailored for the environment. Your flashlight is powered by a hand-crank generator that can also charge some abandoned machinery. It can frighten of some of the smaller, pests, but attracts many others. In the blackness of the tunnels you’ll often find yourself creeping forward with only a worn lighter to light your path, but it can also burn webbing and light torches. Of course your respirator and Geiger counter are essential when you’re forced to the surface.

Well Worth a Visit

While the game (and, again, the novel) has a bit more metaphysical posturing than I would normally enjoy, the realization of the world is immensely satisfying and engaging. I became engrossed with the idea of survival in the underground; on the remnants of the old mass transit system. The scarcity of equipment and food, the struggle to maintain illumination in the long dark between stations and the desperation of the few surface visits, protected from the poison air only by a  meager, easily damaged, respirator, become urgent and fundamental.

I had never read the book, but after playing the game I tracked it down and enjoyed it thoroughly. I wanted to understand this world more and spend more time with it. I was fascinated by the detail and care taken in the construction of this society and the pressures that it faces. As an experience, the game stands heads-and-shoulders above a sea of cookie-cutter (but, sadly, more successful) shooters. It will stay with you long after you put down the controller.

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