There’s a sense of familiarity that blows through the haunted subway stations of Metro 2033 and into the derelict subterranean tunnels of Metro: Last Light. Needless to say that Half-Life was a key inspiration for 4A Games when it came to crafting the world of the original Metro 2033, establishing – as Valve so triumphantly did with the alien-infested landscape of Black Mesa – a credible universe, while deftly navigating along the tightrope of narrative and gameplay to tremendous success. It’s no surprise then that the Ukrainian studio’s eye hasn’t wandered too far from Gordon Freeman’s extra-terrestrial exploits when crafting its sequel, and to the developer’s credit it manages to both restore and improve upon that story-action balance without compromising either of the core tenets.
That’s partly due to Last Light’s decision to shuck Dmitry Glukhovsky’s published literary sequel in favour of its own unique canon, continuing from the more catastrophic of the two possible endings at the climax of Metro 2033 that return the player to the perspective of the original’s taciturn protagonist Artyom. Psychologically scarred from the evisceration of the Dark Ones, Artyom’s journey is one of atonement; the pursuit of internal salvation, while igniting a flicker of hope for the remnants of humanity. Is it possible for one of the Dark Ones to have survived the fatal blast? We won’t spoil the reveal, but the question alone is reason enough to drive Artyom back to Moscow’s charred surface and drag players into the dread-filled depths of the metro system. And it’s the world itself that continues to be Metro’s greatest strength. It’s a backdrop that quite simply indulges fervent curiosity at one moment, but isn’t afraid to snap players hastily past its wonders minutes later. A more established studio and a bloated budget might have enabled Last Light’s dour setting to swell, and it’s true testament to the modest developer’s strength that it layers an astounding level of detail across each district of this engaging setting.
Stations filled with refugees demand players to linger and soak up the atmosphere; eavesdropping on idle prattle further peels back layers of local history and illuminates on the wider conflict between the three warring factions at the heart of the story. 4A understands moments where a considered pace is needed as well as it appreciates the need to inject some histrionics into a protracted shootout. There’s much to see here, even if interaction has been downplayed since the original. One of the apposite ingenuities of the original Metro was the number of mechanics that mirrored the challenges faced by the survivors stuck within the savage landscape. In Last Light a number of those features have been noticeably stripped back. The most evident of which is the gas mask – essential for surviving outside in the wilderness and the source of much frustration in the original – here reduced to near redundancy thanks to the surplus supply of air filters littered around the environment. What was once a barrier from enjoyment due to the scarcity of extra filters (and, admittedly, poor checkpointing) has almost lost its purpose; without the constant threat of respiratory collapse it fails to amplify the anxiety that permeates much of this shooter.
Indeed, much of Metro: Last Light lacks the depth of the first entry, ultimately undercutting the challenge that players faced in the original. For instance, the monetary system – based on military grade ammunition – is of little concern for the majority of the game, as ammo and weapons are easy enough to discover. Not once during our playthrough did we have to resort to blowing our cash (quite literally) using currency as a replacement for our spent bullets. Last Light’s approach to survivalist mentality is superficial at best – a collection of interesting tools that looks great but adds little.