Vast improvements to the gameplay make Metro: Last Light a better shooter without losing its unique style.
In 2010 we were introduced to Metro 2033, 4A Games' first attempt at bringing Dmitry Glukhovskys' novel to the video game realm. The result was a product that was drenched in atmosphere, but more than a little lacking in the gameplay department. Thankfully, 4A Games got another crack at this endearing world and with it they've made much needed improvements, resulting in one of the most engrossing experiences in recent memory.
If you haven't played the first game it wouldn't be a bad idea to check it out, but it's not totally necassary to get the full experience out of Last Light. The brief intro does a great job at catching players up with where we last left our hero. Last Light continues Artyom's story with him waking up in the metro having just decimated the entire population of Dark Ones with an arsenal of nukes. He is soon informed by The Order(one of the remaining factions living underground) that there actually is one survivor of the attack. Now he is tasked with finding and eliminating the threat before any other vying factions can get a hold of it. Along the way there are plenty of twists and turns that are fairly standard, but it's not the story that's the star. The atmosphere takes center stage here.
Keeping with one of the strengths of the first game, players will roaming through various environments, both underground and above the surface, taking in all of its bleak glory. Time will be spent walking around the dimly lit towns that survivors of the initial blast have cobbled together. It's in these areas that you'll see just how people might pull together and attempt to have some semblance of "regular" life if such an event were ever to occur. Soldiers patrol the area, ready to protect their people, drunks occupy the bars built to keep their minds off of the struggles of metro living, and women and children are seen comforting each other as the father is off on a deadly mission to scavenge more supplies. Moments like these are well constructed and give the player the feeling that they're actually doing something to better this dreary world.
Most of the time you'll be skulking slowly through the underground metro system, exploring every nook and cranny of abandoned bunkers, enemy encampments, and a few suffocatingly dark creature nests. The environment begins to envelope you as you walk around, digging through dusty ruins of days passed. I was on the edge of my seat as I made my way through pitch black tunnels, listening for the slightest sounds alerting me to a possible attacker. However, the most tense encounters I had were usually on the bombed out surface, where everything is out to kill you. This is where the game truly comes into its' own. Admiring the details of dilapidated Moscow will, sadly, have to wait. Seeing as the surface is completely irradiated, it's essential to wear a gas mask and that gas mask is on a strict timer. I loved the feeling of dread that I got as the timer on my watch beeped to let me know I had precious seconds of clean air before I would succcumb to suffocation. Rambling around, in search of air filters with even just a minute left to prolong my existence was exhilirating in such a strange way. When I did find one, there was great a sense of accomplishment usually followed by some monstrosity pouncing on me.
Yes, the Nosolises are back(with a few new additions, such as the spider variant) and they're just as aggressive as ever. With the much needed improvements to the shooting, however, these instances are no longer a slog. Actually, this time around the shooting is fun and packs a mean punch. The movement and aiming of the gun is much more precise and satisfying, trading in that old clunky feeling of never knowing what you were going to hit. The game throws in some great touches such as the blood splatter that you'll have to tap a button to wipe off if you want to see what's going on and frantically charging your battery as an enemy lunges in for the kill. Details like this give the game that fresh feeling that a lot of shooters tend to overlook. These effects help it feel more naturally difficult rather than throwing hundreds of enemies at you at once.
Where the game fumbles is in the stealth sequences, of which there are many. There are quite a few times when you'll wander into a room that has eight or nine patrol men that you'll have to sneak by. The problem is that it's just so easy to get past these guys. As long as the blue light isn't showing up on your watch, you can walk directly in front of their faces without them showing any awareness of your presence. This led to me going the run and gun route sometimes so that I could enjoy that combat that the developers worked so hard to improve.
Like the first game, Last Light has the bullets as currency design. There are two types of ammo: the "dirty" rounds and military grade rounds. The latter can be used as currency used to purchase weapons, customizations, etc. If you choose, it also doubles as your primary ammo, but with an increase in damage. The idea is a sound one, but harldy seems to matter. Most of the time I was chalk full of both types of rounds. Being able to unload clips without worry saps some battles of all tension, especially since you're supposed to be barely scraping by.
Graphically the game looks pretty nice on the XBOX360. The textures can look fairly muddy when you get up close, a problem that's becoming all the more noticeable these days. The benefit is that you get a solid framerate to go along with that. Lighting in the game is top-notch, though. Headlamps on enemies blind your character and creat a nice blooming effect around the screen. More atmospheric moments are given a boost with shadows being cast by ghosly figures whenever lightning crashes in one memorable trip to the long dormant surface. There were numerous times that I caught myself gawking at the picture-esque views created by the sun peaking through the clouds on the surface.
I had the English dubbing on for the entire game, which was passable most of the time. Some of the idle dialogue that you hear as you're passing by citizens in town can sound pretty forced, but for the most part it's done well. There's an option to turn on Russian with English subtitles, which I did listen to and it sounded much more natural(Crazy, right?). There is a bit of an odd disconnect that I felt with Artyom, though. He doesn't speak at all during gameplay even when spoken to, but when the loading screens show up he becomes a chatterbox. There was also a time when I walked in front of a mirror in the back of a theatre and everyone showed up in the reflection...except Artyom, who was completely invisible. With a game that's so focused on small details, it seems odd that these issues pop up. They are small gripes, but it is sort of jarring.
The first Metro game was a totally unique, but ultimately flawed experience. Making changes in the gameplay has given this game the healthy dose of precision that it so desperately needed to make it over the hump into greatness. Minor issues aside, 4A Games has crafted a bleak yet endearing title that gives hope that there are still fresh ideas that haven't been explored in this genre.