Metro: Last Light isn’t like any other shooter on the market right now, lacking the explosions of Battlefield 3 and the brain-numbing twists found in BioShock Infinite. Where Metro sets itself apart from what we’ve come to expect from the genre is its pure, unadulterated atmosphere. It might not be classic Resident Evil but it still offers an experience as gut wrenching and painstakingly addictive. So after delving deep into the heart of the wasteland have 4A pulled a Dead Island: Riptide by just ‘slapping a texture pack on the original’, or have they actually listened to legitimate complaints and cleaned up the many issues of the first?
Any self-respecting critic of Metro 2033 will tell you the game sucked hard when it came to stealth. Enemy soldiers were either oblivious to your appearance or knew exactly where you were, eliminating that in-between state of other shooters where patrols would search for dead bodies and then for you. Why was this a problem? Because overcoming human adversaries with your cover blown was a tough job and victory hindered thanks to shortcomings in enemy AI. There’s only one thing gamers hate more than random quick-time events – games that punish you because of a major fault in programming. Fortunately 4A Games have taken heed of the SWOT analysis and flipped what was once a major weakness into a formidable strength.
In Last Light your first priority in every human encounter is to snuff out all sources of illumination, whether that be through the twist of a bulb or a precisely aimed bullet. Tread into the light and nearby enemies will react to your presence instantly, even your shadow will broadcast your location. Still, stealth is definitely the way to go. Taking soldiers on face-to-face pumps them up with adrenaline, meaning they’ll sap more bullets than an American rap star and reap your inventory of precious ammo reserves.
To keep those bullets in ready supply and address 2033’s issues with AI, Last Light has introduced multiple alert stages for enemy patrols. Instead of pinpointing your location from the slightest mistake, guards will now do searches for dead bodies before they come looking for you. One section in the demo had me trudging through an underground network of tunnels like Batman in Arkham City as I popped a dozen soldiers silently, my cover never blown.
Supporting this much-needed emphasis on enemy AI is that Metro atmosphere we all know and love. The stations once again feel like a refuge devoid of hope. Wheelchair bound amputee’s sit miserably (injuries no doubt received received from wasteland beasts) as the melancholy strumming of a guitar fills the depressing hallways. Later sections in the game featured cabaret shows and probably the best realized, and most explicit, strip show to exist in a video game, period.
It’s not just the metro stations that brim with life either, exploring the sewers is still as haunting a task as ever. Cobwebs infest every corner of the underground tunnels, signaling the existence of a horrifying new eight-legged enemy and sending your sanity to terrifying new levels. Artyom is now equipped with a lighter allowing him to disintegrate these sticky hindrances and reveal secret passageways leading to ammo and gas supplies essential to his survival.
But where Last Light really emanates atmosphere is in its slowly regenerating wasteland. The bomb from 2033 has left behind a civilization’s carcass from which the newly arisen mutated wildlife gladly supp. This time around you’ll be dealing with giant spiders and scorpions, man-sized armoured-insects (imagine the Pokémon Scyther only darker and more stabby) and staples of 2033’s wildlife – the yeti and winged beasts. Furthering this air of the recently passed apocalypse is atmospheric weather effects. Howling wind threatens to throw Artyom off his feet while rain clouds up the visibility of his visor. The world is so dark and mysterious that it becomes a place you want to explore – this is far more than just a corridor in which to shoot. Unfortunately your time within this deadly land is limited as your gas mask reserves are finite and the air fatally toxic.
This is where Last Light’s greatest strength lies, in its atmospheric differences and juxtaposition between metro stations and the wasteland. Inside the metro you have time and shadows on your side and you’re encouraged to kill with stealth. Trek outside though and the tables are flipped as terrifying wildlife tracks you from the cover of growth – your reflexes tested when they dash out from all sides at once. This keeps shooting in the game fresh by mixing up Artyom’s tactics and augmenting the atmosphere of each individual environment.
It all amounts to a game that feels both well paced and expertly polished. I’ve played Crysis 3 and BioShock Infinite and from what I’ve seen Last Light is shaping up to be a contender for shooter of the year. It’s a slow-paced experience with a survival horror atmosphere, which is exactly what this generation of gaming’s been missing.
Metro: Last Light releases onto Xbox 360, PS3 and PC on May 17th.