Adhering strongly to the rule of thumb which states that a sequel will be a more polished, honed version of the original (and generally contains all those ideas which were left on the cutting room floor), Metro: Last Light continues to impress as it approaches release.
It was first shown at E3 2011, and sported an almost Call of Duty-esque pace as a manic firefight took place in a mine cart. Some pretty literal on-rails stuff.
One could be forgiven for thinking the series was compromising itself for the sake of appealing to a more action-oriented crowd, but two demos later and the prevalence of the sneaking around, the bleak darkness and the horrific surface are well and truly in place.
You’ll be forced to think, and that in turn will make for a vastly more rewarding game experience and may just remind you what shooters used to be and can be again.
There are certain things Metro: Last Light lacks, and it’s in those things that we find its strengths. The handy guides which beckon you to do certain things, the oh-so-helpful HUD are non-entities in LL. It’s a welcome reprieve from a world where you’re constantly following an arrow to your next objective, crafted by developers fearful that a player experiences a moment of frustration in navigating their essentially linear experience.
Last Light bucks this trend, and does so with gratuitous aplomb.
As you progress through what is essentially a linear experience like most other shooters, you’ll have several paths to choose in getting from A to B. The tunnels and stations of the Russian underground are a maze of hazards, and you’ll have to navigate through them all, but in you’ll be choosing your own path, finding your own nooks and crannies, selecting your own tactics, and the experience will be all the more rewarding for that.
Add to this a taste of the understated with a lack of prominent Moscow landmarks and it’s clear that the LL team are sick to death of being spoon-fed their gaming.
You won’t see the Eiffel Tower blow up, you won’t be privy to wanton destruction on a grand scale from the game plucking control and facing you in the right direction – this is a game which assumes you have several things: an attention span, an interest in feeling accomplished for having deduced your own path through a firefight, and a desire to fire up a cerebral cortex or two in your entertainment.
Jeremy Grenier, Creative Manager, described how he’d normally play an FPS in a run-and-gun fashion, but that LL forced him to slow right down and approach the game with a kind of respect for life and death normally omitted in modern contemporary shooters.
“Coming late onto the project, I kind of had to approach Metro more as a gamer and I was experiencing these things for the first time.” said Grenier. “I think we’ve all been conditioned to be playing shooters in a certain way, and if it’s not playing that certain way, we think it’s bullshit.”
“But this game, you get to a point where you suddenly wonder why you’re playing it this way and why you’re having these kinds of emotions in the game, and when you hit that point, I think you really start to appreciate Last Light for what it is.”
Anyone familiar with Metro: 2033 or Stalker will already know that you’ve a time ahead which vacillates between stoic and harrowing, blessing you with a dank vision of a future Russia in which the very last of humanity must eke out a living in a world of scant resources, but which instead fights itself just as virulently as it does the threats from without.
Even the central societal hub of LL is a grim place to visit. The downtrodden denizens, the half-asleep manner in which the bouncer tells you you’ll be able to touch the girls at the strip club, it’s not exactly a game which is designed to make you feel great about life. It’s melancholy almost to a fault, but the consistency allows the game to get away with it.
There aren’t many games in this generation which have been brazen enough to stifle the player’s life if they make mistakes. In a generation fraught with regenerating health, plentiful ammo and generous save points, Last Light aims to punish you for not thinking things through. The end result of that is that you’ll be forced to think, and that in turn will make for a vastly more rewarding game experience and may just remind you what shooters used to be and can be again.
By Leigh Harris