In the tunnels, no-one can hear you scream.
Claustrophobia is not something I suffer from. In fact, it’s pretty hard to scare me in general - I was one of those people who laughed at you when you jumped at something in a haunted house. So when I say that Metro fails to scare me, it’s not such a bad thing, as I remain frosty all the way through horror games. The problem is that Metro didn't scare anyone else who played it. For a horror game it isn't exactly what I'd call horrifying. Fear isn’t the only thing you play a Metro game for though, there’s also the tough combat and gripping storyline, which is something Last Light has understandably emphasised. So, how does it match up?
Alone and afraid
The game picks up a year after the end of Metro 2033 and the missile strike on the dark one’s home city that saved Exhibition. Artyom is now a fully fledged member of the rangers. Good for him. The rangers have now occupied D6 and have started to uncover all its secrets, such as weapon stores and deadly new technologies from a previous age. The discovery of D6 plays an important role in Metro’s story arc. The refurbishment of the military stronghold has shifted the balance of power and greedy eyes watch the rangers, hungrily waiting to strike. Tensions between the rangers and other organisations in the Metro such as the Reds and the Nazis have never been higher. It’s nice to see that the themes that 2033 only touched on are fleshed out in more detail. For once we get to see a political map of the Metro tunnels and we can understand the gravity of the situation. During this time of crisis, Khan, who you will remember from 2033, returns with chilling news - a dark one has survived.
With this knowledge, Miller, the leader of the order, dispatches you to go and finish what you started. Unfortunately it’s not as simple as that. Khan seems to think that the dark one can be reasoned with, and that wiping them from the face of the Earth was humanity’s worst mistake, he’s such a hippie. Still, this moral question lingers in your mind during your ascent to the surface. Worse still, this is Metro, something is bound to go wrong.
To kill or not to kill
So that’s the story for you, more or less. Last Light feels just like its predecessor with a glossy new engine at first, but the changes 4A have implemented make Last Light a lot less daunting than 2033. Your gas mask now has a timer, gone are the days when you had to guess how long your filter has left. The five minute count down is long enough so that you are not constantly changing your filter but short enough so that it is always in the back of your mind. This vague time pressure certainly puts surface exploration among the most worrying of missions. The use of a gas mask is a brilliant feature that 4A have nurtured since 2033 and I love the mechanic. It just fits and works so well with the apocalyptic setting. There are many other things to say about Last Light’s mechanics though. Head torches and night vision goggles return alongside a lighter which can be used to burn away cobwebs. The new inventory system works surprisingly well, and you can now carry three weapons of your choice instead of being restricted to a pistol, an assault rifle and another gun. All of these can be accessed through separate menus that slow down time to give you a little thinking time.
Combat has been tweaked a fair bit as well. The game consists of two distinct enemy types, mutants and humans. As I’ve already said, Metro’s mutants are far from scary, and they’re also the least interesting to fight. Watchmen and Nosalis are dull bullet sponges who attack in hordes that can overwhelm you if you’re not too careful. The winged Nosalis use a sonic attack from afar, as well as slowing your movement and temporarily deafening you. Among the new watery mutants are Shrimps which shoot acid at you from the water and Amphibians Shrimps which are armour plated. You have to time your shots carefully if you want to kill them. The most interesting mutants by far are the Spider Bugs, which fear the light and have impenetrable armour. To defeat them you have to shine your torch on them until they go belly up, allowing you to murder them as they flail helplessly to the ground. They often attack in small groups, presenting a conundrum. That’s it for monsters, not counting the Demons which you can’t kill anyway. Fighting mutants is usually a frantic scrabble, and coupled with the gas mask’s tendency to get covered in blood and for mutant attacks to stagger you it’s often confusing at best. Last Light’s human enemies are much more interesting to fight.
Humans are the best...
Last Light has the same tough and meaty combat that made 2033’s human encounters so great. Not much has changed here, although you have a larger toolkit to use than before. Rifles are welcome additions that add range to any fire fight. You can mix and match your weapons to suit your play style so there’s also a bit of flexibility in the weapon sets. Weapons are also fully customisable now with sights, stocks, laser sights, extended magazines - the works. It’s not hugely comprehensive but it offers enough choice to give you options. One other thing too, stealth works. Unlike its predecessor, Last Light’s darkness is an extremely powerful ally, to the point of being overpowered. You can sneak right up to the enemy without them noticing you and move in for a knife take down, some of which are suitably brutal. Metro’s watch visibility sensor returns as a simplified version. If it’s switched off you’re hidden, if it’s on they can see you. The game’s sound gives off a resounding trill if you’re about to be discovered, giving you a brief second to dart back into cover.
Some of the game’s earlier stealth sections are rather easy but they get progressively more challenging, it’s actually nice to equip a silencer and not have the entire enemy squad hear your shots and know exactly where you are. Throwing knives also make it rather easy to take down sentries from afar, making your job a little easier. The only criticism I have of Metro’s revamped stealth is the omission that many shooters which try and give you the option of stealth make; the ability to drag and hide your victims. A fair few times I’ve triggered an alarm because an AI decided to wonder off their patrol route and visit his friend, only to discover his friend violently stabbed to death. “Alarm!” Oh dear. That is a rare instance though.
A beautifully ruined world
Playing Last Light was an immensely enjoyable experience but I couldn’t help thinking that it’s a little... easy. It makes sense given that Artyom is now a hardened ranger instead of the sewer rat he was in the first game, but still. In 2033 you always panicked about whether you had enough bullets to survive the mission, or enough filters. In Last Light, although they say ammo and filters are rare, they’re really not. I once finished a mutant-heavy mission where my primary weapon was a shotgun; how much buckshot did I have left? Over a hundred rounds. That would never have happened in 2033. If you had over a hundred shotgun shells in 2033 you were either playing it on easy or you just weren’t using the shotgun - I was doing neither. I also question the wisdom of using military grade ammo, the game’s currency, as an ammo source. Right at the start you’re told that you can use it for extra stopping power or save it to buy the regular ammo. Frankly the handmade ammo works fine. It can drop man and mutant alike with a few rounds, why should I waste my money?
I think Last Light has definitely lost some of the stuff that made it great. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I feel it’s lost some of its... Metroyness. However, Last Light definitely does one thing that 2033 also did well - and that’s present its world. All the hub areas you go to are wonderfully detailed, everyone’s discussing events, trying to sell you stuff or just having a random chat. Lots of interesting things in these areas that just sparkle with thoughtfulness. A man entertains a group of children with hand puppets of animals, yet they fail to recognise any of Earth’s past animals, mistaking them for creatures of the Metro. A group of gangsters walk around the town harassing the local population. It paints a clear picture of what life in Last Light’s world is like - it’s superb brain food that shows how much thought 4A have put into their world. It’s this thought and detail that really makes Last Light a worthy successor to the Metro games, worthy enough that you should invest your time into its world.