The worst immersion break in the game
The world of Metro: Last Light is a horrifying one. It takes place after a nuclear apocalypse has rendered the surface uninhabitable, due to radiation and mutant creatures who have made it their home. All the remaining humans, at least the ones in Russia where the game takes place, live in the underground Metro system, using the tunnels to cross between various outposts scattered throughout the old rail lines. Several factions have risen within the Metro in the years since the bombs; you play as Artyom, a member of the peacekeeping, neutral Order. A new form of the Reich has returned, but instead of worrying about purity of race, they are concerned with mutations in its various members. If you don’t fit into their specifications for any number of measurements, you are put to death. Finally, the remnants of the Red Army make up the largest armed force in the Metro and are constantly at war with the Nazis. They strive to control everything they can get their hands on.
It is the conflict between the various factions in the Metro that makes up the majority of Last Light’s story. The rest of the plot is concerned with the Dark Ones, a mysterious telepathic race of mutants that everyone in the Metro fears due to their unexplained nature. Your character destroyed all but one of them in Metro 2033 and spends this game wondering if that was the correct thing to do. He is tasked with killing the remaining Dark One by his superiors but often has moral conflicts about doing so. It all stays exciting and interesting throughout its length; however, there is often a bit too much time between story beats for its own good. At times, you may feel like you are endlessly following a quest arrow without much of a goal or will be heading for the same goal for a rather long amount of time with no changes. Many of the story moments also fall a bit flat, often due to the pretty terrible voice acting. Anyone who played the first game will recognize that the voice acting has gotten better, but it still is quite laughable at times, especially with the child voices. The main characters pull their roles off fairly well, but the rest of the spoken roles can make it hard to take the story seriously. It is really a shame, because the world of Metro is so fascinating and willing to pull the player in.
Metro 2033, the previous game in the series, was more immersive than any other game I had played before it, and the developer really nailed it again with Last Light. Few games are able to so realistically create a world that feels like more than just linear corridors and static AI. The areas in Last Light are very linear, but every detail of each environment feels perfectly in place and all of them are dripping with small touches that sell the atmosphere. Towns are particularly fun to walk through, noticing all the different shops and people going about their (scripted, but still fascinating) business. Last Light is a technically impressive game (on the PC, at least), with an absurd level of detail and some intense graphical effects, such as the rain and wind that blow you around when on the surface and some creative eerie moments with shadowy spirits reminiscent of those sections found in the first game. Its setpieces may not be pretty by nature, due to the rundown nature of the world, but they are technically impressive. There are a few occasional moments that are questionable immersion-wise, particularly when I saw an ad for the next book in the series the game is based on in one of the outposts, but Last Light is otherwise extremely well-crafted.
At its core, Metro: Last Light plays like your average first-person shooter. Metro 2033 was a bit rough to control, with weapons that felt like they couldn’t hit anything they aimed at. Thankfully, this has been cleared up for Last Light; if you’ve played a Call of Duty game (or any of its several derivatives), you know how the overall shooting will feel here. I’m not saying that the action is run-and-gun, but the basic gameplay now controls well enough that you have a more realistic chance against a group of enemies, if said situation arises–and it will. Sadly, boss fights are one of the things that have been added to the game, and, as you might expect, they are quite awful. I’m of the mind that first-person shooters shouldn’t have boss fights at all, because they are often the worst parts of the game, due to their tendency to devolve into a very simplistic pattern or pumping an absurd amount of ammo into a weak point. I’m sad to say that this is the case with Metro: Last Light. They are infrequent enough and easy enough to dispatch that it doesn’t hurt the experience too much. Be prepared to be a little annoyed by these fights, though, especially if on a harder difficulty.
Where Metro games are truly unique, however, is in the mechanics they add to the gameplay, further adding to the immersion of just how rundown the world you are in is. Your flashlight needs to be charged constantly by pumping the triggers (or mouse buttons) or it goes dead, maybe at the worst possible time. Any time you venture onto the surface, you have to wear a gas mask and manage filter time carefully or suffocate in the toxic air. If you get hit while wearing a gas mask, it will crack and obscure your view; blood and water will also splatter across the mask, forcing you to hit a button to wipe it off in order to see the next enemy coming. Some of the weapons even require a pneumatic pumping before they can be used, with higher pressure making the shots more powerful in return. No other shooter has so many systems like these and refuses to compromise on immersion for smoother gameplay. Managing all these tasks can be frantic at times, but it adds a huge deal of enjoyment to the whole experience. Running out of flashlight juice in a dark Metro tunnel or hearing that beeping telling me my filter was almost empty always made my heart pound frantically. You must constantly scrounge for more filters and ammo or risk running out and being screwed. Well, that is how you would expect it to be, at least. On Normal difficulty, which is what I played on, supplies were never really an issue. There is an abundance of everything as long as you poke around just a little bit. It was a little disappointing, because it made me wonder how the denizens of the Metro had any trouble with so much stuff just lying around. If you want to raise the immersion bar, I highly recommend playing on a higher difficulty to decrease the available supplies. It most likely makes the experience fit the tone of the world better.
Of course, you don’t have to shoot baddies; in fact, stealth is a better option in several areas of the game–pretty much any time you are facing human enemies instead of mutants (which can’t really be snuck up on). Metro 2033 made stealth a bit too difficult, with guards that seemed psychically connected to one another and could hear noises from long distances. Last Light is much more forgivable in this respect. You now have a light on your watch that tells you exactly when you are visible or hidden instead of making it seem like random chance. Throwing knives have been added, a completely silent option for taking out guards that can also be reclaimed from the bodies of those you’ve slain for an endless supply. I had a blast with these stealth sections, using my knives or silenced pistol to clear a path through an area with no alarms whatsoever. The immersion breaks a little here, though, as there is a very clear path through each area to avoid all conflict, obviously designed by the developer just so. Also, the changes to the stealth probably made it too easy to sneak through every camp. Guards are pretty stupid, not even noticing when you are practically on top of them as long as you are “hidden” in shadow. They also tend to forget about you fairly quickly. It definitely takes the error out of the trial-and-error: this makes it a simpler, sillier game but also makes it much more enjoyable.
In a world filled with very similar first-person shooting experiences, the Metro series is a breath of fresh air. The developer did make some compromises in the transition to a second game, but they were all made with the intent to make the game more enjoyable for the masses. Another developer may have compromised a little too much, removing what made the experience unique; 4A managed to find a perfect balance between unflinching immersion and actual player enjoyment. The world is expertly crafted to feel like a real place, a place that you may want to visit but certainly wouldn’t want to live in. I noticed immersion breaks quite often, but I feel that it was only because the world is so good at pulling me in; that realism made every little break stand out that much more. It’s also unfortunate that the voice acting is still a little iffy, ruining some of the impact of the memorable story moments, but it is forgivable for a smaller studio, especially one that hit the mark in so many other ways. These mistakes hold the game back from being the best experience it could be; however, it is still stands out as a singular gaming experience. While Metro 2033 is still probably a more memorable game for me, I think Metro: Last Light is just as impressive. It stands as a lesson to other developers in how to sink players into a created world and make them feel like it really exists.
P.S. I really suggest that anyone wanting full immersion with Last Light play it on a harder difficulty, or even one of the Ranger difficulties. This will lower the supplies to a much more realistic level and makes the experience even more accurate to life in the Metro.