Despair, homemade guns, rape, and suffering: we go hands-on with Metro: Last Light
Metro 2033 was a disturbing look at Moscow after a nuclear war. There wasn’t much in the way of a happy ending, and the sense of dread and hopelessness was thick. It was one of the moodiest games in the past few years, especially if you played with the original Russian dialogue with English subtitles.
The downside was that the actual shooting, AI, and combat sections were… if you don’t mind this may be a concept best described in the original Latin… fucking terrible. Many players dropped out due to the game’s shoddy hit detection and difficulty spikes. Metro: Last Light was playable at this year’s PAX East, and I’m happy to report they’ve fixed the original game’s failings while keeping much of what made it so special.
Gasping for air
The sense of place in Metro is one of the series’ most powerful weapons. You have to hit a button to bring up your compass to find out where to go next, and you illuminate your to-do list with a lighter fashioned out of a rifle shell. The guns you find and use are created by hand, and often look like they will barely work. The humans you encounter are barely surviving, much less thriving. The above ground is a horror show of radiation, unbreathable air, and mutants.
The gas mask was one of the central mechanics of the first game, and it’s back in the sequel. You’ll encounter areas where it is impossible to breath, and your gas mask has a finite supply of filters. The time you have left is counting down on your wrist watch, and the glass of the gas mask fogs up as you breathe in and out, in and out. You’ll hear yourself gasp as your air runs out, and you have a few seconds to find another filter before your vision clouds and you die.
It’s one of the most uncomfortable graphical and audio tricks in modern games, and if you have a fear of suffocation I would honestly hesitate to recommend this game to you. During my hour-long demo I had to remove the headphones a few times and calm myself.
This isn’t the game you want to play if you’re uncomfortable with human desperation. During one scene I met a convoy of travellers in the underground tunnels, and they discussed either continuing ahead to an ambush and sure death and torture, or returning from whence they came and facing a firing squad. I ran ahead for them, and found the men who were sitting up the trap. I killed one of them who was raping a woman. Last Light provides a profoundly uncomfortable look at what happens when society breaks down, and might begins to make right.
I was told the demo I was playing was part of a larger three-hour chunk, but the sections I could play were more game play than story driven. That was fine by me, as I trust this team’s ability to provide atmosphere, as the first game was drowning in it. I wanted to test the improved shooting, and it held up. The enemies would try to flank you, and you could take them down with a few well-placed shots.
The bullets actually seemed to work in this game, and the enemies would investigate sounds, turn on the lights you had darkened to give yourself time to move, and act much more like people who were trying to kill you. If the first Metro suffered by barely functional shooter mechanics, Last Light has fixed the problems to deliver a game that still feels slow and tense, but when the bullets begin to fly you won’t be nearly as frustrated.
During one long section, I walked through a hazy blanket of cobwebs, and the fat, bloated bodies of the spiders that wove them were always just out of sight. Then I began to see the mutants, and the gun began to jump in my hand. If you’re scared of the dark, or of spiders, this is not your game. Every bit of every section has been designed to prey on one or more fear, and in a situation so dire the developers don’t have to turn the screws far. It’s heart-breaking just to see a child and realize that they have to grow up in this forsaken land.
If you ever read The Road and thought to yourself, “Man, this would make a great first-person shooter!” Well, then have I got the game for you. Playing Metro: Last Light isn’t fun in the traditional sense, but what the team has pulled off is much harder, and it will stick to you long after you’ve played. It’s the stuff of nightmares, and that’s rare in this genre. I can’t say I enjoyed myself, but I can say the game on display was made with considerable skill.