Metro: Last Light

Notes From Underground

Metro: Last Light is a hit-or-miss vision of a subterranean future.

By Drew Toal • May 16, 2013

Russia has a peerless literary tradition. If they don’t have history’s highest number of brilliant authors per square mile, it’s only because the country is, like, a million miles wide. The artistic glory days, though—the era of Tolstoy, Chekhov, and Dostoyevsky—are in the rearview mirror. These days, Russia’s chief cultural exports are dashboard camera movies. Fortunately, there’s always an audience for apocalypse porn!

Metro: Last Light, the sequel to the 2010 shooter Metro 2033, is based on the dystopic novels of Dmitry Glukhovsky. After nuclear war leaves the surface world an irradiated wasteland, humanity retreats to the underground byways formerly used for public transportation and hobo urination. Factions and subterranean nation-states quickly form—most based on the notable totalitarian regimes of the old world. There’s the Red Line (the communist faction), the Reich (self-explanatory) and an assortment of other armed militants. In Metro: 2033, humans stop killing each other (for a bit) to take on the “Dark Ones,” a race of giant mutant monsters with formidable psychic powers. At the end of that game, most of the Dark Ones are wiped out in a massive rocket attack. But one survived, and in Last Light, the various armies of the Metro are in an all-out scrum to get the remaining mutant and harness its power.

Metro: Last Light

I’m not sure why everyone is so desperate to control the Metro. Each “city” looks like it has been power-washed in a steady stream of the aforementioned hobo pee. That’s not to say some of them don’t exude a certain odiferous charm. The city of Venice, for instance, may lack the natural beauty of its Italian namesake, but it exudes a surprising vitality. Instead of souvenir gondolas, merchants peddle weapon attachments (most of the game’s guns are endlessly customizable) and extra ammo. You buy this ammo with…more ammo. No doubt the president of Venice won his office by running on a platform of taking his city off the Teflon standard. “You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of armor-piercing rounds!”

Venice also boasts a fair number of brothels and “exotic” dancers. As my character, Artyom, chased his adversary through its dark alleyways, he took a moment to do a quick bong rip and get a lap dance from a very topless working girl. Good thing he brought all those single bullets to throw on stage. Sure, the bad guy got away while I was occupied, but I could rest easy knowing that I was helping to boost the local sex trade economy.

Boobs, guns, and the end of the world? Just great. Not only is the combination as tired as that poor girl’s eyes, but the cynicism is so thick you could choke on it. My character probably didn’t notice, though, because half the game he was busy choking on poisoned air or weaponized gas.

The paucity of breathable air is one of the game’s more intriguing facets. When you’re out on the surface, or in a compromised underground room, you have to wear a gas mask to stave off suffocation. The air meter in your mask steadily goes down, and the filter regularly degrades. You have to keep a steady oxygen supply at hand, along with unused filters, if you intend to survive for long out in the wild. The anxiety builds apace as you’re running out of air and the mask itself is caked with mud and blood and goo. It can be panic-inducing, and that’s pretty cool. If you can keep your visor clear of entrails for a minute, you’ll see that the outside world definitely looks the part of scorched earth—bombed-out buildings, downed airplanes, and man-sized rats.

Metro: Last Light

Unfortunately, there’s hardly time to enjoy the sights. Even as the aforementioned breathing issue put a limit on my outdoor exploration time, I often found myself unceremoniously picked up in the talons of a mutant pterodactyl and randomly dropped somewhere on the beautifully scarred hellscape. While being carried aloft like this does give one a nice bird’s-eye view, it’s annoying to be regularly snatched up and dropped while trying to reconnoiter.

My time on the ground wasn’t much better. The monochromatic browns and grays of the marshland make for treacherous walking. It’s very easy to fall in the sickly green water, where you will either be eaten by a giant toothy piranha or spit out onto land. I fell in so often that I received an Xbox achievement called “Diver.” It’s an honor I could do without. I took my escalating frustration out on the chitinous crab creatures that roamed the debris-strewn shores. Just get me back underground where it’s safe.

Generally speaking, the combat breaks down into two categories. Sometimes, you sneak around, snuffing out lamps and sneaking up on bad guys to murder them. Other times, you run around firing wildly at mutant beasts. The former isn’t the worst stealth combat system I’ve seen, but it’s not remotely as good as, say, Dishonored. For one thing, the enemy soldiers are pretty oblivious. They’ll sound the alarm if they trip over their buddy’s corpse, but that’s about it. (Fortunately for them, you can’t hide the bodies.) Throwing knives come in handy for silent kills, but these blades are suspiciously effective. I could throw one and hit a dude in the ass at 20 yards, and he’d drop dead.

Metro: Last Light

As for the monsters, they do a lot of jumping and snarling, but most can be taken down by moving sideways and a unloading a few magnum rounds. The weapon system itself is well done. It’s widely customizable without being overwhelming, unlike the labyrinthian kiosks of Dead Space 3 (another survival shooter reliant on “atmosphere”). Still, most upgrades are unnecessary unless you’re playing on the game’s downloadable Ranger Mode, which grades you on a steeper curve.

Metro: 2033 has become something of a cult favorite, an overachieving entry in a crowded field. In Metro: Last Light, you can see why. It’s got the end of the world, plenty of monsters and Nazis for target practice, and a silent but deadly hero. I’m encouraged to see this much effort put into a shooting game’s single-player mode, and when it works, like it did during my exploits in Venice, it works pretty well. When it doesn’t work, which in my case was a lot of the time, I just wanted to pull off my gas mask, take a deep breath, and lay down on the tracks.

Metro: Last Light
Developer: 4A Games
Publisher: Deep Silver
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Reviewed on: Xbox 360
Price: PC—$50; PlayStation 3, Xbox 360—$60
Rating: M

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39 Responses to “Notes From Underground”

  1. rvb1023 says:

    Count me in that cult following that loved Metro, though I was disappointed to hear that many of the survival elements were downplayed: stealth feels more optional, ammo is aplenty, and the difficulty has been turned down. While I can’t really justify $60 for it, I see a happy Steam sale in the future for me.

  2. DrFlimFlam says:

    They’re not dead. They just figure if someone can hit them square in the ass with a throwing knife at 20 yards, playing dead is your best chance at crawling out alive, perforated colon and all.

  3. Spacemonkey Mafia says:

    So if currency is munitions, that means for every enemy you kill, you can shout out:
       “It’s payday…  And your check is direct deposit!”

  4. duwease says:

    Apocalypse porn?  You mean like Beyond Thunderdong?

  5. PugsMalone says:

    Man, that last screenshot is orange and teal as fuck. I haven’t kept up with recent games- has that trend become as common in games as it has in movies?

  6. Girard says:

    While I probably won’t ever play it, I kind of LOVE that this game has a “Dactyl Nightmare” mechanic. (Or going further back, that annoying bat from Adventure).

    Out of curiosity, I’m putting together a playlist or miserablist, uncompromising, Eastern-European FPS games to try out either this summer or when I finish school at the end of the year. (I’m not a fan of FPSes, but I am a fan a miserablist, uncompromising, Eastern European stuff). Obvious inclusions are Pathologic, the Void, and some STALKER games. I got Metro 2033 in that bundle – would it be a good fit on that list? Is it more complex than your basic FPS, or is it pretty much running through tunnels and gunning down zombies/mutants? It’s described as a “cult favorite,” which gives me some hope.

    • DrFlimFlam says:

      I played I think a good 5 hours of STALKER and never “got” it. It was like Fallout but super hard and I could never tell where I was supposed to be going.

      • Aurora Boreanaz says:

        I had the same problem.  I kept getting ambushed by large groups of enemies that I couldn’t fight off.

        • DrFlimFlam says:

          Same. There was a group around a bunch of vehicles at, I don’t know know what to call it, a culvert or something, and I could not get around them.

    • rvb1023 says:

       Metro will definitely be the most conventional of the games on that list, but a good game nonetheless. Certainly earns it’s grim and dark tone far more than many other FPS’s that attempt it.

      I might also recommend Cryostasis: Sleep of Reason to add to that list, as every game you listed there I have loved and this is along the same lines of Eastern-European FPS games that are uncompromising and fairly nihilist (Don’t quote me on that for Pathologic and The Void, I haven’t beaten those and I may not quite understand them).

  7. RyanTheBold says:

    I liked much about 2033 but I wish the story had just involved humans. The monsters are so boring to fight.

    • Effigy_Power says:

      Hmm, I thought it the other way around. I thought I was playing a ripping SciFi horror thing at first, but then it turned into WW2 Underground so gradually, I barely noticed.

    • HobbesMkii says:

      I really wished Metro 2033 had been a subterranean Fallout 3/NV. I thought the idea of wandering through a major population center’s subways was very cool, but the game wasn’t anywhere near as open as I thought it was going to be. 

  8. NakedSnake says:

    Sounds pretty Hellish.

  9. HobbesMkii says:

    The genius of the Russian Masters is directly tied to the size of their beards.

  10. Eco1970 says:

    This looks to be too difficult for me. I like to payse and look at the scenery in a game every now and then. Running out of air would just irritate me immensely, I think.


  11. stakkalee says:

    This sounds like it has some fun bits; a game where you need to actively monitor your environment seems like it could be interesting, and the threat of sudden death by pterodactyl is delightfully batshit.  But the post-apocalyptic scenario coupled with the underground setting sounds like it could get too oppressive – I like my hellscapes leavened with a healthy dollop of the weird, goofy and macabre.

  12. beema says:

    oh man, this is out already? where does the time go

  13. ComradePig says:

    Just finished this an hour or two ago and on balance just an excellent game. A spectacularly atmospheric and well-crafted world, myriad polish and gameplay improvements over its predecessor and really superb artistic and technical design. Everything just feels a lot better than 2033, which I also enjoyed a great deal. A solid, if sometimes imperfectly told, plot as well. As with the first game one can blast or sneak their way through, though the game heavily encourages sneaking in my experience.

    The assembly of creatures are wonderfully designed and animated, and feel like naturalistic parts of the world rather than just enemies waiting to be shot. As with the first game, it’s not heavy on scares so much but the eeriness is unmatched.

    If I’ve any complaints they’d be that on the default difficulty the game is a touch too easy, you can soak up a whole lot of damage, but that’s obviously rectified pretty easily by just cranking that up. In addition while the AI is also quite capable in combat, you can sneak circles round them pretty often. There’s some clumsy story moments as well, but minor issues. This game has also rocketed to the top of my screenshots list, hard to overstate how gorgeous it can be even with the bleak setting.