Last Light is the sequel to Metro 2033, a game which was considered a marvel of technology at the time of its release on Windows (Metro 2033 has not made it to Macs so far) in 2010. Based on a book by the same name, Metro 2033 gave the gaming world another glimpse of life after nuclear war, with survivors relegated to the Metro tunnels underneath Moscow.
You play as Artyom, one of the survivors, and the protagonist from Metro 2033, sent out on a mission that quickly goes wrong, and sees you caught in the crossfire between rival factions, to say nothing of the monstrosities to be found in the wild.
The game tries to portray its world as being populated with living characters, but this is delivered in a somewhat ham-fisted way, as dioramas behind slightly ajar (but completely immobile) doors or less subtle fences, as if players are satisfied with the extent that Half-Life 2 was able to do the same thing a decade ago. This is coupled with the very odd sound mix (I have no idea whether this issue is relegated to the Mac version only), whereby you hear every conversation in the area at the same volume, regardless of their proximity to you.
Similarly, Last Light positively smothers you in exposition. From the start of the game (which has the most pointlessly prolonged menu screen animation ever) you’re fed cutscenes stuffed with overloaded narration, then once in the game you’re talked at, apparently without any of the characters needing to pause for breath. The storyline is clearly Very Important to the designers, and having not played through Metro 2033, I was initially glad that it seemed to be filling me in on some of the backstory, but within minutes my brain was steadfastly rejecting any more information like it was a back-alley skin graft.
This continues in one form or another throughout the game, but when it’s at its worst is wherever there’s another character accompanying you, as they’re more than happy to just talk and talk and talk, even though Artyom himself never makes any attempt at communication (rather laughably in some cases). There’s even a point where you get an achievement just for sitting through a twenty minute cutscene.
The gameplay is largely just shooting a number of different types of enemies in a number of different locations, and the shooting is decent if a little arcadey, in spite of the weapons mostly feeling like they’re made out of paper. There’s some stealth aspects too though, but it takes the form of a binary completely visible/completely hidden state.
The enemy AI is rather terrible (at least on “normal” difficulty). There’s nothing like the tendency towards self-preservation that’s in Arkham City for instance. There’s no reaction when you switch off all the lights in the area, and there’s little reaction to one of them finding the body of another. You can be stood right in front of an enemy, but if you’re not lit, you’re essentially invisible. But fire an unsilenced weapon or step into any amount of light, and enemies are immediately alerted and will open fire and/or rush you.
My approach to each room full of goons was the same then. I’d stick to the shadows where possible (one nice touch is that you can shoot out most light sources from a distance), and use a combination of silenced weapons and stealth melee kills up until making a mistake, at which point I’d duck round a corner and shotgun each of the remaining enemies who would inevitably run right past. Fun, but not particularly challenging (again I should stress that this may well be different at harder difficulty levels), unless you consider that the game makes up for it with a stingy checkpointing system.
Battles involving mutants are completely different, as they tend to attack in swarms and/or be harder to kill, and so stealth is much less of an option, and these sequences often require you to completely burn through ammunition. Ammunition in Last Light is rather scarce (even more so if you opt for the controversial “Ranger Mode” DLC) and really one of the most challenging aspects of the game is in how you manage your supplies. Throughout the game you’ll find regular ammunition for the different weapons, but also “military-grade” ammunition. This can be loaded into weapons for extra damage (in truth, I couldn’t remember how to do this later in the game when it might have been useful) but more importantly are used as currency in the game.
There’s a few places where you can spend money in the game, and mostly this revolves around buying consumables and new weapons or modifying existing weapons. There are actually a dozen or so base weapon types to be found (of which you may carry a grand total of three), and each of these can be customised with a variety of attachments. This an excellent system that falls apart on two counts. Firstly, the screen for customising weapons is extremely badly designed for mouse and keyboard users, and secondly, you’ll usually acquire weapons by finding them in the world, and struggle to identify exactly what they are. Weapons you find will usually have a number of attachments already installed, and all of this information is presented to you in silhouette form. I went through the entirety of the game not knowing whether I’d prefer a dropped weapon over one I already had, and instead just made sure I had something for every occasion, and then beefed them up with appropriate attachments when I found a vendor.
Speaking of spending, there’s something of a gratuitous mis-step in the game’s brothel location, which I’d be more inclined to criticise it for, if it weren’t for the fact that the character models are so firmly rooted in the uncanny valley that the scene in question imparts enough of a feeling of unease as it is. So it becomes merely another of the pointless diversions that Last Light seems to be packed with, such as the sections you literally crawl through at a pace so slow I took the opportunity to send an email with one hand whilst holding down the W key with the other.
You need to make use of a gas mask at certain points, which provides the twin gimmicks of being subject to a time limit (after which the filter wears out and you must replace it or suffocate), and getting all manner of fluids obscuring your view and necessitating a press of the G key to quickly wipe it clean. This last part works surprisingly well, as the view never quite gets covered in enough muck to blind you, but at the same time you do need to pick the right moment to wipe it, making it like a less important slow reload. It can even get permanently cracked, at least until you can locate a replacement.
Seemingly everything in the game is worthy of some degree of criticism, and yet… I find myself recommending it. Somehow the disjointed pieces (like the karma system which I’ve not even touched on) collaborate to produce an enjoyable experience for the most part, and this is undoubtedly due to the atmosphere that the game so successfully maintains. I’m disappointed with the somewhat half-assed way it was ported to OS X (more on that below), but I’m glad that it at least exists on our platform.
Performance & Quality
This is the graphics options screen:
So… yeah. I have no idea what moving the slider does. I had it about two notches from the end and it actually ran rather well, although there was plenty of tearing. That said, there are some very odd graphical glitches that occur throughout the game. A scene featuring a shadow puppet is bizarre thanks to missing shadows, there were occasions where the screen filled with artifacts, necessitating a restart. Then there’s the fact that you can’t take screenshots via the Steam overlay (which otherwise works fine).
Artistically the game is merely fine. It might be due to having higher expectations after having played through BioShock: Infinite, or it might be that be that a lot of the frills were trimmed out of the Mac version, but honestly it just doesn’t seem to be anything special in the looks department.
The audio is also problematic. The lip-sync seems to be askew most of the time, and there’s the aforementioned issues with the sound mix.
There’s currently a Ranger Mode DLC that adds (sigh) a harder difficulty mode, and other map packs available.