The IPL and Metro: Last Light have something in common. Yes, that heady combo of cheerleaders, Bollywood and match-fixing shares one interesting truth with 4A’s latest post-apocalyptic shooter. Both of them have no business existing.
And there’s one major difference too. I’m actually happy that Metro: Last Light has, if you can excuse the pun, seen the light of day. The studio’s troubles have been well documented. From their publisher, THQ going bankrupt to unseemly working conditions, getting it out has been an epic journey in itself.
Having said that, the wait has been worth it. In spite of all the issues and drama preceding the game’s release, we’re treated to a fantastic sequel that improves on most,if not all aspects of it’s predecessor.
The first thing that hits you about Metro: Last Light isn’t fantastic graphics rendered by their own proprietary engine. No. Rather you’ll feel a welcome change in the way the game handles itself. Gone are the clunky controls that gave Metro 2033 a sense of weight and a feel that had more in common with Killzone 2 than Call of Duty. Instead, you’re treated to slick weapon handling and even slicker switching between guns. It’s a smart move that makes for more user-friendly gameplay. The guns themselves are an interesting assortment of old and new such as the staple AK-74 to flashier fare such as homemade grenade launchers and bolt guns. Landing a shot is a punchy, satisfying affair. And the range of weaponry never makes you feel like a complete bad-ass. It does just enough to help you survive and complements the pace of play quite well.
Purists might argue that adopting such an approach inline with most mainstream shooters makes the game less unique. I think not. If anything, it makes sense. Reason being, the prequel had you as an all of 18-year old dweller of the metros, an underground system of subway stations where the residents of Moscow reside ever since the surface was ravaged by nuclear war.
Being a greenhorn with next to no skill, you somehow manage to defeat humanity’s foes, strange creatures known as the Dark Ones. Keeping all this in mind, don’t you think a novice would be able to shoot straight, let alone reload on the fly? I think not. This time around you’re the same guy but now a part of the rangers, an elite order of peace keepers so being able to aim down the sights and switch between weapons at ease is expected.
What isn’t expected though, are clunky stealth mechanics. More than a few sections of the game have you skulking past a variety of troops and areas. It’s a hilarious affair partly because it appears that in a post-nuclear war scenario, soldiers can’t see you unless you’re so close to them you can hear them breathe. You can check how close you are to being detected by looking at your watch which also acts as an indicator, but more often than not you don’t need to. Considering that the game has a bunch of features that make you care if not obsess over your survival, stealth in Last Light tries its best to break the immersion.
As was the case with Metro 2033, your success depends on a host of things that aren’t just a question of how fast you can pull a trigger. After all, this is an inhospitable land replete with hostile creatures ranging from trigger happy Nazis to grotesque sewer mutants. If this wasn’t enough, the environment itself can kill you if you’re not careful. Ever so often you’ll be scurrying from one desolate area to the next, trying to scavenge for gas masks and filters to ensure your next breath is not your last. Yes, you can die of suffocation.
This leads to a gameplay loop where you’ll find yourself negotiating this strange landscape, silently (or not so silently) dispatching your foes and paying attention to the bleeps and bloops of your HUD to figure out if you’re close or already on the verge of death. Ideally, you’d want to put on your gas mask or use a filter unless you want to suffer the ignominy of death by breathing. It works well and does a great job of keeping you on your toes and most importantly, immersed.
Just when you think you’ve gotten into the groove of things, the game throws up a stealth segment or two. Sure you can go in guns blazing but in a world where every bullet can be your last and ammo is scarce, it isn’t ideal. Furthermore, you’ll find yourself swamped by next to insurmountable odds which makes it more of a chore than anything else.
Peculiar design choice aside, the game has a karma system as well. It isn’t as straightforward as Mass Effect 3’s coloured hues or as binary as Dishonored’s chaos system but rather a complex variety of choices that lead to two possible outcomes. You’ll find yourself with more than enough of an incentive to play through it a couple of times.
Without spoiling much, Last Light has one of the better plots in video games this year. It might not have the flourishes of Bioshock Infinite or the grand set-pieces of Call of Duty, but it has heart. Every pixel is brimming with a vibe that fills you with a sense of dread. 4A has done a fantastic job of throwing you into a cold, cruel world inhabited by an assortment of beings weird, hostile and downright creepy.
There were more than a few poignant moments that serve to give you an idea of a calmer time before the events of nuclear destruction and a few interesting distractions involving theatre, alcohol and bars. From the creepy, dreaded surface basking in the throes of a nuclear winter to the cramped but homely stations that are home to survivors, everything works cohesively to tell a tale that puts most triple-A titles to shame and then some. It isn’t a senseless stream of enemies and set-pieces, you’re given enough time to take in the scenery. Last Light is a masterclass in taking narrative forward by use of the environment.
In terms of platforms, Last Light performs admirably on the PC, and if you have access to the right hardware, should be your platform of choice. However, the X360 and PS3 versions aren’t too shabby either. The PS3 version suffers from some tearing and longer than expected load times (this was a digital copy running off the PS3 hard drive) but aside from this, the frame rate was consistent and chugged along in fire fights just fine.
So if you’re looking for a shooter to keep you busy till the year’s heavy hitters come out, look no further. Last Light is one of the better sequels I’ve had the pleasure of playing this generation. Barring questionable stealth mechanics, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better game to slake your thirst for gaming goodness. Much like the IPL circus it might not have any business existing, but I’m glad Last Light does all the same.