Like the ill-fated survivors in Metro 2033's rundown subway system, players had to work to enjoy 4A Games' inaugural shooter. Enjoying the superior story and atmosphere meant overlooking some bad artificial intelligence and loose gunplay. Metro: Last Light fixes most of its predecessor's flaws while also improving upon its strengths, delivering gameplay that lives up to the exceptional storytelling.
The myriad improvements 4A introduces in Last Light transform the series' punishing survival experience into an engaging, albeit appropriately grim, adventure. The heavy toll of life in post-apocalyptic Russia is still readily apparent in every dreary inhabitant you meet and corpse-ridden tunnel you explore, but the minute-to-minute burdens of replacing mask filters and charging batteries have been toned down, allowing players to soak in the atmosphere and narrative with minimal distractions.
Last Light continues the story of Artyom's attempt to save the few remaining human colonies living in Russia's underground metro system. The narrative revolves around Artyom's quest to find a surviving Dark One — a supernatural species capable of living on Moscow's radioactive surface. The real threat to mankind's survival, however, comes from the various armed factions inhabiting the railway stations, which are poised for all-out war over the Metro. Artyom's skirmishes with these local militias comprise the majority of Last Light, providing a satisfying balance between action and stealth.
Human enemies exhibit improved artificial intelligence as they patrol areas and investigate noises. They're particularly deadly in groups and are quick to call for reinforcements, providing a formidable threat and incentive to remain unseen. Monsters are much less interesting, as most just charge in and swarm you with cheap melée attacks. A few scripted combat scenarios and boss battles also fall flat. While these moments are frustrating, they are quickly forgotten once you're over the hurdle and back to the meat of the game.
Last Light features tighter controls and improved sound design for its arsenal, which now puts the gunplay on par with most triple-A shooters. However, I was more enthralled by the upgraded stealth mechanics. A light meter on your watch indicates your visibility, while dynamic music cues alert you when enemies are actively searching for you. Despite still being a linear affair, most of the underground environments are designed around light and shadow, a visual feature A4's custom engine excels at. You can stalk and pick off patrolling enemies in the order and style of your choosing.
"Last Light" packs a powerful one-two combination of story and atmosphere. A nice visual upgrade is accompanied by a little more color and variety in the subway station communities, and a massive amount of exposition and ambient conversations flesh out the world and Artyom's evolving perspective on mankind's post-apocalyptic existence. Character animations can be a little wooden and the voice-acting crew features more than a few bad Russian accents, but in a genre where most titles don't try half this hard to tell a compelling story, Last Light pulled me into its world and kept me engaged.
'Metro: Last Light'
About: Smooth out the series' rough edges for a return trip to Russia's metro system
Pros: Memorable story. Textures and lighting are gorgeous, the guns pack a satisfying punch, and the metro's beasts once again sound terrifying. Developer 4A Games tightened up the gunplay, and the stealth mechanics are great.
Cons: Character animations are wooden, the weapons inventory system is convoluted, and some patches are frustrating.
Availability: $59.99 on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, $49.99 on PC
ESRB rating: M
Game Informer rating: 8.75/10
Metacritic rating: 8.0/10 on Xbox, 8.2 on PS3 and PC.