Paste Goes to PAX East: Metro: Last Light

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The annual PAX East is the largest gaming convention on the East Coast. Regular contributor J.P. Grant braved the miserable weather of Boston to chronicle this year’s convention for Paste. (It helps that Boston is his home.) Over the next two days we’ll be running J.P.’s thoughts on eight different games that were exhibited at the show. First up: Metro: Last Light.

Metro: Last Light
Developer: 4A Games
Publisher: Deep Silver
Platforms: PC, Xbox 360, PS3
Release Date: May 14
Price: $49.99 (PC), $59.99 (Xbox 360, PS3)

“Definitely, the scariest monsters of Metro 2033 were humans. And so it will be in the second game.” Author Dmitry Glukhovsky, who wrote the post-apocalyptic novel that inspired the 2010 shooter, tells me the world of upcoming sequel Metro: Last Light won’t be any sunnier. You’ll battle giant spiders and flee mutated creatures in the blasted Moscow tunnels of Last Light, “but those are just beasts. And no animal on this Earth is as cruel, as dangerous a predator, as the human being.”

Metro 2033 was remarkable in its willingness to take risks. On the surface, it was a linear FPS with some horror and stealth elements. But its world was unrelentingly bleak, and its systems, like the hidden karma mechanic, were often intentionally obtuse. Glukhovsky says only three percent of players arrived at the “good” ending, where protagonist Artyom was able to communicate with the Dark Ones, the mysterious and deadly new species rivaling humanity. Last Light picks up Artyom’s story, but assumes the majority ending—that in a colossal case of mistaken intentions, Artyom triggered a near-genocide of the Dark Ones and thus ended any chance of reconciliation (and thus, humanity’s best hope for survival). Things will, of course, go from bad to worse, as the dogmatic factions clinging to life in the Moscow subways prepare to go to war over a mysterious vault that’s rumored to hold the key to survival.

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In the half-hour of Last Light I played, the feeling of desperation so pervasive in the first game was again evident. Artyom will still have to scrounge for ammunition (which also functions as currency), and the slightest misstep will bring enemies running—so every shot is precious. As are filters for the gas mask: The mechanic that was so effective in keeping the player right on the edge of panic in 2033 returns here. There were moments of full-blown panic, too, like the sequence where I had to leave the relative safety of my railcar and crawl through radioactive spider tunnels in search of a generator. Because, you know, the toxic nuclear wasteland of the surface isn’t bad enough.

I played Last Light on a high-end PC with an Xbox 360 controller, and its feel was, for better and worse, very similar to 2033. Despite its dismal setting, the game was visually striking. Developer 4A is very good at using first-person perspective effectively to convey immediacy—Artyom’s movements, even in small actions like climbing ladders or wiping condensation off his gas mask, are oddly convincing. The sound design was impressive as well, particularly in conveying relevant information (e.g., the toxicity of the air, the location of enemies).

Yet as in 2033, Last Light strikes a tenuous balance between stealth, shooting, and horror, and thus may not do any of them exceptionally well. It’s still frustratingly easy to alert enemies, which will lead to either a quick death or a protracted, boring firefight. The few levels I played were not especially open in design; the lack of options could again make stealth feel like puzzle-solving. Still, I got the distinct impression that Metro: Last Light, like its predecessor, is far more than the sum of its sometimes flawed parts.

J.P. Grant is a Boston-based freelance writer whose work has appeared in Kill Screen, Gamers With Jobs, and other outlets. He blogs about games at Infinite Lag and is also on Twitter.