A video game adapted from a novel set in a post-apocalyptic world by a Russian author sounds like a great formula for success to me. I’m a huge fan of survival horror and it’s a genre that is more or less dead now with games swinging in favour of unsubtle action and explosions. So I fully embrace any chance I can to get my teeth sunk in and be absolutely terrified and reduced to a weeping husk in the corner. The added bonus of the new Metro being available to PS3 gamers helps too.
As soon as you get the menu loaded you are relentlessly thrust into Metro’s world of dark, murky colours and make shift post-apocalyptic contraptions. As you walk around the first environment the hustle and bustle of its inhabitants is unavoidable. The cramped living quarters and make shift equipment available to people are apparent everywhere.
The atmosphere is almost instantly built up and Last Light quickly welcomes you into its world of struggling survivors, extremist military factions, make shift towns and horrible beasties. You really can’t help but get immersed in Last Light’s environments and the further into the game you get, the better it gets.
The action sequences are split between fighting humans from the different factions, to the various mutated creatures that the nuclear event has given life to. The sequences with humans tend to take on a stealthy style of play that see you turning lights out and throwing knives or using silenced weapons whilst staying in the cover of darkness, without your torch on.
Of course, if you choose to, you can just shoot the place up and hope for the best. The fire fights are satisfying and when you take cover under fire you really don’t feel comfortable at all with objects getting destroyed and bullets flying past your crouching body. However it’s less rewarding and robs the game of one of its best features – the stealth.
The stealth play is brilliant. I never felt like someone detected me when they shouldn’t have but at the same time the AI seemed quite clever and responsive. The conversations you can overhear your enemies having trying to decide what to do next really add realism and sell the atmosphere.
Fighting the beasts is a rather different scenario without much need for subtlety or stealth. Instead you’ll find yourself spinning around trying to find your foe listening to the terrifying howls and screams and waiting for the inevitable lunge at your sweaty panicked face. I particularly liked the loud rustling bushes that saw me constantly trying to discover the source of the noise, that inevitably turned out to be me.
The sound and environments are used to great effect, making you turn and spin to track your hunter making you feel very much like prey. You definitely don’t get many chances to breathe easy, especially out on the surface. The key with the mutants really is to have the right weapon at the right time, and make sure its ready to fire.
Weapons & Equipment
The weapon designs are incredibly detailed and it’s clear that attention to detail was paramount to 4A Games. There are plenty of weapons to choose from in Last Light and most are reasonably attainable from the various merchants you run into on your travels. If, however, you explore areas well you can usually find a free one to pick up.
You can only own three weapons at any time but with the options available it’s enough choice and ensures ammo is still something to think about throughout the game. On top of this there are customizations for each weapon like silencers and scopes that offer loads of choice. The other consumable you can’t help but forget is air.
There’s nothing quite like being in a battle with a herd of mutant wolf things whilst the watch on your wrist constantly reminds you of the fact that in a few minutes you might run out of air and suffocate. Truth be told on normal difficulty I never actually ran out of air but it doesn’t matter, the threat is what matters.
The same applies with your torch which can be recharged by just a few pumps on your trusty dynamo. But when it flickers off in a pitch black (and I do mean pitch black) tunnel and you can hear the enemies gathering you really don’t want to have to put down your customized shotgun in favour of a dynamo to charge up your torch.
The threat of limited torch time, limited air and an exhaustible ammo supply make sure you’re never quite at ease. In my opinion this is exactly what a survival horror should be about, the threat of running out of consumables can be a much better experience than actually running out.
A playthrough on normal difficulty will give a great experience without too much trouble. You’re far from invulnerable and, as mentioned above, consumables are not infinite but it really lets you get absorbed into the atmosphere and enjoy the game. Difficulty isn’t the same as fear and Last Light doesn’t just punish players and pretend that that’s the scary bit. It doesn’t need to be difficult to be immersive.
For those who pre-order the game “Ranger” mode will be on offer and promises a more traditional survival horror experience with tougher enemies and even less ammo and precious, precious oxygen (if you don’t pre-order the game it will be available as DLC for £3.99). If you want a brutal survival horror this is the mode for you.
“Ranger” mode changes the overall game rather than just being a further difficulty and you still have the option of picking from one of Last Light’s three difficulties. You really could create a brutally difficulty experience on Last Light if you’re so inclined.
Right from square one Last Light’s graphics are truly incredible. The ’4A Engine’ by 4A Games (I know, must have taken them ages to come up with the name) is brilliant throughout. The lighting effects, which are so crucial in Last Light, are something to behold and there isn’t a bad texture to be seen.
Gun models have a painstaking level of detail, character animations are realistic, lens flairs are subtle but colourful, the nuclear winter weather effects are truly epic. The dirt, blood and cracks that appear on your respirator (that you brilliantly have to wipe off manually to see) are fantastic but even with all that the lighting steals the show. This is one of the best looking games available on the PS3.
The soundtrack is nothing too exciting but provides excellent backing to the horror on screen. Rather than the soundtrack It’s all the little effects that make up for a great audio experience in Last Light. Reloading and firing weapons, the sound of cleaning your respirator and even turning your torch on and off all sound clear and high quality.
Without doubt one of the best games of the current generation. The overall presentation and atmosphere is flawless. Last Light is one of the most darkly beautiful and brilliantly horrible games I’ve ever been on and a nice reminder that the survival horror genre isn’t dead yet and that video games can genuinely inspire fear.
Pleasantly surprising twists, a well structured narrative, visuals that make every frame look photoshopped and audio fidelity to rival a Spielberg production with ridiculous attention to detail ensure Metro: Last Light has some of the best presentation I’ve ever seen.
There are so many other little things that made Metro such a great experience that it really isn’t a game you can afford to miss. Absolutely a must buy.
Metro Last Light is available from 17th May(EU) and is available for XBOX 360, PS3 and PC (reviewed on PS3).