Despite all evidence to the contrary, Gorilla Film Magazine is aware of films, television and games that are actually popular. We don’t put a lot of effort into covering that stuff, but we’re definitely aware of it. So here’s the Mainstream review of the week.
Metro: Last Light
Release Date: 17/05/13
Once upon a time the apocalypse was supposed to be a good thing; God would shake the Etch-a-Sketch of this world and his chosen few would live on, immortal, while the sinners simply faded away. The problem is, we’re all sinners, really, in one way or another, and so the apocalypse has come to embody the fear (and excitement) of losing everything we treasure, all the glorious intangible stuff of this material world. Furthermore, it’s become something mankind can actually endure, as we burrow into this life, like ticks, persevering to the end (post-end in fact) often with a trusty, homemade shotgun and a healthy sense of gallows humour.
And there’s certainly a sense that some kind of sci-fi, post-apocalyptic scenario is actually welcome. I mean, it would be nice, wouldn’t it? To forgot about the made-up systems that govern our lives, to not have to worry about money or trivial social norms. How silly it all was, how it all seemed like children playing, with their banks and their politics and their table manners, acting like it was all so important, as if any of it really mattered. It’s hardly surprising that post-apocalyptic fiction is so popular right now; we’re getting bored with civilisation. We fancy a change.
The grim, toxic, monster-infested world of Metro: Last Light is not a place one would fantasise about visiting in reality. Moscow is a ruin, where only grotesque mutants stalk the poisoned swamps, hungry for meat. The people fled to the safe darkness of the city’s underground Metro tunnels, where they built a new home out of the rubble of the old. But of course they’re not really safe; horrible creatures lurk in the shadows, and the survivors fight amongst themselves, as new factions emerged, each with their own rigid systems of belief. Players walk in the shit-encrusted boots of Artyom, a hero in the loosest sense of the word, who is tasked with destroying what may be the last surviving ‘Dark One’ (a race of telepathic super-beings who just want to get along, mostly wiped out by Artyom in the first game; Metro 2033). Needless to say, nothing goes at all to plan, and Artyom finds himself going on an epic journey through the Metro, sometimes aided by fellow humans, but often alone in the deep black, surrounded by creepy-crawlies and brutal Nazis.
Oh yeah, there’s Nazis. The Fourth Reich want to wipe out the impure, anyone they suspect of being mutated, to ensure mankind’s survival. Then there are the Communists; the Red Line who want to unite the Metro tunnels under one banner, to ensure mankind’s survival. Artyom himself is the newest member of the Rangers of the Order, a band of battle-hardened soldiers who are in possession of terrible, game-changing weapons, to ensure mankind’s survival. You’re probably detecting a theme right about now.
The attention to detail in Metro: Last Light is simply wonderful; from the ingenious handmade weapons, to the unique underground settlements that ensure no two tunnels are exactly alike. While the similar themed (albeit more playful) Fallout 3 saw you trekking through remarkably dull train stations, or keeping above ground as much as possible, Metro does it’s best to make long slogs in claustrophobic tunnels as diverse and engaging as possible. One moment you’ll be creeping through the shadows, with only a lighter to guide your way (and repel hungry spider-creatures) the next you’ll be clinging to a makeshift boat, while giant lampreys burst out of the flooded tunnel, hoping to tip you overboard. On the rare occasions you do venture outside, you’ll have to wear a gas mask, and regularly replace the air filters, which come in short supply. You’ll also have to manually wipe the mask with a tap of a button, whenever it gets spattered with slime or mud or blood. Little touches like this greatly elevates the game into something special, indeed Metro is at it’s best when relying on atmosphere, rather than narrative, to drive the experience.
Overall, the story is perfectly fine, but it could have done with less of it. The game is pretty linear, and at times it feels like more of a ride, especially as there are so many scripted events. The experience is most enjoyable when you forget the story, and forget that you are essentially being told where to go. Luckily a lot of the locations and set pieces are so breathtaking that forgetting comes easy.
The tools at your disposal are pretty varied but never overbearing. You have an assortment of cool, unique weapons, some of which you actually have to manually pump, that you can buy attachments for at certain vendors (who are few and far between). You’ll also have a knife, a lighter, a flashlight, a compass and gas masks if you can find them. A lot of the sticky situations you find yourself in can best be handled with stealth, so lights are better used for fighting monsters (or trying to find your way in the labyrinthine tunnels. Seriously it’s pretty easy to get lost, despite your wonderfully cumbersome compass).
Stealth in Metro: Last Light is pretty damn fun, and you’ll probably find yourself naturally doing it, even if you’re more of a fighter at heart. The game is dark, I mean literally, and the way is often only illuminated by lights and lamps, which your human enemies set up around their camps and outposts. Luckily you have a little light that pops up on your watch to let you know if you’re hidden by the shadows or not, this makes it relatively easy to sneak around, extinguishing lamps and enemies as you go.
Interestingly you are given a choice in sneak attacks to use either the hilt or the pointy end of your knife, so if you are so inclined you can spare the lives of most of the people you encounter by simply knocking them out. You’ll come to realise that even the ranks of the evil Nazis have their fair share of innocents, whether they are young and impressionable or simply living in the wrong tunnel at the wrong time, finding themselves working for a faction they don’t necessarily agree with. Morality here is as grey as concrete ruins. You’ll have plenty of time to eavesdrop on other people’s conversations and stories as you tiptoe about, learning about the world of Metro through osmosis. Indeed, in the neutral, heavily populated areas the hussle and bussle can be somewhat overwhelming, the constant, overlapping chatter reminiscent of Ridley Scott’s Alien.
The game really is at it’s strongest when you’re living and breathing the atmosphere, rather than simply following the quite-good narrative. At times it’s hard not to yearn for a more open world, such as what we get with Fallout 3, where Artyom might just have to survive in this hostile environment, perhaps having to catch food and hunt for valuable items (like abandoned crates of pre-war alcohol). The biggest problem is the lack of a true survival element, which is actually a step back from the previous game. Perhaps this is an effort to appeal to a wider demographic, focussing more on the shooty stuff that is so popular with more casual gamers, but the overall result is the game never quite feels bleak enough.
That said, the action is pretty enjoyable, and the game still manages to be fun if and when your cover is blown, and you’re forced to shoot your way out of a situation. Each gun gives a satisfying kick, and humans go down pretty easily. However, that same rule applies to you, so you’ll have to bob and weave through the maze-like enemy bases, reloading and pumping your weapons while desperately searching for a health kit or a dark corner to hide in. The monsters are a different matter entirely, you’ll either have to leg it or gun them down. Some of them will crawl out from some hellish hole, only to shrink back in fright as you hold up the small glow of your lighter, others you’ll hear coming from a mile off, by their trademark, nightmarish screams. Above ground you’ll also have to worry about winged demons. And ghosts.
Metro Last Light is a bloody beautiful game, and not just technically, it’s ambitious and unique, with a style all it’s own, despite the familiar and well-worn, post-apocalyptic setting. The interesting and exciting environments are complimented by an in-depth world aesthetic and brilliant little touches, such as the tools you use to survive, and the NPC character interactions. The story is pretty solid if nothing unremarkable, although the characters themselves are really engaging. Once you accept the game is linear, you can appreciate the excellent pacing, one moment pushing through laughing crowds in safe zones, the next crawling through pitch black tunnels filled with hungry creatures, and then a moments peace in an abandoned shack before sneaking into an enemy base. Metro’s focus is on atmosphere, above all else, and that feels wholly appropriate for a post-apocalyptic game.
Well that’s all from me, I’m heading back outside. The sun has come up now, sliding in and out of view, under the great blanket of clouds. And when a beam of light does shine down from the heavens, and illuminates the skeleton of Moscow, with it’s broken towers and bloated corpses strewn about in the marsh, it really is quite beautiful.
This was written by David Knight. His current whereabouts are unknown.