LOVED IT: Attention to detail creates brilliant atmosphere, varied collection of weapons, story and gameplay draw you in
HATED IT: Interaction controls are sometimes unresponsive
GRAB IT IF: You enjoyed Metro 2033 and Bioshock Infinite
The drill sergeant yelled the collection of new recruits as they worked out, seemingly pushing them to work harder. One did a circuit of jumping jacks, while another did push-ups. Those pushups weren’t normal though; after a few reps, he’d start tucking his knees in, and then, moments later, he’d clap between reps.
Another did sit-ups, and still others worked on combat skills.
And for at least a minute, maybe longer, I, as Artyom, the returning star of Metro Last Light, couldn’t help just standing and watching through a dirty glass window, curious about the workout routines of a bunch of pixels in the opening minutes of a video game.
These are the things that Metro Last Light makes you do. By carefully and painstakingly crafting the finest little details, developer 4A Games immerses you into its post-apocalyptic first-person shooter, drawing on all the senses that a video game can to make its world feel real. It’s a subtle evolution in video game storytelling, a tale that shows as much as it tells, built by a developer that understands how to inspire the imagination instead of relying on it.
Games have long walked a fine line between letting you see the story and letting you experience it. To the common left, there’s the movie-style cutscene, a beautiful, often detailed video in which you do nothing but watch. Then, there’s the in-game cutscene, which increasingly lets you press a few buttons as it goes on, an attempt to keep you more engaged.
And then, there’s that rare game that tells most of its story with few breaks from actual gameplay. Bioshock Infinite pulled this off successfully earlier this year, and Last Light does the same thing.
Last Light is able to build its atmosphere because it understands the importance of detail. Plenty of games will show a handful of NPCs working out or sitting at a bar, but they speak only a few lines on the barstools, or they work through a paucity of animations in that gym. In 4A Games, those NPCs engage in full conversations, complete with small talk and key moments, and their workouts put your average weekend warrior to shame.
The level of detail has you stopping and watching more often than you aim and fire. The palpable tension in Last Light doesn’t emanate from the next battle or boss; instead, it comes from the stark, graphic, and detailed situation from which you just walked away. While the characters of Last Light don’t always come alive, their situations and the gravity of their underground lives certainly do. You’ll see things in the Metro, see violence and blood and nudity, even have the chance to solicit one’s services.
Little touches complete the desired effect. If the paucity of resources in the Metro haven’t caught your attention, the delicate balance between exploring for more air filters for your gas mask and rushing to the next location before the toxic overworld begins to kill you certainly will. Encounters with soldiers in rundown areas — most of which can be avoided if you’re smart about your stealth — are filled with ancient lightbulbs begging to be unscrewed and dank surroundings. “Show, don’t tell” is the first rule of good storytelling, and here, it plays out magnificently in an emerging forum.
It’s a good thing 4A Games has a story worth experiencing, too. It’s a year after the events of the original game, Metro 2033, and Artyom has rained a missile strike on the Dark Ones. (There were actually two endings to the original game, but Last Light forces you into that more mainstream finish, a minor shame for anyone who chose to preserve the Dark Ones.)
Now, Artyom is attempting to track down the final remaining Dark One. Half the world wants it dead, but Artyom, thanks to his unique connection with the Dark Ones, must mull and balance otherwise. It’s a story about hope in a world in pieces, and the little unexpected rays of light that you can find even in near-total darkness.
And it’s a story well worth embarking upon. From Bioshock Infinite to last year’s Spec Ops: The Line to The Walking Dead, we’re seeing more and more games take storytelling risks with spectacular results.
4A Games does the same with Metro Last Light, a video game work of post-apocalyptic art that you experience as much as you play.
Reviewed on Xbox 360
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