Last Light is at its core an action-horror game. A genre that can never quite seem to find a perfect harmony between the two very different elements involved. In fact, action seems to be the very antithesis of horror which is why, in my very humble (not really, I'm totally right and you're wrong) opinion, games that fall into this genre have always failed. 4A seems to understand this and instead of ignoring the scary bits in favor of the shooty bits, they made the shooty bits the shooty bits and the setting the scary bit. Unlike most horror games, it's not the threat of death around every corner, or the feeling that you are being followed, but the utter oppressiveness of Metro: Last Lights world that I find horrific.
Metro: Last Light is still, in many ways, bogged down with glitches. Namely among them is the frequent absences of enemy AI. I say absences because that's what it is. Enemies will stop functioning and just stand there fidgeting back and forth for you to walk by unhindered. During my adventure through the metro there were also times that I could walk up to enemies and bump into them multiple times before they noticed my presence. In a game that puts such a heavy emphasis on building a believable world, it's a frustrating reminder that you're not exploring the dank dreariness of the metro, but instead staring at a glowing screen with a controller in your hands.
But when Last Light works, it works. The metro is teeming with life, culture, and death. Whether you're discovering the bones of some poor explorer who took a wrong turn in the dark halls of the metro, listening to a couple of soldiers exchange ghost stories to pass the time, or attending a stage show that will continue on whether you decide to stay and watch or not, Last Light's world is so fully realized that it feels as though it continues existing even after you have walked away. The metro is however, only half of what Last Light's world has to offer. You'll spend a significant amount of time in the ruins of nuclear war ravaged Moscow.
Moscow is beautifully depressing in its decayed state, but behind that beauty lies an even greater threat than the metro can offer. Radiation. Radiation is a constant threat on the surface and you will need to continually find filters for your gasmask to cleanse the contaminated air. Should you run out of filters, your screen will slowly turn red as you suffocate and die. This mixed with the mutated creatures, which inhabit Moscow, continually hunting you as you make your way towards your destination makes for some tense situations. Imagine you forgot to change your air-filter and you hear the beeping noise that indicates your about to run out of oxygen , then the moment you start to replace your filter is the exact moment that a pack of irradiated mutants decide they want a snack and your face is the best option. What do you do? Do you replace the filter while they attack and hope you'll still have enough time to fight back before one of them tears your throat out, or do you stop changing the filter so you can pull out your gun and kill the creatures before you suffocate? These split-second decisions are what keeps the combat interesting throughout the whole experience.
With the metro and Moscow being such fascinating places to explore, it's unfortunate that a lot of the game is extremely guided. Large parts of Last Light are spent following different characters and doing exactly as they say or, in a vehicle, during on-rails sections (sometimes literally). It wouldn't be so bad if it weren't for characters who repeatedly scream at you to help them any time you reach a spot that requires the player to give them a hand in order to move forward. There were many times when I just wanted to search for some extra ammo a little while longer but was so annoyed by the constant whining of my AI partner that I gave in and did what the game wanted me to do. Why would 4A create such enthralling areas to be in, only to rush the player through? This problem is especially present during the first few hours of the game, but if you can get past the slow start it begins to open up and allow for a little more exploration.
Metro: Last Light also includes some sort of moral choice system but I couldn't figure out what the point of it was. Every time you make a decision, like am I going to kill this unarmed man begging for his life or not, (of course I am. No, I'm not a bad person; he's a Nazi and so he deserves it. Yes I realize that killing him makes me no better than he is, but shut up.) the screen will flash but I couldn't figure out if these decisions actually change anything or if the screen just flashes to emphasize how shitty of a person you are. I did some pretty terrible things during my time in the metro and the ending didn't reflect that, so I don't think the moral choices affect the story in any way but I could be wrong.
If you had seen me playing Last Light you wouldn't believe it, but you can finish the whole game without ever having killed a single person. You can sneak by everyone or knock them out with a stealth attack. This may not seem like a big deal considering more and more games have recently been including this option but Last Light goes out of its way to make you feel like a jerk any time you kill someone. As you sneak up on your enemies you can hear them talking, not about how their evil and want to kill you, but instead just telling stories and laughing to pass the time in their monotonous job of patrolling the metro. How could you kill these guys? Well, if you're like me and don't understand basic human emotions then pretty easily, but if you're a normal person then you will want to go out of your way to avoid hurting anyone.
The story in Last Light is one of loss and hope. Then more loss, then a little more hope at the end. I Just wish it had been a little more focused (like this review). The game touches on the idea of personal loss versus loss on a grander scale and how an individual copes with either. Which one is truly more important to a person and does how it affects others really matter? This is all pretty heady stuff and it would have been intriguing to see how the game could have handled them if it embraced these ideas a little more.
Last Light manages to overcome its flaws through a sheer abundance of personality. After a slow start it quickly finds its rhythm and manages to stay on beat, achieving an almost masterful execution of pacing throughout the rest of your quest to save the metro and the future of humanity. Metro: Last Light is also one of the most thematically cohesive games I have ever played. From the gameplay to the sound design to the art direction and visuals it's all a cacophony of dreadfulness that will keep you gripping the controller tightly in your hands(or hugging the keyboard to your chest like a newborn baby) until the credits roll.