Metro’s nuclear winter is thawing, but will gamers warm to Metro: Last Light?

Metro’s universe is often dingy but characterful, and it offers a distinct sense of place through both its dripping tunnels and its radiation-bleached skies. Its peers are the likes of City 17, Rapture and Dunwall

Metro: Last Light, like its divisive predecessor, is an exploration of tension. Not just in the near-crippling strain you feel when you’re forced to proceed along its gloomy tunnels, which are inhabited by people – or worse – intent on shortening your journey, but also between light and dark, the need to save ammo against the will to survive, or the implications of choosing to kill a pleading enemy or leave him be. But of all the dichotomies that define Last Light’s bleak world, perhaps the biggest tug of war is found in 4A’s desire to span the gap between FPS and narrative adventure.

It’s an ambition that made 2010’s Metro 2033 a hard sell. The studio’s desire to subvert gaming’s most popular genre with wilfully awkward controls meant many misunderstood its intentions – squeezing the right trigger to fire and hitting A to jump may have felt familiar, but 2033 bore only superficial similarities to Modern Warfare. That desire also yielded one of the most atmospheric firstperson games in recent memory, even if its gunplay didn’t match its world building.

With Last Light, 4A promises to not only address the first game’s deficiencies, but to build upon its successes. It aims to streamline the controls, improve the AI and pathfinding, and open out the level design. And, crucially, Last Light will emerge blinking from the gloom at a time when the boundaries between genres are being challenged with increasing regularity. Last Light may not conform to tidy genre conventions, but this time the market may be a little more willing to step outside of its comfort zone.

We start our time with the game in an underground level set just before the events of this year’s E3 demonstration. Crawling into the map through a vent before dropping down into an industrial space crisscrossed with metal platforms and makeshift wooden barriers, Last Light’s world is familiarly Metro. Indeed, this sequel picks up directly after the events of 2033, casting you as returning protagonist Artyom. But this Artyom is stronger and more capable after his previous ordeal, a fact that’s underscored by numerous subtle touches, such as the way he now confidently loads both shells into his makeshift shotgun at once, rather than fumble them into the barrels one at a time.

He’s deadly, too. You can fell enemies with a stealth attack when you get close enough, while silenced weaponry will fling ball bearings through the flesh of isolated targets without alerting those nearby. It’s possible to move through most levels without ever being detected, a strategy aided by a blue lozenge on Artyom’s watch that gets brighter depending on how well lit you are. As before, you can snuff out light sources (either by hand or with a well-aimed projectile) and fastidious players can plunge levels into total darkness. You can choose to effect nonlethal takedowns as well, a decision that doesn’t feed into any clear black-and-white morality meter, but is yours to make regardless.

The level we’re in, we’re told, is small in comparison to later spaces, but even so it’s clear that 4A has widened your options. In the first main room alone, there’s a hatch that opens into the sewer running beneath the metal platforms, a staircase that leads up to a higher platform, and a passageway to the left, which presents an opportunity to flank the three men we hear chatting on the central walkway. Of course, you could also fight your way through, guns blazing, but you’d need to make strategic use of the destructible cover scattered about to emerge unscathed.

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