This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Metro: Last Light.
Don’t you just hate using public transport? I think it has to be the second worst method of getting to a place after decapitation catapult, and at least that gives you something to look at! They always smell like someone pissed in a bucket of old pennies and all the people who work on it look like they were continually assured throughout their childhoods that they were all going to become astronauts when they grew up. And I always find myself having to sit next to the one really weird bloke in a gas mask and combat gear muttering something about having to go and telepathically communicate with a space monster in mutually unconvincing Russian accents.
Well, Ukrainian developer 4A Games is doing its best to improve the popular image of public transport with the Metro series in which underground train tunnels beneath Moscow are depicted as an ideal place to raise your kids; 24-hour security, a whole 3 square feet of living space for everyone, a tasty selection of vintage stagnant liquids dripping from the ceiling and it’s still faster than walking (especially when mutated bears have bitten your legs off). Metro 2033 was an adaptation of a Russian novel of the same name, concerning a post-nuclear war apocalypse scenario in which the only survivors were the people who were in the Moscow underground when the bombs hit, apparently disregarding all the other cities in the world with underground transit systems but maybe they’ve all been lost to rampaging hordes of cannibalistic buskers.
I did play the first one but I didn’t get around to reviewing it, because it was one of those games that’s kind of hard to write funny things about ‘cause it was A: really depressing in that characteristic eastern European sort of way and B: basically, all right. Not pissing-in-the-coin-bucket awful, not exactly oiling up my forbidden tunnel either. Metro: Last Light is a more or less direct sequel that introduces the innovative addition to gameplay of absolutely bugger-all. You alternate between stealthing around enemy soldiers in darkened tunnels or running about the surface with a dinner bell strapped your back, but thankfully there’s none of what made me stop playing the original Metro 2033, that is to say, a chapter in which you’re obliged to escort an NPC who was abandoned in the wilderness as a baby and raised by Kamikaze pilots.
So once again, we play as Artyom, a not-quite-silent protagonist because he can speak on loading screens (possibly a social anxiety thing). He’s getting along as one of the Metro’s protection force and feeling kind of bad about that race of space monsters he blew up in the last game ‘cause it turned out they were friendly and killing people was just their way of handing out invitations to the Sunday barbeque, but then someone brings news that one of the space monsters is still alive and this may be the last opportunity Artyom has to apologize and maybe give it a fruit basket. On the way, though, Artyom’s pursuit of this simple task goes off the rails, (off the rails, LOL), as he is embroiled in a brewing all-out war between the Metro’s main factions over who gets to selfishly hog the secret bunker full of cakes and free money, currently being selfishly hogged by Artyom and his mates.
Like the original though, this is more the story of a place than any of the people who live in it, and Artyom’s alarming tendency to either get captured or rescued by an all-new character at the end of every single chapter fuels a colorful odyssey through location after location in which vertical slices of people’s lives are forced down Artyom’s gob like he’s a traveling gumball machine. Fleeting as many of them are, the characters in Metro are very human. Even the villains have distinct character complexity with the exception of the main villain who looks like Grand Moff Tarkin got stabbed in the eye by one of his rape victims. And then there’s the Nazis, of course, who are bad because they’re Nazis and literally calls themselves Nazis. Now that’s just not trying, really, is it?
But I digress. As you pass through populated tunnels, you’ll overhear countless idle conversations in Russian accents of varying conviction; street venders hawk their wares, couples argue, the children watch puppet shows being put on by slightly suspect old men. It all does a lot to convince us that this is a place where people actually live, not just survive. Sometimes, however, this feels like all setup and no payoff. Every time you reach a new friendly settlement a sort of Disneyland Pirates of the Carribean experience takes place as you move slowly along a linear path looking at all the scenery and setpieces and half the time you just move straight on to the next bit and never see that place again. It’s like if a film had a really long and dramatic establishing shot of the White House and cut to a fight in a pub car park on the other side of the town.
So there’s a quite hefty percentage of this game where I feel we’re lacking a sense of agency, but when I point that out the game gets kind of pissy. “Oh, you want to feel like you’re the master of your destiny, do you? Fine! Go run around the surface for a bit”. So I do that, but then I’m all like, “This big-winged monster keeps trying to get me to play fetch with my entire body as the stick. Am I supposed to be killing it or just getting the fuck away?”. “Sorry! Can’t make it any clearer because Mr. Free Will thinks I’ve been railroading him too much!” (Railroading, LOL.)
The point being, that the game is very bad at explaining what the fuck you’re supposed to do whenever the answer is anything more complicated than ‘move in such and such direction’. What took a particularly annoying number of attempts was a bit towards the end when my sole instruction was ‘to take out the tank’, but while the tank’s weak spot was completely obvious, ‘cause it was the part behind intermittently opening and closing armor plating, it didn’t actually become a weak spot until I had shot all the tank’s wheels off. Oh, yeah, obviously. Should’ve guessed that the wheels are where the enemy keep all their magic monkey paws and four-leaved clovers.
I’d say there’s enough to recommend about Metro: Last Light: the stealth focused combat does the job and incidentally, to every game that has tried to do stealth and fucked it up, clear indication of whether or not we’re currently visible and a brief delay between being spotted and the alert being sounded. There! That’s the secret. Now you’ll never fuck it up again. In spite of the sightseeing tour feel, the story and world building drew me in well enough, although it does start to lose me with the pseudo-fantastical bollocks. Artyom’s hallucinate revision quest down the magic river was the peak; a peak made of bat shit that doesn’t do much more than derail the pacing. (Derail, LOL).
And finally things get a bit Call of Duty-esque at the very end when Artyom and chums have to fight off an invading army but after everything leading up to it, I actually understood who we were fighting and what the stakes were in contrast to the average spunkgargleweewee method; dropping you into a random war zone with a halfhearted assurance that everyone with a foreign accent must have done something to deserve it. Oh, god, don’t give this game to a Modern Warfare player, whatever you do; 5 minutes surrounded by Russian accents they’re not allowed to shoot at and they’ll chew their own arms off!
The weirdo sitting next to you: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
I never know if you're supposed to say 'thank you' to the driver as you get off, I mean it seems like it'd take a lot more than that to brighten up their day
When Artyom eats food does he go OM YOM YOM oh for fuck's sake