If not its purpose, I have to respect the accordion's presence in Metro: Last Light. You can listen to the instrument's musical wheezing as part of a show put on in a dilapidated theater, one of several populated hubs you'll visit in your trek through the tunnels of Moscow. If you opt out of the game's scavenging and shooting for a few moments, there's an entire show to take in. It has all the awkwardness and earnestness of a production that only needs to be less bleak than its surroundings.
Last Light, much like predecessor Metro 2033, is a feat of obsessive, paradoxical world-building – you believe this as a place that has been demolished, poisoned and forced to retreat into claustrophobic hovels. There are glimmers of recuperating life in these bastions, most of all in Metro's stunning sewer-bound equivalent of Venice. The town layouts are noticeably linear, in part because there isn't much room for subterranean sprawl, and because the game spends all its money on the critical path. To explore is to linger, listen and look; and that's fine. While you assume the role of Artyom, a member of a hardened peace-keeping group that settles matters in the metro, it's impossible to forget the dangers lurking above and outside. Last Light, more than most games in which you are primarily built to shoot, manufactures tension through an ever-bleak environment and your fragile existence within it.
The flashlight, which is necessary to ward off some of the scarier things scurrying out of Moscow's corpse, needs to be regularly charged with a small handheld generator. Air filters for your gas mask must be replenished when above ground, with a countdown on your watch reminding you how little time is left before the gasps and gulps set in. And you know the visor is a big deal when there's a button for it, dedicated just to wiping off the dirt and blood that accumulates.
Metro: Last Light is smartly conservative: for as much as it revolves around picking everything clean of ammunition and currency (which are sometimes the same thing), it's remarkable how much less rifling there is compared to a BioShock. The infrequency of combat empowers that activity in the same way, with sporadic bursts of violence giving Last Light both a clear rhythm and purpose. To wit, a large shootout against an invading metro faction is dwarfed by any battle in Call of Duty, but feels ten times more important in your journey.
Last Light truly excels at pacing and direction, even while it dabbles with verbose characters and an ambiguous supernatural element. Its pacing is tied to Artyom's goals just as much as the hostile geography: you escape the claustrophobic metro just as it starts to test your tolerance, but then it's a grueling trip through a toxic marsh in the dead of night, a frantic shootout on a moving train, or a nerve-wracking march across cracking ice. The biggest, most jarring bungle here is in the role of Anna, a rare female character that seems to get a personality transplant when she steps out of view. She's certainly no Alyx Vance.
Metro: Last Light does belong in the company of Half-Life, though. It's an unusual, meticulously detailed shooter inextricable from its environment – making its refuge in the railways of Moscow all the more apt. The survival and shooting aspects engage with what is considered valuable in the world, and both leave ample room for moments of solace, exploration and concise violence.
This review is based on PC download of Metro: Last Light, provided by Deep Silver.
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