I'm not sure how the writing in Metro games pulls it off. Lines like "Now I am in real spider-infested catacombs, where the general secretary does not look like the head spider" feel like it's been spat contemptuously into a database by a drunk Google Translate. But they're delivered with sincerity in thick Russian accents, and instead of breaking the story, they make your feel like a cultural eavesdropper. It's bad, but it all adds to the alien atmosphere of Metro's apocalypse.
Flashbacks are frequent, but the radioactive "Event" that drove Moscow residents into the subways is unexplained. What's important is the ongoing conflict. Nazis and communists battle, their humanity gone in similar ways. The powerless proles get their heads measured, and shot if the contantly-changing guidelines dictate that today, they're mutants.
And there's you, Artyom. The returning mute hero, in an adventure that's shifted away from the tension of ammo management, and bolstered its stealth options. In the first game, stealth was an unpromoted, but occasionally viable option. In Last Light, the code on your watch has been greatly simplified. There are no traffic lights - if the blue light's on, you're invisible. You can carve a secret path through most rooms by extinguishing lights with a silenced gun, or by hand. It's no Splinter Cell, but giving you a chance to avoid the tough battles is appreciated.
Artyom's slightly over-effective stealth is balanced by the fact that you can't move bodies around. Once alerted, either by a substantial direct sighting or the body of a friend, they stay alerted, and will try to flush you out. Although the game is ridiculous in many ways, including some of the most staged dialogue you'll ever hear, guards won't suddenly say "Hmm. I guess my friend was killed by my imagination," and resume staring at the wall in a convenient-to-throttle position. And if they do find you, the alarm is raised, which opens up doors to allow the armored guys into the fight.
Metro is a highly linear shooter, and owes a lot of its style to Half-Life 2. A level where you have to drive along a railway track, getting off to open doors, is structurally the same as Water Hazard. But here, there are doors and areas that are as optional as they can be fruitless. One completely ignorable area was cocooned in webbing, and had no rewards that I could find: but that actually felt oddly good. A whole area, designed to punish the curious? If I wasn't missing something obvious, that's brilliantly cruel.
Skirting around open combat obviously helps to conserve ammo, but if you're a compulsive corpse-fondler, you'll never run short in Last Light. The "currency is ammo" system works as a fiction - money is useless, and killing people lets you eat their mushrooms. But buying ammo with ammo never really rang true. Now, you're free to spend the special "cash-ammo" you find as cash, on scopes, barrels and for your guns.
Apart from the barrage of squelching, skittering sound effects, the final tension comes from your gas mask, which keeps you alive outside. Limited by eroding filters, It's an inverted "underwater" mechanic, and about as much fun as drowning in Sonic. But the gas mask serves other, more atmospheric purposes - increasing the claustrophobia by getting spattered with blood, and hearing your rasping breath echo around as the filter degrades. Beyond the time limit, it adds atmosphere.
Metro: Last Light is one big dose of more-of-the-same. It has the same mid-2000's flavour, and pulls it off once again by offering a varied set of locations and missions. It has no aspirations above being a linear FPS, and if you're OK with that, it's a treat. If you find your arse being handed to you, though - consider sticking to the darkness.
Get the book translation done by a native speaker
- Old-school linear FPS done well
- Stealth routes more obvious
- Improves 2033's systems
- Dynamite-fisted exposition
- Ropey translation