In 2005, a 26 year old Russian journalist named Dmitry Glukhovsky published his first novel. Nihilistic and terrifying, Metro 2033 is both an indictment of humanity and a prayer for its salvation. Also: most disturbing use of rats in fiction ever.
In 2010, Ukrainian 4A Games did an adaptation of it. Nihilistic and terrifying, Metro 2033 converted a slow, philosophical novel into a high-tension shooter while retaining the plot core and themes. Unexceptional, if better than average, Metro 2033 did well enough to warrant a sequel, bringing us here, to Metro: Last Light.
Let’s watch a video!
Слава Богу для Википедии
Hopefully you watched that, because most of the traditional “review” stuff is in the video portion; if for some reason you dislike videos and prefer not to read the many words, here’s a sum-up: 4A Games done brung it good. Were this year’s competition less stiff, Last Light could, flaws and all, easily contend for Game of the Year.
Now we will do typed words!
The sprawlingly busy Moscow Metro is the world’s biggest air raid and fallout shelter. It’s huge – seven million people a day visit its 188 stations to ride its 300 kilometers of track across twelve lines. Don’t forget the countless miles of sub-tracks, tunnels, and labyrinthine utility passages. It’s deep – usually 100 to 300 feet, compared to the New York subway’s 40-foot average. It’s sturdy – many stations are equipped with kiloton-rated mechanical blast doors, AK-47-laden security guards, and supplies for thousands. It’s old – people have been tunneling around underneath Moscow since Czars upon thars, so God knows what catacombs the Metro might link to.
For nearly a quarter century the cast of Metro: Last Light has survived in the darkness of that place. 40,000-ish survivors doomed to life as a taped-up turtle, under the sullen red glow of station emergency lamps, subsisting on vitamin supplements, conscientiously farmed mushrooms, and “pale, subterranean” pigs whose forebears were quick-thinkingly herded in from a pig exhibit (seriously) in the moments before the doors boomed shut. Over the years, the stations have devolved into odd, concentrated ideological cells: Communists, Fascists, anarchists, religious nuts; they carry on the human practice of killing each other over philosophy, only now underground.
Whatever doomed humanity to this fate (there was “a war,” but that’s all Glukhovsky or the games ever reveal) has left the ruins of Moscow so extravagantly radioactive that while brief, risky visits are possible, any hope of returning to the surface is gone. These people are not simply waiting for a storm to pass, and they know it. They will live in the Metro forever. This is their world now.
Partly the toxicity, yeah, but also because the crumbling, ice-choked world above belongs to something else. The “Dark Ones” rose in the radiation, and in Metro 2033 their increasing expeditions into the subway form the core of the plot. People who encounter Dark Ones tend to go irrevocably, exuberantly, batshit insane. A young man named Artyom, who was just a toddler when the war broke out and has only flickering sunlit memories of life outside the Metro, seems strangely resistant to this effect. That quality, plus a convoluted mess of other reasons, sees Artyom leave the relative safety of home in VDNKh station and trek all the way to Polis, a trip that’d take you or me half an hour and one line change, but takes him a solid month of getting his ass kicked.
Metro 2033 spoilers ahead, but none for Last Light. Fair warning.
The novel is worth your time. The story is slow-paced and unbelievably dolorous, but Glukhovsky’s odd, rich prose is at times movingly funny. There’s not a single instant of levity in the narrative, it’s the way he arranges words that will make you smile, almost as if the writer is winking at you through the fourth wall, reminding you it’s just a story. Winks or no, the book ends with the miserable thunder of explosions – you’d think we’d have had enough of them – as Artyom’s ghastly ordeal culminates in the release of a missile salvo to obliterate the Dark One colony. Only when the missiles are away and the act is irreversible does Artyom recognize that the Dark Ones are not hostile, were never hostile, that their interest in the Metro-dwellers was one of peaceful uplift, that the psychic damage caused by their visits was accidental because they simply didn’t know how fragile humans are. The Dark Ones were angels, not demons, just angels with really bad intel about the psychic durability of the people they’d come to redeem. Too late! Tick tick boom.
Война… Война Никогда Не изменяется
Of course, nobody understands Artyom’s change of heart or even believes that he had it; it was a telepathic revelation and, not being an utter fool, he doesn’t make a federal case out of something that can’t be undone. As a reward for his commission of genocide, he is welcomed into the fraternity of Spartan Rangers, an order of freelance asskeeper/peacekickers. The Jedi order of the Metro, if you will. A gloomy year passes. Khan, one of Artyom’s buddies (and who, like Bourbon, Miller, and most other characters, are straight out of the book, just reimagined into a shooter environment) announces that he saw a lone surviving Dark One prowling about on the surface. Since he’s their resident expert, Artyom is dispatched to kill it.
Parallel to that is the discomfiting sense that the three main powers – the Stalinist Red Line, goose-stepping Fourth Reich, and the merchant princes of the Hanseatic League – are gearing up for war. Conflict in the Metro is nothing special, but this one has an ominous flavor to it, a world-war flavor, a let’s-end-this flavor. As Artyom points out, there aren’t really that many people in the Metro, so casualties of any kind are sort of bad. Should the slow burn of potshots and guerilla raids ever erupt into a full-on conflagration… Do Not Pass Go. It definitely looks like someone (or some group) is behind the rising ire, but who and why is anyone’s guess.
Artyom’s more interested in that than in killing the last of a species he already regrets annihilating, but they don’t ask his opinion and Anna, the utter bitch of a sniper they send with him, wouldn’t care if they had. If you played Metro 2033 you’ll recognize the structure of the opening: walk around a bit in a safe place, get a feel for the atmosphere and basic controls, experiment with some weapons, then get an assignment that kicks off the game proper. Artyom and Anna head to the surface on their mission, which conveniently tutorializes another important facet of the Metro games: yes you can and will see the sun. No you don’t want to dawdle in it. Moscow air is toxic and gas mask filters require constant changing. Masks themselves can be damaged if you fall on your face, too, so be careful out there.
A&A don’t have much luck with their task. You track down the Dark One easily enough, but Artyom doesn’t really want to kill it and Anna’s banging away with her scoped rifle so the pursuit becomes this almost comical effort to put yourself between the Dark One – a child, no less – and Anna’s bullets without actually looking like you’re trying to shield it. Even juvenile Dark Ones can puree a human mind pretty readily, and Artyom’s “resistance” was never an “immunity.” He gets knocked out, Anna flips and runs away, and the next thing you know, both Artyom and the little Dark One are captured by Fourth Reich scouts and dragged off, he to a thorough torturing and execution and it to God knows what fate.
This sets the tone for Last Light, a game in which you play a quite capable young man who nonetheless cannot catch a break to save his soul. It is the first of approximately one thousand times you get captured, beaten up, removed from where you want to be, relieved of your possessions, or otherwise stymied. It’s also the first of many daring escapes, of course, but I couldn’t help feeling like poor Artyom was like a hamster on a wheel, constantly trying to catch up with what needed to be done and never quite able to get there in time.
Но по сей день мне интересно
Dmitry Glukhovsky got rich on his first book, and he’s turned the Metro franchise into his own little cottage industry. The novel’s sequel, Metro 2034, isn’t the basis of Last Light, but Glukhovsky worked closely with 4A Games on Last Light’s story, and in a weird but amusing turnabout of book-becomes-game-becomes-book, Glukhovsky’s creatively-titled upcoming Metro 2035 will be a novelization of the events in the game.
You don’t see many games adapted from page-based literature. I’m endlessly impressed by how well 4A Games managed with Metro 2033. The book is extremely slow-paced. Most of it takes place in Artyom’s head, and aside from the setting there’s not much that lends itself to an action shooter, but they did it, even telling essentially the same story, with the same characters, in the same order. The trick was that they felt free to change things in a way that made sense but still sort of circled back to the book whenever possible. Whether it’s changing a character’s motivations or simply making part of the plot much more violent, it always seemed to work, and not only do both games feature rich, interesting storylines, they absolutely hammer the feel of Metro life.
It’s a shithole.
I mean come on, you’ve got 40,000 people living in subway stations, for years, with little to eat but pigs, mushrooms, and the Russian equivalent of Centrum; little to do but find reasons to kill each other; and little to hope for beyond the general desire to die less horribly than some other Metro-dwellers have. Glukhovsky clearly gave a lot of thought to the logistics of 25 years in the Metro, and while I can’t say if it’s “realistic,” his books and 4A’s games conjure it up believably, each in their own way.
What it really boils down to is that life goes on. People invent careers for themselves. An economy is established based on barter, with military-grade ammunition substituting for regular money. The bullets they make down in the Metro work okay, but Soviet AK rounds are way better; using them as ammo, though, means you can’t use them at merchant stalls. Thus the idea of “every shot you fire is shooting away your money” doesn’t quite work, since there’s a hard line between Metro rounds and miltary rounds and no one ever uses the military rounds (okay, okay, I’ll admit to using some on this thing):
There’s only so long you can be a refugee, or a survivor. Eventually you have to go on living and that’s what the people in the Metro have done. Some of the most powerful scenes in Last Light are just glimpses of life in the stations, something Artyom, at least, deems worth protecting despite humanity’s enduring inability to transcend its shortcomings.
This leads to the biggest gripe about the game – about both Metro games actually – you can’t help but feel that 4A missed an obvious opportunity here. Aside from a handful of times when you can wander a station and spend some cartridges to upgrade your weapons and buy equipment, Last Light and 2033 are almost completely linear. For settings so obviously conducive to an open-world RPG shooter, it’s frankly weird that they’re not. No side quests, few interpretable decision points, and absolutely zero control over the straight path of the story arc. As with its predecessor, Last Light offers a “good” ending and a “bad” ending, and as with its predecessor, getting the good one (which is, oddly, much more violent) is practically impossible. The ending part doesn’t bother me, I don’t care how many endings games have, but there’s something about the Metro series that feels like a missed opportunity despite the fact that both are great and Last Light is borderline-outstanding.
Мне очень жаль, Арманд
Beyond the general sense that it should’ve been something else, there aren’t many valid complaints about Last Light - or rather, there aren’t many that hurt the game. As I describe in the video, 4A responded to complaints about 2033′s broken stealth system by implementing one in which you’re nearly undetectable unless standing in full light with an enemy facing you. Many times I died in Metro 2033 because some damned future-Nazi saw me even though it was pitch black; quite the opposite here. Despite playing on the hardest difficulty that ships with the game, I had no real trouble except on occasions I misunderstood the odd arithmetic by which your remaining gas mask filter time is displayed and suffocated during a visit to the surface. Even that only happened once. Monsters lurking in the Metro and the surface world typically call for some pretty heavy artillery, but if it weren’t for them I could have easily gotten to the final battle using nothing but a silenced pistol. Heck, I could have made it there using nothing but throwing knives. At one point a station is burning down around you and you’re still somehow concealed in the darkness.
But flaws in games come down, really, to two camps: ones that impact the experience and ones that, for whatever reason, do not. I’ve certainly played games that are “too easy” before and docked points for it, or lost interest. In Last Light it didn’t really bother me that much. Yeah, it made me roll my eyes from time to time as Artyom plowed through dozens of rifle-toting foes, but there was never an instant when I drifted away from the game, never an instant I wasn’t eager to make progress and enjoying the progress I had made.
And if the game’s too easy, at least it’s that way consistently. Compared to the infuriating, capricious spikes and gullies of difficulty in Bioshock Infinite, I’ll take “too easy” any day.
And Bioshock Infinite is really what Metro: Last Light ought to be compared to. The games are very strange bedfellows. Both are excessively gorgeous visual banquets of DirectX 11 holy-shititude. Both should have been open worlds and weren’t. Both are set in fantastical locations of eerie wonder and almost-magic wherein the real world seems quite far away indeed. Both deal with themes much more complex and intellectual than you usually see in shooters. Both have really good dialogue and impressive voice acting across the board.
The difference between the two is that Bioshock Infinite comes so close, so close, but ends up indifferent for all the wrong reasons. $175,000,000 they had for that game. Six years of development during which every need was met without question, during which the studio was denied nothing. And it’s… okay. For everything it did brilliantly, all I remember are its flaws, and I’m far from alone in that.
4A Games had card tables because management couldn’t afford desks. They sat on folding chairs in rows like sweatshop iPhone assemblers. The power went out so consistently they took to dragging diesel generators into the office and working by their NOx-emitting roar. They had one quarter the time and a tenth of the budget. Their publisher collapsed spectacularly two months before the game was supposed to ship, leaving the studio and the project teetering at oblivion’s edge until Deep Silver swooped in and snapped up the franchise IP for a song. And when these truths came out thanks to Jason Rubin, the only publisher rep who even bothered to show any interest in the studio, they distanced themselves from his fury at the inequality, not because he was wrong but because they were embarrassed by the idea of the world thinking they deserved some sympathy.
And it’s a game I’ll remember not because it was “too easy,” or because it isn’t the open-world epic it should’ve been, or because the stealth system is busted, but because it was awesome and stood above those things. I couldn’t tell you why or how Last Light did it and Bioshock Infinite didn’t. It might not be a formula we can understand. But it’s the truth.
And since Metro: Last Light is selling in the solid twos or threes of millions, they might just get their chance to make the game I want them to make.
“Сиськи” означает “Сиськи” на русском языке
In fact the only thing that really annoyed me about Last Light is one comparatively retarded narrative stumble that I’m still trying to figure out the logic behind. Well, actually, I know the logic behind it. It’s just stupid logic, logic that violates one of my well-known and highly respected postulates of game fiction.
Steerpike’s Eighteenth Law of Ludonarrative Development: if you’re going to have sexual situations and romance in your game, take the time to make it mature realistically and in a conscientiously-written manner. Because if you don’t, everyone will think that you just wanted to put tits in, and they’ll be right.
I don’t know that I need to add more to that. Sex and romance and stuff certainly could have a place in a Metro game, because I’ve already talked about the effort that went into showing how life goes on in the Metro, how humanity finds a way to be human. Arguably it’d have more of a place in Last Light than it does in The Witcher, but at least in the latter game it’s sort of explained (Geralt is a horny dog who bangs everything he can see). But since they didn’t bother to actually craft any story logic around the two “sex” scenes in the game, one of which is optional and one of which isn’t, (don’t judge me! Of course I chose the boobs option! Boobs!), it feels so weirdly out of place and bizarre that it doesn’t even come off as a frat-house thing. It comes off as a “whafuck? Huh?” thing.
So that was weird.
And, I guess if I must, I’ll also say that the story takes a bit of a supernatural wrong turn in the final act. Don’t get me wrong: the Metro games always had their share of paranormal stuff. If anything it’s dialed back from Glukhovsky’s Metro, where the place is presented as a dark numinal realm, otherworldly and enchanted. In the games there’s just enough to make you wonder whether the Metro is actually a subway at all, or whether it’s become this eerie place of arcane power and mystery. It adds to the wonderful dashes of horror that pepper the game. But it swerves in the wrong supernatural direction, just for a second, near the end, before reversing course and going back to the Metro with which I was familiar.
Именно в вашей природе чтобы уничтожить себя
Something on my mind throughout the whole of Last Light was what would go down, and how, if Artyom ever managed to catch up with the little Dark One. How do you apologize to the last surviving member of a race you’ve destroyed? Should you try?
Artyom certainly regrets what he did – he says as much – but “regret” and “remorse” aren’t the same thing (seriously – “сожалеть” and “раскаяния.” God I love Google). He wishes he hadn’t launched the missiles at the end of Metro 2033. He is sorry in the sense that he knows now it was the wrong thing to do. But in fairness to him, he hadn’t the slightest inkling of that when he pushed the button. And Metro: Last Light is not a quest for redemption, nor does it seriously discuss forgiveness, either in terms of Artyom seeking it or getting it. It doesn’t bog itself down too much in moral meanderings. Obviously genocide is mean.
Yet what Artyom did was, at least, done in ignorance – much as the hideous injuries inflicted on his people by the Dark Ones were done in ignorance. Meanwhile there are whole sections of the Metro that think fondly of the Final Solution, which wasn’t done in ignorance at all. The Metro inhabitants, very possibly the last humans on earth, nonetheless can’t keep themselves from constant war. The bleakness of Glukhovsky’s vision is expertly crafted here, in a game that’s not at all about one man’s redemption but about a species that can’t be redeemed. None of it is really Artyom’s fault; humanity brought all this on itself long ago. He’s the product of his race, a race that destroyed its only hope of salvation, and without a second thought hurried back to destroying itself.
The last couple of years have been a bumper crop for nihilism in games, and the most dispiriting have also been the very best of the period – Dark Souls, The Last of Us, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Papo & Yo, The Void, Spec Ops: The Line, and now Last Light. If you like shooters and don’t mind a low difficulty bar, you can’t go wrong with this. If your PC is a beast go that route for the DirectX 11 treats, but the console versions look amazing too.
Metro: Last Light is a thoughtful, rich, gorgeous, enjoyable game that you won’t quickly forget, one that improves on its predecessor and hopefully brings 4A Games the attention and income it richly deserves. The studio was founded by some of GSC Game World’s technical leadership, people who coded the X-Ray engine but left the studio in frustration in 2006, believing – not without reason – that S.T.A.L.K.E.R. would never ship. That probably explains the studio’s diffidence when it comes to biting off the sprawling open world it so clearly could realize. STALKER did ship of course, and it was more ambitious than the Metro games have ever been. But GSC Game World is gone now, and 4A is still going. Like Jason Rubin, as much as I enjoyed Last Light, I’m a lot more interested in what the developer is going to do next, because it might just be even better.
Website: EnterTheMetro.com | Rating: Mature (U.S.) / PEGI 18 (EU)
Developer: 4A Games | Publisher: Deep Silver | Released: May 14/17, 2013 (U.S./EU)
Available on: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC (reviewed) | Time Played: finished, about 18 hours
Minimum PC Requirements: Windows XP/7/8 | 2.2GHz dual core CPU | 2GB RAM
DirectX 9.0c | GeForce 250/Radeon 4000 or above
Reviewer’s PC: Windows 7 x64 | 3.4GHz Core i7-2600K | 16GB RAM | GeForce 560Ti
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