Metro: Last Light, a sequel to 2010's Metro 2033, significantly revamps the harsh, gloom-ridden visuals of its predecessor's nuclear-decimated Moscow, creating a series of terrains so bleak and crepuscular as to make its forerunner's appear almost pleasant by comparison. The importance of diligent reconnaissance and environmental immersion supersedes excessively refined FPS mechanics; the story-driven gameplay requires an immense amount of stoicism in order for one to reach the meatiest parts of Last Light's wantonly cheerless spectacles. Not surprisingly, through its bewitching despondency, the game manages to never warrant a description of "fun" or "lively," but the sheer density of its dramatic melancholy annuls much of the aggravating programming issues that prevent the experience from becoming an all-around triumph.
The climax of Metro 2033 saw its hero, a ranger called Artyom, ordering a missile strike on the mutated creatures, dubbed Dark Ones, inhabiting his country's leveled expanses. Last Light takes place in the aftermath of that do-or-die offensive, where a tense situation teeming with militaristic infighting and civil war is brewing within the tunnels of the Russian metro. Although the narrative starts off intriguing, with Artyom and his team seeking out the sole Dark One that survived the bombing, it loses a bit of steam as its inherently unconvincing sci-fi elements begin to override its more absorbing humanistic aspects. Some of Last Light's most memorable moments happen not during heavy firefights or scenes of explosive theatrics, but when Artyom is essentially resigned to fly-on-the-wall-style scenarios, lying in wait, listening to the miscellaneous prattling of the commies and neo-Nazis who surround him on a daily basis. While the brassy Russian accents are at times quite campy, developer 4A Games does such a tremendous job applying the maximum attention to detail to every nook and cranny of Last Light's dystopian wasteland that such trivialities can be forgiven. From beginning to end, the game actualizes a world that truly does look, sound, and feel like what Earth might resemble in the wake of a nuclear holocaust. Eerily deforested and soul-crushingly devoid of nature's noise, wandering the once-fertile landscapes, gas mask firmly secured, is as depressing as skulking about in the ill-lit subterranean passageways.
Although barging into position, guns-blazing, is always an option, the majority of Last Light's missions are best handled via meticulously planned sneak-distraction tactics (unscrewing phosphorescent bulbs, tripping circuit breakers) that allow for beneficial advantages when the mandatory high-octane action does bubble up to the surface. Crouching is king, and the bulk of CQC maneuvering is executed with ease, devoid of the clunkiness that often plagues stealth-loaded first-person shooters. Truth be told, the AI is actually one of Last Light's biggest blunders; the humans don't offer any sort of challenge until the game's final act, and the rabid supernatural beasts are erratic to a fault in their behavior, almost to the point of perceived glitchiness. Strategic assaults on the infected animals will likely lead to an expedited death, only matching the monsters' crazed movements with correspondingly berserk bullet-spraying will see the task completed in earnest. This isn't the only mechanically lopsided area of the game either, as the merchant/weapon upgrade system holds minimal incentive for players to become too involved with it. Throughout the 10-hour main campaign, only a handful of visits to vendors are necessary, and, given how manic gunplay frequently takes a backseat to less hotheaded means of advancing Artyom's dismal tale, there isn't too much of a need to focus on procuring the most powerful armaments.
While Metro: Last Light is host to a number of automated imbalances, the extravagant production value and grand presentation quickly make amends for 4A Games's assorted technical misfires. Whether above ground or below, this is a gripping, deviceful take on the life-after-apocalypse allegory, its greatest strength being the smoothness of its transitions from sustained quiet horror to tumultuous uproars of frantic altercation. As Yakov Smirnoff might put it, in post-apocalyptic Russia, the metro rides you.