Twenty years have passed since the nuclear holocaust forced the citizens of Moscow into the Metro, one of the largest rail systems in the world. Hiding in the dark, sinister depths of the Russian underground, the denizens of the rail lines have created a new society through which our hero, Artyom, must navigate in his quest to save the Metro and, perhaps, the last remaining bastion of humanity.
Dmitry Glukhovsky's novel earned its cult following through a balance of wit, suspense, terror and philosophy. Those elements were all present in Metro 2033, the predecessor to Last Light. This offering is a direct sequel to that game (not the novel Metro 2034, which moves in an entirely different direction) and, like its predecessor, is a refreshing breath of air as opposed to the countless cookie-cutter shooters that are constantly being fed to us.
Although you need not play the first game, I would recommend it for the back story. It has been a year since the events that unfolded at the end of 2033. Artyom is now a full-fledged Ranger, and rumors that a Dark One has been captured sends our friend on another quest through the Metro where he encounters more things that go bump in the night, and discovers that the more terrifying monsters in the new Moscow are not the mutants that live above the surface, but the ones who dwell in the shadows under the guise of humans. Politics and human interaction play a more important role this time around at the expense of the beasties, and this has both its advantages and disadvantages.
Metro: Last Light is very much of a story-driven experience, and this story makes for a compelling adventure. Unlike its predecessor, however, Last Light spends considerably more time with the interactions between the warring underground factions than survival on the surface. Gas masks and filters are still at a premium (although not as much as they were in the first game), and you can either choose to save your money or fire it in battle...literally. (For those who aren't familiar, currency in the game is in the form of higher-quality military-grade ammunition rounds.) And let's not forget the visions...
At this point, comparisons to the original Metro are inevitable. The game doesn't convey the same feelings of dread and abject terror that were present in the first game. I found that filters here were actually quite common, as were replacement masks. The masks also seem to be considerably more durable this time around. Having played through the game twice now, I have yet to fully lose a mask, where I found that a pack of nosalises could crush my mask in a heartbeat in the original, even on Easy. There aren't nearly as many claustrophobic tunnel moments in Last Light, and I honestly never felt that I was in absolute mortal danger. I don't mean this in a bad way; it's a true testament to the original that a game could instill such a sense of desperation that I still dread clanging bells.
On the other hand, Last Light truly stands on its own as a shining achievement of the blending of storytelling and gameplay. The story is front and center, and the atmosphere sets the tone for the narration. Your actions play a role in this game, just as in the last. Not only will you need to pay attention to conversations as in the first, but more importantly you will need to carefully consider who and what you kill--or don't kill. The factions dwelling in the Metro are moving inexorably toward conflict which, ironically, is what got them there in the first place. It's another case of history repeating...again.
Stealth is a main part of this game. One achievement is for going through the entire game without unnecessarily killing a single human, so you'll be sneaking around quite a bit. The AI is very forgiving in this aspect...perhaps too forgiving. The meter on Artyom's watch turns blue when he is visible, but even when he isn't it seems as if the enemies are completely blind. You can go within inches of some of them without them even realizing. How they survive with beasties roaming around is anyone's guess. However, once they find you, you're in trouble. Going through on a full stealth run can be frustrating, especially during two parts where you'll have this "you-mean-I'm-NOT-allowed-to-fire-back?!" thought running through your head.
In addition to the AI obliviousness, there are definitely some graphical issues, although nothing game breaking. I found myself being walked through by my companions at the beginning of the game as they went along their scripted path, and seeing just teeth and gums can be a little disconcerting. None of this affects the gameplay, though, except occasionally when you'll go to knock someone out (RIGHT next to them) and the game doesn't recognize it.
There are also some occasional hiccups with the dialogue. The subtitles don't always match up, sometimes you'll see subtitles from conversations two rooms down. These are mainly cosmetic, though. Again, nothing game breaking, just a bit of a lack of polish. (The voice acting is also a bit wooden, unfortunately.) Nevertheless, exploring the stations of the Metro is an adventure in and of itself. A lot of time was spent making the interactions compelling to the player, so that you'll find yourself wanting to explore every nook and cranny of each station (and not just because you're on a scavenger hunt). Some of these interactions are quite amusing, some titillating, and some are downright heartbreaking. The writers have done a fantastic job of immersing the player in the tale.
As far as achievements go, many cheeve hunters will be happy to know that you can work through a number of these using Chapter Select. The Diary at the menu lets you know what collectibles you've missed, although you'll need to keep track for the Musician achievement. There is no Explorer achievement here, which cuts out a lot of frustration!
In summary, Artyom's second run through the Metro is a terrific ride and, while not as terrifying as the first, still offers a great atmospheric post-apocalyptic thriller. I had high hopes for this game and, as was the case in Bioshock Infinite, found an experience that lived up to the high expectations set by its predecessor. No, this game isn't nearly as polished as Infinite, but nevertheless lightning has struck twice this year.
Very highly recommended. If you can, play 2033 first to provide some back story, although it isn't truly needed.