Metro: Last Light Review

Firstly, as seen above, the limited edition of the game comes with the “Ranger Mode” DLC- a difficulty that is apparently how the game “Was meant to be played”. Unless you get the limited edition you’ll have to buy the mode as DLC, which has understandably caused some controversy. However, a community manager from Deep Silver has said that this was original publisher THQs idea, and that by the time they took over the project there was no time to change it.

“Metro 2033” was a first person shooter that approached things a bit differently. It emphasised survival horror elements, a consistently dread-filled atmosphere and a good story that always kept the player involved. The sequel, “Last Light”, strengthens the story while amplifying the shooting sections at the expense of the survival horror atmosphere. Some of the changes work in the game’s favour, some of them don’t, as I’ll elaborate on shortly.

Set one year after “2033” (and not at all based on the original novel’s sequel “Metro 2034”), it picks that game’s regular/bad ending in which protagonist Artyom wiped out telepathic super-race “The Dark Ones”, realising too late that they wanted a peaceful relationship with mankind. The game is set twenty one years after world war three- nuclear war has ruined the landscape and made the air poisonous to humans. Russians now live in the various underground metro stations (built to act as bomb shelters) and have to contend with attacks from a variety of mutants and the true monster of the post-apocalypse genre: man. Evil, evil man. Anyway, the game starts with a friend and colleague of Artyom telling him that he’s spotted a Dark One-the last of its kind and only a child. Artyom and stern sniper Anna are sent to kill it/capture it, only for Artyom to be captured by a faction of neo-nazis. From there it’s a road trip of sorts back across miles of stations and patches of surface as Artyom attempts to beat a human enemy back home and tell his superiors what happened.

As opposed to the horror and mutant-heavy, almost coming of age journey experienced in the first game, “Last Light” takes advantage of its sequel status to tell a more human story- the mutants, setting and sheer horror of the surface world have been established; fans of the first game know what’s out there. This way it can afford to rely more on human enemies and political motivations- delving deeper into the post-apocalyptic world. This change in focus suits the game well, for the most part. The journey back home that takes up most of the game is nicely paced, well-written and immersive. The stations you visit in particular have great attention to detail and are fun to explore. The problem occurs nearer the end of the game, when everything suddenly becomes really rushed. Arytom moves from plot point to plot point solving everything easily, and the ending is jarringly sudden. The other problem here is how Anna is characterised. Basically after Artyom is captured she isn’t in it for ages, then she eventually pops back up briefly, becomes his love interest and sleeps with him off-screen, then disappears again. She’s the only female soldier in the game, and as far as I remember she’s the only female character not relegated to background duty. It seems like a waste to have her in there so briefly and essentially to sleep with Artyom. Finally, like the first game there’s a hidden moral choice system that determines which of the two endings you can get. It makes more sense here as it’s an original story, but the determinants can be really odd and arbitrary- give money to the homeless? Fair enough, that makes sense. Stumble across a skeleton or a desk with a lamp on it? That’s a moral point- good job finding that desk, hero. I like the idea of the moral “choices” not all being obvious, but some of them don’t appear to make any sense.

Gameplay wise, it’s a lot more forgiving this time around. The inventory screens clearly show how much ammo and money you have, and show large pictorial representations of the various equipment hotkeys. It’s also generally easier- human enemies go down without much trouble and the A.I sometimes makes them stand around blindly, oblivious to the fact that you’re right next to them. Weapons are upgradeable at stations, but enemies will often drop weapons with a number of attachments that you can just take. The new focus on gunfights with human enemies fits the story and is more accommodating to a wider audience, and parts of the game were reminiscent of shooters like “Resistance 3” and “Half-Life 2”: games with a great mix of shooting and story. Personally, I prefer the more horror-based gameplay of “2033”, but the shooting is tighter and more responsive here, and the shooting does feel rewarding and fun. What has improved here is stealth- the throwing knives are more effective, visibility is clearly shown and it’s easier to sneak up on enemies. Also, the levels that take place on the surface are excellent- after spending several missions gunning down neo-nazis the horror hits even harder. Two missions in particular late in the game have a wonderful atmosphere that beats a lot of what happened in the first game. So the shooting works and makes the horror even better, I just wish there was more of the latter.

Overall, “Metro: Last Light” is a very good experience. The added focus on shooting and human enemies is implemented well and without diminishing the horror elements and atmosphere. The story is interesting and well paced up until the disappointingly rushed last parts, but that doesn’t ruin the game. It’s great to see a modern first person shooter that venerates story, character and atmosphere, and I think that games like this, “Resistance 3” and the incredible “Bioshock Infinite” mean good things for the genre. I personally prefer “Metro 2033” for the emphasis on horror and atmosphere over shooting, but “Last Light” is definitely worth checking out.

Oh, one last thing: I played the game in Russian with English subtitles (same as “2033”- it makes sense given the setting), and was frustrated to see that dialogue between non-essential and background characters often isn’t subtitled, even if listening to it gets you a moral point. For a game with such attention to detail it’s disappointing that I’m penalised for not speaking Russian.

By James Lambert

DLC Reviews: Metal Gear Rising: Jetstream and Dishonored: The Knife of Dunwall

After the strong DLC packs for “Dead Space 3” and “DmC Devil May Cry” I was looking forward to these. Two extra mission packs for a game I thought was pretty damn good and a game I thought was alright in which you play as the respective antagonists? Seemed like a good idea to me. Unfortunately they were not what I had hoped for.

First up: “Metal Gear Rising: Jetstream”. You play as Jetstream Sam during his introduction to the “Desperado” PMC from the main game. He has new moves and animations. That is the extent of the new features- the enemies, bosses and locations are all recycled from the main story (you even fight Senator Armstrong at the end) and the story tying it together continues this theme by feeling rushed and meaningless. It’s one short mission, priced at £7.99 and quite frankly insulting. This concludes the “Jetstream” portion of the review: if they didn’t bother, why the hell should I? Not even going to put a picture of it on here. Don’t buy it. Buy something for an equivalent price, like “Manhunt”- the classic PS2 stealth-horror game that just hit the “Classics” section of the Playstation Store. Not this.

Manhunt- a far better use of the money.

Next up, “Dishonored: The Knife of Dunwall”. This fared better by featuring new areas, enemy types and outsider powers to the original game, and the story involving Daud (the Empress’ killer whose fate you personally decided as Corvo in the main story) is decently told while brief, and is served well by the new locations, particularly the whale-hating slaughter house seen in the trailer. The Assassin must discover the meaning behind something called “Delilah” in a last-ditch attempt to gain some redemption for his past- his murder of the Empress in particular. Like Corvo’s story it isn’t exactly incredible but it serves the gameplay well enough. The main problem here is that of the main game: it only really works if you’re playing it stealthily. If you enjoyed the main game then this is worth picking up- Daud and his advice-dispensing Assassin sidekick are enjoyable, the new locations are well realised and the stealth is still decent.

(This was a short one and for that, I apologise- there wasn’t much to say about these two really, particularly Jetstream, which is incredibly lazy. The next review I write will most likely be Metro Last Light, which I intend to pick up soon.)

By James Lambert

Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon Review

Right, first off: apologies for the large gap between the “Injustice” demo impressions article and this; as a university student I have a lot on my plate besides this blog and I got caught up for a while. However, things have calmed down now, and normal service can resume.

“Blood Dragon” is a stand-alone, downloadable title that takes the same basic environment (a large island), engine and gameplay mechanics of “Far Cry 3”, but rather than concerning itself with a douchebag who apparently gradually sheds his normality to become a psychotic killer despite the fact he’s good at killing people since the start of the game (if you haven’t read my “Far Cry 3” review, I didn’t like the story nearly as much as most people did), it involves killer cyborgs and laser-shooting dragons. The game is a loving send-up to cheesy 80s action films and everything that makes them enjoyable: there are explosions, cyborgs, loads of guns and silly one-liners. Everything is neon. The protagonist is called “Sgt. Rex Power Colt”. His middle name is “Power”. Power. POW-ER. That’s the single best name I’ve heard in a video game since “Garcia Fucking Hotspur”. Sgt. Colt has to infiltrate said island and massacre said killer cyborgs in an attempt to stop an old colleague of his who has gone rogue, cyborg Colonel Kurtz style. The plot is of little importance though. What stands out here is how wonderful the tone and sense of humor is. Put simply, it immerses you in the 80s-esque, dystopian world of the near future (2007) perfectly from the off and doesn’t let you go until the very end. The references range from the obvious to the subtle and it’s clear that a lot of effort has gone into making it look and sound the part. Michael Biehn (Kyle Reese himself) was a brilliant choice for the character and he delivers every line in a husky, sincere tone that sells even the sillier parts.

So the story and tone of the game work well, but what of the gameplay? Well, not much has changed since “Far Cry 3”, but the tweaks that have been made serve in the games favour. Between the limited story missions you can engage in side quests involving rescuing a scientist from a group of cyborgs or hunting various animals for a variety of entertaining reasons (some of them threaten the very future of humanity), there are occupied garrisons to liberate (which are now larger, more complexly structured and feature multiple entry paths and methods to clear) and collectibles to find scattered around the map. The exploration is kept fun largely by the fact that certain weapon upgrades are tied into finding collectables and that traversing the island is now a lot more fun because Rex runs faster (and infinitely), jumps higher and takes no fall damage- making it far more entertaining to travel everywhere on foot. In terms of the core combat mechanics, they’re pretty much the same, with two main changes: a lot of the skills from “Far Cry 3” are unlocked from the start (the chained takedown, for example), and leveling up now brings a certain skill each time- removing the skill tree and magic tattoo that Jason Brody had. The shooting is fun and responsive, but is sometimes made too easy due to Rex having such a large amount of health after leveling up enough, and having four weapons available from the start. It doesn’t take long before large groups of enemies pose very little threat at all, but that does fit the “lone hero” look they were going for, so it does make sense, even if it does remove a lot of the challenge.

“Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon” is fantastic: a great example of downloadable games (it’s good value for money), homage-filled parodies (that stay funny) and original ideas for games that seem to come completely out of left field. The story campaign is short, but the exploration and side quests make up for it. It’s got good shooting, rewarding exploration and genuinely funny jokes and above all it’s just bloody entertaining. If this and the utterly awesome “Hotline Miami” are an indication that the 80s are making a comeback in video games, I for one welcome it with my arms as wide open as they can be.

By James Lambert