Thursday, November 28, 2013
1. I went into Last Light braced for disappointment. Metro 2033 had been one of those games that I loved for its roughness, from its personality that came precisely from not being polished to within an inch of its life. It had this jagged silhouette that if it walked into the room, you knew exactly what game it was. That kind of roughness can only come from a team with a big heart and a small budget. When that kind of game does good, and a larger budget is given to a sequel, that roughness rarely survives. It almost is impossible for it to survive. So I went into Last Light excited for more Metro but ready to accept that more of what made Metro good might be impossible.
I was ultimately surprised, then, to find that Last Light, largely held onto much of what made Metro 2033 feel so good. The oppressiveness, the bleakness, the kind of stand-off-ish design that will just dump you in a place with no clear waypointing or objectives and just let you figure it out. Some parts of the game have been polished up, but only selectively and to the game's benefit. Guns in 2033 felt jangly like you would expect a gun built from scrap to feel, but they lacked a punch. Last Light's guns are punchy enough that skirmishes are enjoyable, while still feeling super messy. It feels like they tried to polish the jags into being more pronounced, not just polish them away to a curved nothing. So that is nice. It still lacks some of what made Metro 2033 special, but it is about as good as a sequel to a rough game could hope to be.
2. Which is not to call the game perfect. Last Light still seemed to lose focus on what made 2033 so special. In particular, the sense of life in the metro the first game evoked. There was this real sense of being a commuter, fittingly enough, of just passing through this towns that were other people's entire lives. The people in the bunks on old carriages, or the way a station is sectioned off into small houses. It was always amazing to stop and look at these places, but always fleetingly as you were always on your way to meet someone. Last Light still has a bit of that, and when it does, it is terrific. A moment near the start of the game where you are dashing through a nazi station under fire and you get this faint glimpse of everyday life as you dash past. The theatre station and the flooded station of Venice are particularly strong highlights of just 'life on the metro'. As is the refugee train.
But, for the most part, with the story focusing on WAR and militaries and all that, we don't get the same diversity of lives and lifestyles 2033 gave us. We have army bases and prisons and dead towns and army dudes and more army dudes. It feels less like a place and more like a serious of videogame levels at times. It felt more like a videogame story than an adaption of a novel this time, essentially.
3. Related to that is the sheer number of men in the game (or the lack of women, more accurately). It's just a bunch of gruff dudes and the occasional woman (they all look the same) sobbing in the background. 2033 was largely men doing things, to be sure, but the places felt alive with children and grannies and dogs and all kinds of people. Now we just get soldiers. The two women who speak in the game are a prostitute (whose nipples you can see while she offers you sex) and a sniper lady (whose nipples you can see while she offers you sex. Also she has your son, of course). How to sap any atmosphere from your world: homogenise the people you populate it with.
4. I really enjoy the stealth of Last Light. It's that kind of stealth that goes really good until you screw up, and then you pull out your shotgun and improvise. That kind of stealth works in very few games, because usually there is some fictional context that makes that kind of stealth feel very wrong, even when it is mechanically possible. Some games get it right. Splinter Cell: Conviction always presented contexts where the enemy knew Fisher was around somewhere, so if things devolved into a gunfight, it felt natural. The same goes for Last Light. I never felt like I needed to reload the game when I was seen, just change my tactics.
5. That grittiness of 2033 remains. The constantly pressure of needing to recharge your batteries, needing to replace your oxygen mask filters, needing to pump your airgun. All these little things always taking up your attention just to stay alive. It's incredible effective here as it was in 2033. It is weakened, though, by a timer giving you the exact number of seconds of filter life you have left. It is strengthened, though, by the need to press a button to wipe water or blood off your oxygen mask to see clearly.
6. I really like the subtly of both 2033's and now Last Light's approach to the supernatural. Not so much with the 'dark ones' who are just some generic alien monster things, but with the shadow-ghosts that disappear if you shine a light directly at them, or hallucinations of a thousand arms stretching out to get you. They never really try to explain it; they just do it and it's kind of cool.
7. Last Light's ending is terrible. There are two endings, to be sure (like 2033, Last Light has this very subtle series of choices through the game that never tell the player they are about to make a choice, and I really love that), but the ending I got was terrible, and I don't doubt the other one was just as bad. The game has this slow steady build up of 'war is coming' and needing to find answers and needing to make peace and all of that. Then, while there are still all these loose narrative threads unresolved, the 'war' happens, and it is just a terrible stand-your-ground turret section, and then some dude tells you, by the way, I rigged the place to blow, and you blow the place up, making the Ultimate Sacrifice. Then you find out Sniper Women Who You Had Sex With was telling this whole story to your son because of course if you have sex once you are going to have a child.
It is actually the most terrible ending I've experienced since Far Cry 3 (Far Cry 3's endings (both of them) made me laugh at my television they were both so terrible). It is the most generic, bullshit, 'oh I guess we should wrap things up now' kind of ending. It's the kind of ending of the fantasy stories I wrote in my teenage years with absolutely zero planning about how they would end. One day I'd just get bored of all these action sequences I was ripping right out of Dragon Ball Z and stick an ending on them. That is how Last Light ends and it is appallingly bad, to the extent that it damaged my overall feelings about the game.