The lion's share of shooters are straightforward run-and-gun titles designed to toss as many nasties in a gamer's pathway as possible. These games reward players with points and trophies depending on how many bloody stacks of bullet-riddled zombies or snarling aliens they leave behind. But on occasion a rare trigger-puller dares to be a little different, its creators taking pains to be at least as concerned with story as supersized slaughter.
Metro: Last Light falls into that latter category.
The Future's Up to You, Comrade …
That game is based on the post-apocalyptic sci-fi novel Metro 2033 (which is also the title of the first video game in this series). It's a well-crafted, immersive adventure of a young Russian patriot named Artyom. He's one of a large group of survivors living in the sprawling catacombs of an underground metro system, a place of human refuge after a global nuclear holocaust devastated Moscow.
It's now 2034, and even after 21 years of hiding away, there are still enough corrosive toxins in the air outside to boil water. And underground? Well, the aggressive Marxists and crazed neo-Nazis keep things boiling down there as well.
Oh, and the beasties, too. After the war's great destruction, strange alien-looking creatures with telepathic powers called Dark Ones became a pressing threat. So by the first game's conclusion, those mysterious creatures were bombed into extinction.
Or so the human survivors thought.
This sequel reveals that a small "infant" Dark One is still alive and living on the surface. It's up to Artyom—who once had a fateful encounter with the Dark Ones and seems to be the only human immune to their mental manipulations—to find the shadowy human-like thing and put an end to it. The problem is, Artyom isn't so sure these creatures are as dangerous as everyone thinks. What if they're really something much closer to a hope of salvation? What if they're more angel than devil?
As gamers go about fulfilling often stealthy explorations and gasp-for-your-last-lungful-of-breath quests, this supernatural drama slowly builds with a sense of thought-provoking emotion. Are your greatest enemies the mind-probing Dark Ones, the radiation-mutated, sharp-toothed surface-crawlers or the lying and cheating human zealots still seeking some kind of world domination? And what of your own choices and interactions with those around you? How will they shape the good and bad of the story's resolution?
… But Keep The Shotgun Loaded
On the way to finding answers to all those questions, of course, there's graphic content concerns amidst the crumbling metro lines. This game could easily be classified as survival-horror thanks to all the mutated monsters, man-eating plants and oversized insects that screech out from the digital world's pitted and pocked surface. Only the most brutal battlers—wielding shotguns, assault rifles, explosives and blades—will survive. Beast and human foes alike are taken down in showers of blood and gore, dismembered and ripped apart for all to see.
Harsh, torturous human interrogations can be brutal as well. Neo-Nazis take the measure of their helpless captives, inject them with noxious chemicals, and then put an execution-style bullet through the brains of those they deem less than worthy. (A gamer's keen eye can spot children among the rotting dead.)
Even when they're not in full battle mode, the general populace is given to frequent and strong profanity—including many variations on f- and s-words, and crudities in the vein of "b‑‑tard," "h‑‑‑" and "a‑‑hole." A number of scenes feature readily flowing alcohol guzzled from shot glasses and bottles. And when Artyom visits the desperate local watering holes in the midst of his journeys, he also encounters red-light districts and near-naked women—ready to sell their lingerie-clad favors or showcase their bouncing breasts in an onstage dance. One particular rendezvous features a topless woman giving Artyom a grinding lap dance while shaking her bare chest in the camera's high-def eye.
So, alas, for all of Metro: Last Light's pleasing plusses, it still has a stock shooter's massive minuses.