Publisher:THQ Platform:PC, Xbox 360, PS3, Wii U Release Date: 2013
Metro 2033 was not an easy game to like. It was a good game at its core and persevering with it was definitely worthwhile, but between the fatiguingly oppressive mood, high difficulty and somewhat difficult setting it was not a game that was easy to recommend flatly. In that way, as well as many others, it felt like the original STALKER: Shadow of Chernobyl.
This is important because it meant THQ had an interesting choice when it came to announcing the sequel; would it focus on making resolving or embracing that prickliness of the original? Would it focus on providing an accessible experience or an even more sprawling and complex one?
Admirably, the developers seem to have stayed true to form and opted for the latter, amping up the constant sense of uncertainty and adding in even more systems that constantly demand a portion of your attention that'd otherwise be focused on acclimatising to the pace. The prime example of this in the original Metro 2033 was the dynamo torch, which required regular pumping to stay lit - but in Last Light it's surpassed by the mask wipe.
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Mask wipe is essentially exactly what it sounds like - a way for you to wipe the visor of your gasmask and, like the dynamo torch, it sounds like an almost pointlessly simple idea. Also like the torch though, it actually has a huge impact on the overall experience and can be the cause of some amazing in-game stories.
Imagine the situation; you're out on the surface of a ruined Moscow, searching for supplies as you dash from one crumbling subway entrance to another and constantly praying that you filter will last long enough to make the trip. Nervously, you glance at your watch as it counts away the seconds - then a mutant leaps from nowhere and knocks you to the ground. As you rise to your feet you try to level your gun in the right direction, but it's impossible to see clearly through the mud that covers your visor - do you pause to wipe your face or fire blindly and hope for the best?
There's no correct answer in a situation like that, obviously - the only incorrect response is to waste time deciding instead of just acting. By bringing even such a small question to an already tense situation however, Last Light becomes immeasurably more frightening and unwieldy as a result. In a good way.
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Nor is it only in the middle of a standard firefight that the wiping your mask becomes crucial, either. New environment and weather effects layer on top of the system, so that in torrential rain you're having to wipe your visor every few steps in order to see what's going on.
It's important to stress that this only layers in on top of the existing systems from the previous game too. As well as wiping your mask you also have to charge your torch, physically count how many bullets you have left, change your gasmask filter, monitor how much time is left before you run out of clean air...All that on top of having to actually navigate the levels and win the fights.
Metro: Last Light may be a long way from the intricate equipment management of Receiver or Arma II, but it's still way more challenging and interesting than the majority of modern shooters.