A post-apocalyptic nightmare awaits those brave enough to enter the Moscow tunnels of the Metro: Last Light (Deep Silver, rated Mature, reviewed with Xbox 360, $59.99).
This sequel to the 2010 first-person shooting, sci-fi horror game from Ukraine studio 4A Games stars the mythology of Metro 2033 author Dmitry Glukhovsky and delivers another devastating drama of humans scavenging for survival against radiation, monsters and each other.
A methodical story evolves, in bursts of linear mini-missions, that places the player in the year 2034 and in control of Russian Ranger Artyom as he attempts to save the last-remaining Dark One, a mysterious creature whose brethren reminded me of the Overlords in the TV-series "Falling Skies."
Artyom finds himself above-ground and exploring swampy and deadly isotope-saturated ruins filled with wild monsters (massive bats are back and the biggest damn shrimp I've ever seen to name a few).
He's equally stuck rummaging, fighting and sneaking through tunnels and catacombs of barely functioning railway stations further filled with mutant creatures and factions of humans always preparing for war.
What's obvious early on is that any innovation in shooter game mechanics is not the reason to take part in this adventure.
A player finds himself in an ambitious story as he views the oppressive life of the underground refugees. Completing tasks often means interaction with and eavesdropping upon non-playable characters discussing their tales of woe set in some of the worst, suffocating situations possible.
Squeamish gamers beware: You will get exposed to the horrors of a concentration camp with humans imprisoned in animal cages pleading for life and dead bodies hung from ropes.
You will get a first-person perspective of an airline crash and stumble upon assorted moments of unprovoked human cruelty that will haunt as much as outrage.
However, within this dark ride of horror, look for happier or amusing moments while being privy to children reacting and giggling to hand shadows from an elder performer.
Or, take the time to enjoy a burlesque show, listen to a child talking about fishing with her dad ("catching a fish is not the same as catching cancer"), or watch a drunk soldier passed out next to a pig with flies buzzing around him.
All right, maybe not very happy or amusing.
Of course, this game does require violent actions, and some appreciated nuances stand out to this sometimes-routine shooter, whether seeking out firefights or stealthily sneaking past groups of enemies.
For example, Artyom must wear a gas mask in polluted environments and change filters based on his carefully monitoring a wristwatch as time ticks down. His breathing gets more harried until choking to death if he fails to find more filters. A player must even wipe assorted fluids and goo away that have splattered on the mask to maintain vision.
A handy lighter allows him to burn spider webs or follow the direction of the flame to guide him through breezy areas while a flashlight can help keep away creatures with an aversion to luminosity.
The world's currency is scarce military grade ammunition, picked up from dead bodies and various containers, used to trade for weapons upgrades or loaded in weapons against opponents.
Mature adults not looking to spend their time unscrewing light bulbs to hide in the shadows but hurting the enemy won't be disappointed.
I'll reference the decent supply of firepower: pistols, shotguns, flame throwers, sniper rifles, machine guns, knives and pipe bombs and claymores are all available but, be forewarned, bullets can be scarce.
In addition to the firepower, there are near unlimited chances to cut the throats of unusually cruel communist and Nazis soldiers.
What hurts the game is a bit too much hand-holding through the plot by secondary characters (let me roam and stop telling me what to do all of the time), some clunky collision detection of enemies and the lack of an online multiplayer component.
It's worth noting that Metro: Last Light almost never came to light after game company THQ's bankruptcy, but I'm glad Deep Silver picked up the mantle.
Although the action never reaches the outrageous heights of SCEA's Resistance, Gearbox Software's Borderlands or Irrational Games' Bioshock franchises, it won't disappoint fans of Mr. Glukhovsky' world looking for a fight.
Parental advice: The ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board), after being the recipient of a lap dance at the local Venice brothel and literally blowing the head off of a bandit with a quad-barreled shotgun, decided to label this game "M" and that stands for mature — adults 17 years and older need only enter the Metro: Last Light. So don't let your 14–year-old convince you that "I'm just interacting in a literary world based on the work of a respected author." It's loaded with too-real violence and many emotional moments of human cruelty and suffering.
Note: A slight controversy currently exists over those who pre-ordered the game receiving a free download to access the highly difficult Ranger mode. That mode is also available for an extra 400 Microsoft Points via XboxLive Arcade. One could certainly argue that buying a new adventure or special equipment is worth a bit more coin but simple purchasing a harder way to replay the game, when having already shelled out $59.99 is pretty unfair. I'll agree with critics here.
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