Metro: Last Light PS3 review – Silent Hill meets Fallout via The Road

It was the ghost of the hanged man that made me realise Metro: Last Light was trying its damnedest to f**k with me. Not scare me, or make me jump, but to get in my head and do unpleasant things. I’d noticed a puddle of dried blood in a grimy underground shelter and didn’t think too much of it until I turned away. For a second I thought I saw a figure dangling from a ceiling pipe. I snapped back. Nothing.

Metro: Last Light PS3 review

As I went to leave, to search the room for valuable supplies, there it was again: a faint black shape barely visible in the dim surroundings that could only be seen at the very edge of the screen, the corner of my in-game eye. It was when I went to explore the rest of the bunker that the whispering started. Quietly at first, but building as faint, shadowy figures writhed on filthy abandoned beds just out of direct view. The noise grew into an incomprehensible babble of accusing voices that battered my ears to the point of distress. Then it stopped, suddenly, plunging me into silence. Alone.

It certainly isn’t what you’d expect from a ‘shooter’ and I’m tempted to suggest you stop reading this now so that you wander through these horror-movie moments with the same sense of confusion and displacement. Skip to the score, accept it’s very good and play it before too much of the impact is spoiled.

Still here? Okay then. Effectively, Last Light is two games: a fairly traditional FPS – all guns and manly ‘Grrr!’ – and, more interestingly, a powerfully atmospheric ghost story. The action elements tick all the right boxes of satisfying guns, solid action, vehicles and explosions, but it’s the spookier elements that really make this stand out from the crowd. It carves a unique niche for itself using dissonant imagery and subliminal tricks to disturb and distress you to the point of abuse.

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This isn’t a game that shouts ‘boo!’ in your face and laughs as you twitch in your chair. No, Metro insinuates and manipulates with sound design and visual tricks to create a very real sense of uncertainty, leaving you unsure at times of what exactly you just saw or heard. Things whisper at the edge of hearing, sounds stab at your ears, while pictures flash up in disorientating, strobing patterns just long enough to confuse you, then abandon you to the dark. I’d like to say I didn’t have a nightmare about one of the sequences I encountered. I’d really like to.

It doesn’t do this all the time, obviously, but rather builds up to it. Much of the early game plays in a more predictable fashion as you explore – nervously poking through empty, cobwebbed tunnels or fighting monsters on the wasteland above. Early scares are sparse and built more on facing down three-foot spider things or exploring creepy derelict buildings. Here, the focus is more on the shooter elements, with the otherworldly tone gradually taking over as you push through the game’s ten-odd hours.

Combat is strong and the weapons are potent. Direct gunplay is great, but the real strength comes via stealthy sections that play out almost identically to Far Cry 3’s base-clearing missions

The action starts well. Combat is strong and the weapons are potent, rewarding things to use. Direct gunplay is also great, but the real strength comes via stealthy sections that play out almost identically to Far Cry 3’s base-clearing missions. These usually see you reach an enemy settlement that opens up into a space where you can hunt. It’s entirely possible to just let rip if you want – however, it’s far more satisfying to creep about, unscrewing lightbulbs to expand dark areas and pick off the strays that wander too far from the herd.

There’s a predatory sense of power as you wait in the shadows for a patrolling guard to approach, before placing a silenced shot in his unsuspecting face and melting away. The AI is superb: guards react to dead bodies, alert others and search for the cause without immediately guessing your location and shooting you. They cautiously investigate and probe so you can really play with them – eliminating one, relocating and listening to their panicked chatter as they wonder what’s happened and you play eenie meenie to pick the next. The only place the combat fails to satisfy is during the surface battles against monsters whose only tactic is to rush at you. It’s not awful, but the dull backpedaling rhythm it generates has none of the crackle of the tenser sneaking segments.

The setting is amazingly realised throughout: atmospheric, well-designed and fantastic to explore. The last remains of post-nuclear war humanity are scratching out a living in the Russian underground (the Metro of the title) leaving the irradiated world above to the mutated creatures roaming it. This world is a mix of disused tunnels-turned-settlements and the overgrown surface full of swamps and derelict buildings.

It’s a bleakly beautiful place. The tunnels and abandoned buildings are urban exploration gone wrong, and most locations are stories in themselves. There’s a sad, tired prison feel to the residential areas, with penned pigs rooting through mud, and homes built into walls from corrugated iron and other scrap. Elsewhere, there’s a music hall, government headquarters and more, all with the same penitentiary-like gloom hanging over them.

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