In Now Playing articles PC Gamer writers talk about the game currently dominating their spare time. Today Andy admires Moscow's underground.
I hate underground levels. Tunnels, sewers, catacombs. They always feel like filler to me. A way for a developer to cheaply extend their game. But one of the most impressive things about Metro: Last Light is how it consists almost entirely of dingy subterranean passages, and yet is one of the prettiest, most atmospheric games on PC.
On a technical level, developer 4A’s engine is capable of some incredible lighting and particle effects. But more importantly, its artists are great world-builders. You see some impressive sights, like the shattered skyline of what was once Moscow. But often it’s the smaller details that are the most evocative.
In one of the many settlements protagonist Artyom visits, I saw a man making shadow puppets for a group of children. He shows them a dog, then a bird. But they don’t know what they are, because they were born into a world where such things no longer exist. In fact, they think the bird is a demon. I also love how the people who live in the metro keep pictures of the pre-war world by their beds. Photographs of parks and lakes. Although if I lived down there, I wouldn’t want a daily reminder of a world that’s gone forever. These tiny glimmers in an otherwise completely hopeless setting are a great example of Metro’s fantastic world-building.
On a grander scale, the level ‘Echoes’ sees Artyom exploring the remains of a crashed jet on the surface. Climbing into the fuselage and seeing rows of people still in their seats—skeletons frozen in time—is a haunting moment. It’s not as subtle as some of the other apocalyptic imagery you see on your travels, but still effective. The surface is used sparingly, which makes every trip there feel almost like a treat.
One of my favourite cities in the game is Venice, which is built in a flooded tunnel. This has created a series of waterways through the settlement, which the residents use as canals. When Artyom first passes through he sees a makeshift gondola float past with a couple on board being serenaded by a man playing an accordion. Slightly silly, but gives you the sense that people are making the best of a bad situation.
I don’t like the game as much as the setting, though. There are some great set-pieces, but also a lot of frustrating ones. 4A really loves making you wait for something to happen, like an impossibly slow ferry to arrive, as waves of bullet-sponge enemies rush you. And the less said about the boss battle in the dreary ‘Undercity’ level the better. It’s ultimately a pretty average FPS, but the desire to see more kept me playing.
One of my favourite levels is ‘Regina’, in which Artyom takes an armoured railcar through a series of mutant-filled tunnels. It reminds me of Half-Life 2’s coastal highway section, giving you the ability to stop the car whenever you like and explore. I think I enjoyed this part because it felt so much freer.
What I really want is a Fallout-style RPG set in those tunnels, with lots of talking and exploration. It’s such a fascinating setting I think it deserves more than a linear shooter. But I also understand that 4A is a small team with a fraction of the budget of Bethesda. The very fact they made something as polished and beautiful as Last Light with a fraction of the resources of a larger developer is hugely impressive.