It’s SUMMER-time!  In the greater Seattle area, this is always a wonderful prospect. The rain and dreariness we get nine months out of the year decides to dial it back a bit and 70ish degree days with minimal clouds give way to the best time of year. Granted, it’s early in the season (“June-uary”), so we still get the intermittent crap day but the residents here can feel the sweet relief coming. I’ll gladly spend more of my free time outdoors with my wife (probably at the local pub’s patio), but for now, the beer is cold and these games wont play themselves.
While I finished my first tension-filled play-through of The Last of Us (the multi-player element is pretty rad as well) I knew I was due for a new pairing for your (and lets face it, mine) playing and tasting pleasure. So I dug into my recent gaming experiences and in the interest of staying relatively current, decided to reflect on Metro: Last Light.

Metro: Last Light is the follow-up to Metro 2033 (March, 2010). Both games are based on the book series primarily written by Dmitry Glukhovsky in a post-apocalyptic Russia, specifically inside the metropolitan underground train lines of Moscow. You play as Artyom, a man who serves in the local militia’s ranks as a protector against warring factions, mutants and (and in the case of the latest installment) the aftermath of the Dark Ones. Metro: Last Light picks up where 2033 left off, and assumes you chose to destroy the Dark Ones with a missile barrage that for all intents and purposes wiped them out, or so you’re told.
For many reasons, this game needs to be recognized as a sleeper hit of the year. It wont get the same attention as many of its counterparts and hopefully wont get brushed aside in the midst of the new console hoop-la. I like to follow a decent amount of the gaming press and started catching a bit of Metro’s press back during the weeks leading up to the games release. The real story in my mind was not about a FPS from some obscure Ukrainian studio but the development hell that this team endured to get this game made. The ridiculous and challenging (truly, an understatement) circumstances these guys faced to make this game happen are detailed by Jason Rubin, who was brought in (after a bunch of other Producers) by THQ to see it through to release. I wont be able to do it justice so you should go read his piece on the experience here (go ahead, I’ll wait).

Regular power outages, card table desks, folding chair seating, smuggled dev kits and the list goes on. How many of us take our chairs for granted, let alone the space required to fit them all in a bull-pen? Do you have to wear a parka and/or gloves to stay warm while coding? If conditions like this existed in a western studio people would be wearing out their email accounts talking to Human Resources while unbunching their boxer-briefs . You hear about indie devs starting studios in garages, NOT in a proverbial gulag. The team at 4A deserves all the credit in the world for persevering and at the very least showing up day after day to put Metro together.
Truth be told, until I read Rubin’s article about the development, I had no interest playing Metro: Last Light. I figured it was another throw-away AAA FPS that was among other less-than-exciting releases (exception: BioShock: Infinite) in the first half of the year. A fellow team member directed me to Rubin’s article and I was intrigued more so about the development than the game. After finishing the read, I knew I was going to buy the game. At first it was a show of support to honor the effort involved and playing it became a exercise in appreciation. For the record, I payed full price about 2 weeks after release. I easily could have traded in a few used games to knock down the price but I want to believe a few of my dollars ended up in these guys pockets, anything to let them know their efforts were admired. Hell, if I ever have the pleasure of meeting any of these guys, beers are on me.
Here’s why Metro: Last Light is worth your time:

  • Graphically, these guys nail it. Awesome, gritty textures add to what is already a great environment. The lighting, as sparse as it can be, becomes your friend or enemy depending on the circumstances.
  • The best part of this game, and the aspect you will hear the most about is the finely crafted atmosphere. The claustrophobic tunnels, low-ceilings, desolation and murky air leave you craving sunlight and an oxygen re-breather. In a few segments of the game, you don a gas-mask and you can feel how restrictive it is as grime accumulates on the visor with your breath boxing your ears. Having a time-limit on your mask filters added to the urgency of the out-door levels.
  • The bullets-as-money mechanic is a nice touch. Resource management becomes important and the option to run-and-gun versus stealth opens up the game-play.
  • Those goddamn flying mutants. Fun as hell to fight. Getting snatched up, whipped around and dropped made me laugh in frustration many times.
  • I could feel influences from Fallout 3 and Half-Life 2 and in no way is this a bad thing.

Now, with all of that in mind, what does one drink while traversing the subway tunnels of an irradiated Russia? I debated this question quite a bit. Considering where the game is based, a vodka cocktail would’ve been trite, even stereo-typical. I could have tracked down a Ukrainian or Russian brand of beer, but my local hop shop seemed to be out of Baltika. So, browsing the aisles I came across Stone Brewery’s excellent Imperial Russian Stout. What makes a stout “Russian”?  Brewers back in the 1800’s took English recipes and decided it needed to be fuller, more viscous beer in hope’s of winning the Czar’s favor. Full disclosure, Stone is my favorite brewery. Ever. They brew beer like angels play the harp. If you told me they made a brown ale hopped from dirty diapers, I’d assume the position and say “Please sir, may I have another?” I wouldn’t want to associate just any game with this brewery, but these guys definitely earned it. Stone is based out of San Diego, California and exist in the upper echelon of craft breweries across the states.

The Game:

METRO: LAST LIGHT – A dark, forbidding game that plays like it should and looks fan-frickin-tastic. Crazy-good atmosphere adds to fun combat and an enjoyable story. Very well crafted considering the trials and tribulations of the development team.  Go for the “Ranger” difficulty (a NewGame+ type mode) for a real challenge. In post-apocalyptic Russia, game plays YOU.
The Beer:

STONE IMPERIAL RUSSIAN STOUT – A very dark, challenging beer that goes down smooth. A great palate of oak-y chocolate malty-ness, hop bitterness and a creamy, almost oily finish. Superbly crafted by one of the best breweries in the biz.  At a whopping 10.5% ABV, this beer should be approached with respect. One 22oz bottle and a pony glass will suffice, especially if you are playing the game in “Ranger” mode.  ThePaintedGrey (commentor) on described the beer perfectly (and instantly made me want to drink one):

“Black. Absolutely BLACK. This beer devours light and all semblances of color. It pours thick and syrupy and creates a frothy beige head that retains well and leaves tan lacing all over the glass… ” – ThePaintedGrey

Go play the game. Have a Stone IRS while doing so. A game like this deserves a great beer to accompany it. Boot up the disc and toast the team at 4A Games for giving us something that shouldn’t be taken for granted. If you were on the fence about Metro: Last Light, go buy it just to support a team that deserves your respect AND your money.

“Za vas!” (which is essentially “Here’s to you!” in Ukrainian) and remember to play responsibly.

– J. Erskine, June 2013

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