If nothing else, it’s hard to argue the price. Even if the Faction Pack was a set of entirely generic missions that did nothing new or even particularly interesting, there’d still be the nagging argument in the back of my head that it’s still giving you more Metro: Last Light – which is undeniably a good thing – for only £4.
That’s an “even if”, though, and the Faction Pack certainly offers more than just a set of generic missions. The quality of what’s on offer, though, is a rather mixed bag.
This piece of DLC is based around having you play as a character from three of the dominant factions of the Metro Metro: a Reich Heavy, a Red Line Sniper, and a Polis Ranger. Each focuses on an entirely different aspect of Metro gameplay, with the idea presumably being that there’ll be something for everyone.
Easily the weakest of the bunch is the Reich Heavy mission, which is focused on open combat. Or, more realistically, focused on standing in a very small area, firing at approaching soldiers/distant snipers/a vehicle. It’s basically a turret-gunner mission, only with a very small area to move around in, a couple of weapons to choose from, and… no, actually, that’s about it. It’s dull, occasionally frustrating, and will take you about 10 minutes to finish. It is rubbish. Next, please.
Second best – or second worst, depending on how you want to look at it – is the Red Line sniper mission. This is an enforced stealth mission, the mere mention of which should evoke groans in anyone who’s ever played a first-person shooter featuring an enforced stealth mission (so basically anything from the late 90s to early 00s that wasn’t named Quake or Unreal). But! Metro has always been rather forgiving with stealth, and it tends to do it reasonably well.
Rather than a horrible exercise in trial-and-error, the addition of a silenced sniper rifle and some decent vantage points makes this mission more about watching guard locations and patrols, and then picking off stragglers when the opportunity arises. In short, it’s sort of like what Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2 probably should’ve been. It’s rather entertaining, but still relatively short – call it 20-30 minutes, your first time through, which means it’s a fun-size piece of joy. This also means we’re two-thirds through these DLC missions and we’ve been playing for maybe 45 minutes, which is perhaps a bit worrying.
Hooray, then, for the Polis Ranger mission, which actually has a bit of meat on its bones and will probably take more than two paragraphs to describe. This one casts you as a rookie Ranger assigned to a rather understaffed post, and tasked with venturing into the Great Library to retrieve pre-war artifacts. And yes, that’s the same Great Library as was in Metro 2033, and yes, there are Librarians.
What makes the Polis Ranger mission so interesting and satisfying, though, is that it actually changes up the way Metro plays. Rather than being given a linear level to go through, it’s… well, “mini-Metroidvania” is a lie, but it’s a lie that helps explain how it works. You start off in the Polis Ranger base and venture out into the neighbouring sewers, and from there into the upper world where you hunt for mysterious artifacts of humanity’s past! Like a computer keyboard and a traffic light. Along the way you’ll find shortcuts back to the base, giving you quicker routes into deeper parts of the area.
You’ll need to make regular trips back to base for a few reasons. For one thing, your backpack space is limited; you can only carry a few artifacts at once, and as the list of stuff you have to find is about 30-strong, that means you’re going to be making multiple trips. More to the point, though, is that bringing artifacts back is your primary way of getting money, and you need that money to buy weapons, ammo, medkits, and – more importantly – filters and upgraded suits.
Filters are at a premium. There are basically none on the surface here, which means that your trips up there cost you money and have to be very carefully timed. Equally, upgrading to a suit capable of withstanding radiation quickly becomes important when you start coming across radiation hotspots, or wanting to venture outside of the safety of the main buildings.
In short, the surface trips here are nothing like in vanilla Last Light. You don’t have much air. You don’t have much ammo. Every single expenditure – whether it’s of a bullet, a medkit, or simply 30 seconds spent sitting around – is costing you money, and making future trips harder. It’s tense, interesting, and different.
Each trip up appears to be slightly randomised. The base is the only place you can save your game (by going for a nap, essentially) and this appears to reset the outside world a little bit. Some enemies might respawn or pop up in different places, and there are a few randomised triggers that may or may not cause things to happen. When you venture out into the sewers, for instance you might be set upon by a pack of Watchers, who’ll likely flee after you kill one or two. Or you might not. It keeps you on your toes, and adds a bit of a Roguelike feel to the proceedings. Regular ambient noise in terms of clanking, footsteps, and growling keeps up a constant sense of uncertainty as to whether you’re about to be attacked or if the game’s just toying with you, too.
You can also very, very easily cause problems for yourself. My first encounter with a Librarian – a huge, ape-like beast that is markedly difficult to kill but is fairly docile as long as you don’t attack it, threaten it, or stand too close to it – came when it dropped down in front of me. Rather than staring it down until it wandered off, I mistook it for a Watcher that had been chasing me on-and-off, and opened fire.
The ensuing battle took several minutes, a couple of my medkits, and almost all of my ammo. By the time the Librarian left me alone (no, I didn’t kill it) I had exactly 1:29 left on my last remaining air filter, and a pretty long way to go back to the base. So I ran forward instead, blindly charging through corridors I hadn’t explored, desperately looking for a shortcut I could open to get back.
The filter ran out, but – shortly before gasping to death – I managed to find a path down into an underbasement in which I didn’t need my gas mask. On the plus side, I wasn’t going to die due to choking to death on irradiated air. On the downside, I was now stuck in unexplored territory with no guarantee of a safe way back to base, sod all ammo, and a distant growling indicating that I was about to bump into something unpleasant. Fun times.
Depending on how well you do, how much of a wuss you are, and how much trouble you have finding a few artifacts, this one will probably take you a couple of hours, which really makes it the focus of the Faction Pack. Still not huge, and it’s a little disappointing that this interesting concept and playstyle still doesn’t offer too much content (as I would probably thoroughly enjoy a larger game based around open world exploration in a genuinely deadly environment; I mean, I love Dark Souls, but that’s a little different), but it’s a novel take on the world and it’s an enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours.
And there’s that nagging thought again: it’s only £4. Had this pack only contained the first two missions, or those two plus an equally weak third, I’d probably be advising you to avoid the Faction Pack even at that price. As it stands, then, it all comes down to just how much you want to play as a stalker going artifact-hunting on the surface.
I’d personally recommend it, but then few games do tense, lonely, lethal environments quite as well as the Metro games, and I really like that sort of thing. If you’ve less affection for these moments and much preferred the underground man-killing of Metro then you can safely skip this, but otherwise it’s probably worth a punt. I mean, it’s only £4.