Review

Metro: Last Light Review (PC)

Metro 2033 I personally considered my best FPS of 2010 but it was not without its flaws, which many gamers wouldn’t be able to see past. The guns were unsatisfying, stealth just didn’t work, checkpoints were all over the place, and there was one escort mission with exploding green blobs that nearly had me chucking my PC out the window in rage and frustration (it is the pinnacle of terrible escort missions). Which was sad, since the story was well told, the world was interesting, the levels kept on surprising, and the heavy influence of Half-Life on the title shone through. With a bit of tweaking Metro 2033 could have been considered an out-and-out classic, even a game of the year contender, instead of a flawed gem. Now developer 4A Games is having another go with Metro: Last Light, and they’ve polished their formula to a shine. Nearly.

Last Light continues from where Metro 2033 left off. Set in Moscow after the world has been left devastated by nuclear war, the survivors of the apocalypse now live in the Metro tunnels under the Russian capital, dividing off into factions including such terrible throwbacks like the Nazis and Communists. Any people venturing up to the surface better bring a gas mask, radiation suit and a gun, as horrible mutated abominations roam the still heavily irradiated landscape. In to this seething pot came the Dark Ones, alien-like creatures with strong psychic powers who seemed to be out to destroy the last remnants of humanity (or maybe not). In the “bad” ending of 2033, which Last Light continues, player character Artyom launched a number of missiles at the nest of the Dark Ones, wiping them out. Now several months later Artyom is a Spartan Ranger, an elite soldier of the “normal” Metro survivors, but word has reached him via his mysterious friend Khan that a single Dark One still lives. Artyom is ordered to finish what he started and eliminate the creature at all costs.

Underground Nazis. I hate Underground Nazis

First a bit of advice: if you haven’t played 2033 in a while (or at all) make sure to watch the pre-menu opening cutscene, which directly continues into Last Light’s post-menu opening. Why 4A Games saw fit to split the opening into two I don’t know, but it’s important. What follows is a rollercoaster in a similar vein to the original game’s Half-Life-inspired ride. The strength of 2033 was in keeping the player on his toes with a wide variety of gameplay, locations and occurrences, and Last Light continues this trend. What starts as a simple man-thing-hunt spirals into invasions, chemical attacks, conspiracies, betrayals, war, sex, and violence. You’re never in one place doing one thing for any great period of time, so you never get complacent.

It’s impossible to guarantee what you’ll be doing next, and it’s this wild and ever-changing level design in the vein of Valve’s Half-Life titles that keeps both Metro games fun – and Last Light greatly improves on 2033. A small selection of gameplay moments then? Creeping through an outpost being burned to the ground by Communists. Exploring the catacombs of an ancient haunted church with a malfunctioning flashlight. Escaping from a Nazi concentration camp. Trudging through a foggy swamp in a cracked gas mask while avoiding the monsters looming out of the mist. Hunting gigantic light-averse spiders with a flashlight and a lighter. Or just sitting in a populated outpost listening to all the various conversations. There are even a few boss encounters, and with all of them it’s never about just shooting – thinking is the key. Last Light absolutely never gets boring. It can be tense, exciting, terrifying, thrilling, disgusting, and powerful, but never boring.

However, as great as this is you should be aware that at many times it feels like a bit of a retread of the previous game, almost to the point where it feels like a remake. Going out on to the surface and actually having it feel more claustrophobic than the underground tunnels thanks to the gas mask (and having to keep an eye on your air filter) is fantastic, but it was in 2033. Meeting the new rise of Nazism and Communism is great, but no longer shocking. Seeing all the weird and terrible irradiated monsters is scary, but no longer a surprise. If you haven’t played 2033 you’re in for a treat, but those that have will be looking to the improvements to justify a purchase.

Fortunately I can safely say that all of the previous Metro’s glaring flaws have been corrected. Guns now actually feel like guns for example, and a shotgun blast to the head at close range will actually kill regular people this time around (!). There are several categories of weapons that’ll cater to most play-styles, including pistols, rifles, machine-guns, shotguns, and silent pneumatic weapons. All have numerous types either to purchase or discover in the game, and each gun is customisable with a range of upgrades (silencers, extended clips, laser sights, etc). You can carry three weapons at once that you change on PC with buttons 1-3, and four secondary weapons (throwing knives, mines, regular grenades and flame grenades) which rather clumsily you have to choose what one you have ready on the Weapon Inventory screen. Military-grade bullets are the economy in the Metro, which you can load into any weapon for extra-powerful shots but you’ll be literally burning money for the sake of a quicker kill. On Normal you never really need to consider this, but on Hard you’ll have to make some tough decisions.

It was the stealth sections though that needed the most work, given how picky, unfair and just plain terrible they were in 2033, but fortunately 4A Games have listened and they’re now as good as the best of the genre. You can successfully navigate large areas by stealth alone, crawling under grates, staying in the shadows, unscrewing lightbulbs and chucking the odd knife. The Thief-like light on your watch indicates whether you’re visible or not, and rather coolly there’s a dramatic chord if you become fully visible while trying to hide (the game knows when you are!). You can opt to kill or knock out enemies via an on-screen prompt (which occasionally doesn’t work but heigh-ho, patch ahoy), and if you get spotted enemies stay alert but don’t magically know where you are permanently afterwards.

I had as much fun with the stealth sections in Last Light as I did doing the same in Far Cry 3, and most importantly also like Ubisoft’s excellent FPS if you screw up and get into a firefight (or if you just didn’t want to sneak around) it stays just as fun. You can choose to sneak or shoot through a lot of Last Light, and crucially both are equally viable choices. The enemies in the game work as a team, react to sound and light, take cover but don’t stay glued to it, and offer a real challenge especially as Artyom isn’t a bullet sponge. The monsters in the game are the same, and rarely attack head-on. The wolf-like creatures hunt in packs, circle you, and try to attack when your guard is down, while the plant-fish creatures shield themselves with their armoured mandibles and slowly advance while keeping themselves protected. 4A Games has clearly put a lot of effort into the AI in Last Light, and it shows.

This is the level of detail I'm talking about

Speaking of effort, I’d be remiss not to mention the graphics. Crysis 3 might pack a more impressive punch with large open areas, but it can’t match the sheer amount of detail in Metro: Last Light. Flies and spiders crawl across your screen, volumetric fog drifts through the air, turning a dead body over yields dozens of spiders crawling out of its belly, even simple details like seeing a tattered picture of a girl tucked between the covers of a random bed makes Last Light a game that never fails to impress. On PC this is a next-gen level game easily, and managed to make a PC that handled Crysis 3 in near-highest settings make some worryingly uncomfortable whirring noises. The animation on both humans and monsters is excellent. Oh, and the ghosts too. Also speaking of detail, I was very pleased to discover that exploring always yields rewards, so even in the confines of the Metro tunnels there are always secrets to discover. Personally though I was most pleased to notice that Artyom’s watch shows the correct time!

Make no mistake though, while there are always places to explore Metro: Last Light is a very confined and linear game. While there are superb outdoor sections you are always cut off, walled off, or angled into a specific path in some way, and the tunnels of the Metro don’t even need that excuse. While thematically all this suits Metro perfectly if you like your shooters with large open areas or a lot of freedom regarding where you go don’t get Last Light. I have no problem with this, mostly due to the secrets that are scattered literally everywhere in the game and so satisfying my need to explore every nook and cranny.

Less impressive though are the rather ill-advised Call of Duty-inspired moments featuring a forced AI companion who gets in the way, opens doors for you, talks plot all the time and steers you in a particular direction. There aren’t a vast amount of these in the game, with most occurring early on, but they overstay their welcome quickly. Call of Duty campaign fans might not care but I’m pretty sure non-fans looking for an alternative to Activision’s annual cash-cow won’t be impressed. Moreover I’m pretty sure even COD single-player fans wouldn’t put down “being lead about by a slow AI companion that won’t let me open a door by myself” as a good thing about that franchise. If you’re going to steal ideas 4A, take the good stuff.

While I’m criticising, it won’t affect the score but I do have to take issue with Last Light’s portrayal of women. This is a particularly hot topic in gaming right now and I can’t recall having any problems with Metro 2033, but it’s as if 4A Games decided what their series needed most was more sexism. The NPC women in Last Light are all the same attractive model, and half of them are strippers. At one point in the game you’re pretty much forced into having a lap-dance by a girl you basically assaulted moments before it. The strongest female character is the game is Anna, your occasional Ranger companion, but her strong take-on-the-world personality is shattered when she’s turned into clichéd damsel in distress who has sex with you straight after you save her. Still, at least this scene has the most natural-looking shirt-falling-down-to-reveal-a-nipple moment I’ve seen in a game. Some dedicated animator worked really hard on that.

Most of all though, I’m not completely convinced by the story. Perhaps it’s because the first was a direct adaptation of Dmitry Glukhovsky’s Metro 2033 novel, whereas this is a new story rather than following the events of Glukhovsky’s own sequel Metro 2034. The hunt for the Dark One is forgotten for a lot of the narrative, as are a lot of the characters, and events don’t really begin to coalesce until the last few hours of the game. Still at least you’re given some freedom to shape events, with the potential for a good or less-good ending (I can’t say either way since I only saw one, but with the amount of choices and the fact that 2033 had an alternate ending I bet there is one). Also while sound design is superb (particularly in the outdoor sections) the English voice acting leaves a little to be desired. It’s not terrible or anything, but I think the game might work better in Russian with English subtitles. Which is actually an option, hooray.

Think this looks good? Wait until you see it moving

There’s also the niggling matter of play time. While I applaud 4A Games for not tacking on a multiplayer component, it only took me 8 hours to finish Last Light and I was really exploring. Unless you’re planning on hunting the mythical Good Ending there’s not much replay value barring just playing again for fun. There’s a Hard mode, but bafflingly the one thing that would definitely add replay value – Ranger Mode, which makes the game even tougher and removes all UI elements for the most realistic experience – is DLC only, and definitely not free. I can see exclusive weapons as DLC packs, but a difficulty mode? That’s too far, especially as the main game doesn’t last much longer than an average Call of Duty campaign. Still, at least we’re getting quality over quantity.

Metro: Last Light is a hugely atmospheric FPS that has corrected all the real flaws of its predecessor and improved on them to such a degree that they’re actually superb – stealth and shooting are now things to enjoy rather than avoid, and can compete with the best in the genre. Unfortunately Last Light does bring some problems of its own, with hand-holding AI companions, a slightly unfocused story, tightly linear environments and generally feeling like a remake of 2033 being chief among them. Nevertheless the sheer fun rollercoaster ride of level design, the never less than enjoyable gameplay, and the phenomenal amount of attention to detail probably besting even Crysis 3 in terms of graphics make Last Light an easy recommendation for me to make. 4A Games get closer to Valve quality with every game they make – one more and they might even surpass them. And I can’t think of any higher praise.

Top Game Moment: Stumbling into a ruined residential complex and finding the whole place is haunted. A feast of “did I see that?” moments.

Platform Played: PC

Videos

Comments

By Gale47 (SI Core) on May 14, 2013
Gale47
Could anybody tell me about the optimization? Does it run worse or better than 2033?
By The_Tingler (SI Core) on May 14, 2013
The_Tingler
What would you like to know? It ran fine on my PC in max settings and looked amazing, and there's plenty of optimization options as far as I can see. I just wish there was the option to turn Motion Blur off - you can turn it to a minimum, but not off. Really don't like motion blur, bearable on minimum though.
By Gale47 (SI Core) on May 14, 2013
Gale47
Hmmmm... how would it run on my PC?
Here are my specs:

4GB DDR2 RAM
ATi Radeon 4670 1GB
Intel Core 2 Duo
Win 7 x64

So whaddaya think?
By SirRoderick (SI Elite) on May 16, 2013
SirRoderick
A step above the minimum settings as they reported it, so you should be able to run it at lower settings according to that. The games seems to be optimised BETTER, but still has a few moments when the framerate drops down for me. I'm using a 680 GTX and managing to run it buttery smooth at high settings with the SSAA turned off, for some reason that option really sucks the life out of the framerate.

That said, the game is lacking a lot of options to fiddle with, so even if you would be able to run it higher than low settings you cannot pick and choose things like texture and shading quality to match your setup.

In short, you can run it, but might be stuck with the lowest settings due to the lack of options.
By Gale47 (SI Core) on May 16, 2013
Gale47
I'm fairly familiar with the modern games' .ini files so I guess I'll be able to squeeze a couple of frames more out of this game.
Alas, I'm going to upgrade my PC this summer ^^
Thanks for the information, mate.