Gaming Reviews 6

Metro: Last Light Review

One of this year’s hottest titles among the PC gaming community, Metro: Last Light is finally here. After a number of delays, 4A overcame the odds and released the much anticipated sequel to Metro 2033.

Although it is one of the very best shooters ever made, Metro 2033 didn’t receive the praise it deserved due to the current state and audience of the gaming industry. Regardless, it is well acknowledged here at GND-Tech, and we hope to see more of that atmospheric, immersive excellence we saw in the first game. Let’s see if Metro: Last Light truly delivers.

 

First Impressions

Metro: Last Light is available on XBOX 360, Playstation 3, and most importantly, PC. Like the first game, PC seemed to be their focus, judging by the technical achievements which I’ll discuss later. It uses Steamworks, so no matter how you obtain the game, you’ll need a Steam account to play it, though this gives the player all sorts of benefits and thankfully does not require an internet connection.

Since it’s a Steamworks game, it also supports Steam cloud which can save your in-game settings, and also slow down the loading of your game slightly (when opening and closing it anyway).

For a game that targets PC gamers more than console gamers, there’s a surprising lack of in-game options. You get the usual key bindings, basic mouse and audio options, but very little graphics options. Thankfully, more options can be found in C:\Users\Admin\Appdata\Local\4A Games\Metro LL\someLongNumber\user.cfg, so this isn’t a real issue for anyone who knows how to browse their computer, though first you’ll have to make it so your drive shows hidden folders. Another annoying thing I noticed immediately was, you have to watch the intro ads every single time you launch the game.

Now that the basics are out of the way… if you haven’t played Metro 2033, then you must before playing this game. Metro: Last Light takes place soon after the events depicted in Metro 2033, and assumes that the player has played the first game. Once again you take on the role of Artyom, a young man born just before the nuclear disaster in 2013. Artyom plays a key role in the fate of the Metro.

As the name intends, all of humanity was forced to live in underground metro stations after the nuclear war in 2013. Mutants and radiation dominate the surface. Life in the metro is as one would expect; cramped, cold, tiring, sad, but a sense of comfort is born in the confines of metro stations, in which everyone knows one another.

But even though war nearly killed humanity 20 years prior, the feeling of peace in the metro is only an illusion. War is still inevitable.

In Metro 2033, Artyom left to save his home station (Exhibition) for what was believed to be a new threat; Dark Ones, the evolution of the human species. These mutants possess mysterious psychic powers, and Artyom seemed to be the first known person to communicate with them. He trekked through the unforgiving underground hell known as the Metro, which is where all remaining humans live, as mutants own the surface. After a long journey, Artyom arrived at Polis, the station in which humanity thrives more than anywhere else. He rose through the ranks of the Rangers, and alongside his comrades, went through hell to try and save his home station. Without spoiling the first game, I’ll just say that Last Light follows up on the “bad” ending (chances are it’s the first and only one you’ve gotten).

In Last Light, you take on the role of a more experienced Artyom, having ascended the ranks in the Spartan Rangers. Some friendly faces return like Khan, Andrew the Blacksmith, Miller, and Ulman, though the last three are almost unrecognizable in appearance (and Miller’s voice is different too). The game sets you off on a mission to find a Dark One, but what seemed like a simple assassination mission becomes much more. A series of events leads you through Nazi and Communist stations; two factions struggling for power in the metro. Although the world was destroyed by nuclear fire 20 years prior, humanity is set to begin raging another war, that could mean the end of our species. Artyom discovers one last hope for the survival of humanity. Redemption becomes the motive that guides Artyom through hell to seek out this last light.

Metro: Last Light sets out to do more than the first game. Character development is more complex, and romance plays a part of the story. However this leaves it more prone to notable flaws; character development for one particular character, Lesnitsky, is poorly done, but thankfully he’s not the most important character. The romance is also rushed, incomplete, and then abandoned later in the game. The overall pace of the game is faster than the first, and the plot can seem more convoluted at times. Compared to Metro 2033 which kept such elements out of the story, and perfected just about every aspect it included. You still have to applaud their efforts, no FPS game has gone this far in terms of storytelling.

Unlike the first game, Last Light isn’t based on a novel, though a novel based on the game will be released under the name Metro 2035. Like the previous novels Metro 2033 and Metro 2034, this one will also be written by Dmitry Glukhovsky.

The novels are praised for their very long, thought provoking discussions. Some of this is carried over into the games; stand by NPCs and you’ll see them engage in numerous lengthy conversations, often discussing ideology, or horrifying events they’ve been though. Metro 2033 had this, but Last Light has much more of it. When playing, be sure to stand around and listen to these. They can help give you insight or perspective on the story, or give you more details about a certain aspect of the lore.

Before moving on, I’d like to give players a tip for running Metro: Last Light. The only included form of anti-aliasing is supersampling, which is absurdly hard to run. Instead of using this, you can force MSAA in your GPU driver control panel and have very good results, with little performance impact.

Gameplay

Metro: Last Light is an atmospheric, immersive, survival first-person shooter. This is not a game for heroics; meaning that run-and-gun won’t work unless you’re on easy mode, and will cause you to miss things. This just ruins the game. Move through the game slowly, take in the amazing visuals and scenery.

New in this game are the journal, which lets you read collected notes which are excerpts from Artyom on the current situation.

There’s also a new weapon customization system, allowing you to install various attachments to guns such as optics, barrel extensions, sound suppressors, laser sights, and much more.

The lighter returns with an additional function: no longer is it just for subtle lighting, but also for burning spiderwebs that may block your path, or lighting torches.

The primary light source is a flashlight, which must be wound up manually (but it is less time consuming than the first game). You can find night vision later in the game though.

Another new gameplay feature is the ability to wipe gunk off of your gas mask, since this crap can cloud your view. There is no longer a separate knife weapon, it’s integrated into a melee function like most FPS games these days. Throwing knives and grenades are no longer equipped weapons either, but rather activated. Lastly, there’s a hit marker that only seems to go away if you play on Ranger mode which disables the entire HUD. The hit marker can really hurt immersion and the realistic gunplay for some, as it does for me.

The game is challenging, unlike most modern shooters. You die somewhat easily, and the bullet count is quite realistic. There are also very heavily armored opponents that take a long time, or great precision to kill. Realistic gunplay and menacing mutant foes add to the difficulty. But thankfully, stealth is encouraged. You can go through all but two or three action sequences without alerting anyone, and the game provides alternate paths for sneaking. Also included are non-lethal takedown and stealth kill options, which are quick-time events activated when approaching an enemy.

The AI has been modified to suit this gameplay appropriately. In fact, AI is very impressive in this game as a whole. If one enemy sees you, that doesn’t mean his comrades do, expanding the potential for stealth gameplay. They have very realistic reactions that are surprisingly specific; they’ll direct each other and even question orders in combat, or comment on fallen comrades. Stealth is quite easy in this game, unless you’re just in a bad situation. Enemy eyesight is quite poor, very similar to that of Dishonored. Here is a gameplay video showcasing stealth gameplay in Metro: Last Light.

Seeing as how stealth is emphasized, I wish melee weapons were a part of the game. Regardless, stealth gameplay works very well as it is. In addition to all of the above, you can disable nearly every synthetic light source for sneaking. Combat AI is good too, using cover, flanks, though like most games, they do this all while trying to approach you. Only scripted enemies actually try to fight you from a distance.

The game is quite balanced; any stealth sequence can be taken on as a one man army, but doing so would be quite foolish. It also has its action sequences in which stealth is not an option. There are the usual categories of weapons: pistols, assault rifles, sniper rifles, shotguns, thrown (knives and explosives), and one gatling gun. In addition, the unique and innovative pneumatic weapons from Metro 2033 return.

Monster AI is quite straightforward, but unlike Metro 2033, there are some that require specific strategies in order to defeat.

Metro 2033 is known for having some remarkable locations with real cinematic presentation, such as Polis, the Library, and much more. Although Last Light has less of a cinematic presence overall, the game takes you to the most interesting, and most creepy, locations yet.

Wait a minute, this looks familiar…

Oh now I remember

The game has its creepy moments too, but is not an all out horror game.

Below are some more gameplay videos.

The gameplay is outstanding on every level: as an adventure game, as a survival horror game, as a stealth game, as a shooter, it’s all excellent. Combined with the excellent storytelling and writing, that’s heavy on symbolism and thought-provoking dialogue, we have a truly marvelous game here. Much like Metro 2033, but with superior gameplay.

Metro: Last Light isn’t as linear as other shooters either. The first game had some exploration and hidden places, but this one goes much further, giving you open areas both outdoors and indoors to explore. It’s not quite sandbox either, but it’s a good balance and has more breathing room than most console games. Exploring reveals locations with remarkable attention to detail: the amount of effort put into this game is impressive and it really shows. One cool level even gives you control of a vehicle, and lets you stop at any time to check out various tunnels in the metro.

I think that pretty much sums up the gameplay section. There are no major gameplay flaws at all. My only real complaints are that the vision of human enemies is too poor, and that I would have loved the addition of melee weapons and perhaps changeable outfits.

Audio & Visuals

Metro 2033 was known for its breathtaking visuals, but having replayed it a week before Last Light’s release, I realized that it was the post-processing that looked really good, and masked most of the game’s blandness. It actually looks dated now which I didn’t expect. I also expected Metro: Last Light to look more or less the same, but thankfully I was very wrong.

Not only is the post processing better than Metro 2033 (due to new lighting features, and just a better lighting system overall), it has huge improvements in every other area. Texture quality went through the roof, bump maps are improved, parallax mapping is used heavily, vegetation looks as good as modded Crysis, tessellation is used on MANY objects, the ambient occlusion is at least as good as Battlefield 3’s HBAO, shadows actually look quite realistic for the most part, character models are greatly improved, physics are better, the list goes on.

Combined with the excellent particle effects and volumetric fog/dust like in the first game, Last Light looks much better than anything else I’ve played. If Crysis 3 wasn’t out already, it would have raised the bar for graphics in games. This and Crysis 3 are the only games out right now that demonstrate real “next gen” graphics: expect many games to look like this in a little over a year.

Graphics aren’t perfect however, but you have to really go out of your way to find things that are lacking in detail. Some rubble piles don’t have POM while others do, not every brick wall has POM and high res textures. It’s actually puzzling as to why this is; in Crysis and the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. games, only a few different brick textures are used, and they all have parallax mapping applied by default when using them. Why wasn’t the same thing done here? Regardless, it’s hard to complain about the graphics of this game.

Like Metro 2033, the audio quality of this game is amazing. The crisp, loud sounds of gunfire, the echos, the sounds of bullets striking various surfaces, the monster roars, all of the sound effects are spot on the money. Voice acting is very good overall. The soundtrack is a bit more subtle, and less cinematic tracks are used compared to the first game, but it’s still perfectly fitting the atmosphere and pace of the game.

No complaints about audio quality at all, and the visual quality is outstanding and truly-next gen. Thankfully the game isn’t hard to run either; my i7 2600 @ 4.2 GHz, 8GB DDR3 1600, and GTX 680 give me a solid 60 FPS at 1152p (downsampling), with all in-game settings maxed out except for SSAA (at 0.5x). With the aforementioned 2x SGSSAA setup however, I usually get 50-60 FPS, with occasional dips to the 40s at very few specific areas.

To help illustrate the optimization of this game, my frame rates are nearly as good as Crysis which doesn’t look as good as this game (on a technical standpoint too), BUT I don’t use any form of supersampling in Crysis. 2x SGSSAA gives me 30-50 FPS in Crysis, but 50-60 here. Impressive indeed. This game has impressed me in nearly every way, so let’s get to the conclusion and see how this game fares on one of the most brutal, but fair and thought-out review systems on the internet.

Conclusion

Well it seems like I had a lot to say about this game, and just about all of it was positive. Metro: Last Light is easily the best game of the year so far, GND’s favorite admin Enad praises this game much more than Bioshock: Infinite. Metro: Last Light is atmospheric, immersive, tells a great story, has great stealth gameplay, very good action gameplay, innovative survival gameplay, remarkable attention to detail, the list of positives go on and on, while all negative aspects combined won’t even create a list.

This is without a doubt one of the greatest shooters ever made, reaching and possibly surpassing the standard set by Metro 2033.

For a breakdown of our scoring system and how it works, look here.

  • Presentation: For a game targeted at PC gamers, Metro: Last Light is surprisingly lacking in graphics options. You also have to sit through the intro ads every single time, and I don’t like the checkpoint-based save system. But most of these aren’t big problems: there’s a ton of graphics options in the user.cfg file (see the First Impressions page of this review). 17/20
  • Story: Dmitry Glukhovsky is writing a novel based on this game, so that says a lot. I believe he had a lot to do with the writing of this game. The story is more complex than any other shooter I’ve played, and goes to greater lengths in terms of storytelling than any other. It’s a well-written thought-provoking tale, and unlike most other games, it actually reacts to the player’s choices which is just what the gaming industry needs. Games shouldn’t try to be movies; Metro: Last Light uses player choice to enhance the storytelling, though not to a great extent. The only problem is with the character development; some characters were developed very well, but others were not. It seemed that they tried to introduce too many characters into a 14-18 hour game. 18/20
  • Gameplay: Very good AI, great stealth and action gameplay, cool weapon customization, not too linear, excellent difficulty, innovative survival mechanics, this game just hits the mark in almost every way. I’ll take off a point for the AI being a bit too oblivious to sneaking… their eyesight is just too poor. 19/20
  • Audio & Visuals: This game successfully combines true next-gen visuals with immersive sound effects (albeit without any advanced HRTF), very good voice acting, and an excellent soundtrack. 20/20
  • Lasting Appeal: Metro: Last light is a 14-18 hour game if played properly. The consensus seems to label this as a 10 hour game, but that just says that they played it Rambo-style and failed to explore. This game is not overly linear and has good exploration, exceeding the original in this regard as well as overall length, though the pacing isn’t quite as good. Like the first, it has two endings. This combined with the overall excellence of the game makes it easily worthy of at least two playthroughs. It has no modding capability though. 14/20
  • Overall: 88/100 (Greatness)

 

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