Metro: Last Light Review
Reviewed by: Guest_Jim_*
Reviewed on: June 6, 2013
Metro: Last Light - Introduction:
Back in 2010, the Dmitry Glukhovsky novel-inspired game, Metro 2033, was released to positive reviews and soon developed a fan base, thanks to its atmospheric graphics and intriguing story. You played as Artyom, a Russian born shortly before a nuclear holocaust drove the survivors of Moscow to their underground metro stations and tunnels. There humanity survives, barely, as mutated creatures attack the underground colonies and separate factions attempt to conquer what colonies eke out an existence. The most lethal of these threats though are the Dark Ones. These are beings with telepathic powers and almost everyone who come near them are driven insane and ultimately die because of it. You however are immune to this, but still suffer hallucinations when near them.
For the past three years, many have been eagerly awaiting a sequel to the original game, which has finally arrived as Metro: Last Light. Unlike its predecessor though, it is not directly based on the any specific novel of Glukhovsky's, though it has been reported that he worked with the game's developers. Also, in the credits the novels Metro 2033 and Metro 2035 are listed as having inspired this game. (Interestingly not Metro 2034, which was at one point the title for this game.)
Both games are first person shooter, survival horror games, which pit you against difficult enemies, scarce supplies, and an unforgiving environment. There is also some role playing to the games as decisions impact progression and you unlock better weapons as you progress. In the first game the decisions led you to either destroy or spare the Dark Ones, which, it turned out, had been attempting to communicate with humanity for some time, but only your mind was able to handle it.
Does Metro: Last Light outshine the earlier title, or does it burn out, leaving an unwanted cinder?
Metro: Last Light - Graphics
When launched, the original Metro 2033 was one of the hardest games to run at its maximum graphics settings. Only the current generations' most powerful graphics cards are able to achieve that without relying on multi-GPU configurations. Last Light, however, is not quite so punishing to the hardware of today. In fact the two games have the same recommended video requirements for DirectX 11.
While these requirements are the same, the graphics have improved, though largely in subtle ways. Characters, for example, have had their detail improved, but the familiar environments from 2033 look mostly the same. Some of the new environments, however, stand out from the prior game, most obviously the still radioactive surface, which is now in the midst of spring with plant life growing over the ruins of Moscow.
While the lack of major improvements to graphics may be disappointing to some, I would ask them what more they would have wanted. The environments are as immersive and impressive as ever, but with some additional polish. Also, something else I feel compelled to share is the fire in this game. Fire is, in many games, an ugly element as it is little more than a low resolution mesh with an animated texture running on it. In Last Light though, it actually flows and sparks, making it look much more realistic as it consumes webs. (The webs, though, do not burn realistically but instead rely on the classic method of shrinking away. Of course I am not sure if any engine is capable of realistically applying flame physics to webs at this time.)
If you choose to compare the graphics options between the two games you will find one missing: advanced depth of field. This was a DirectX 11 feature present in 2033 that cannot be controlled in Last Light. Antialiasing has also seen a change as previously your options were Analytical Anti-Aliasing and MSAA. Now your options are to have SSAA set Off, Auto, 2x, 3x, 4x, or 0.5x. Unless someone changed acronyms on me, SSAA stands for Super-Sampling Anti-Aliasing, which is the brute force AA option, so it often does the best job at improving graphics, but generally has the largest impact on performance. As this is an in-engine option though, it has been optimized to minimize the performance hit. Typically you see this listed only with powers of two, so the 3x is curious, but the 0.5x option is just weird. I enabled it and the effect was apparent at the graphics menu and is what some of you suspect; the game was being rendered at half size and up-scaled, causing everything to become blurred. Why this option is included, I do not know.
Two other important things to note about the graphics is the field of view and one change to the graphics menu, relative to the previous game. Before every setting was shown to you, letting you know what general options such as Detail Quality: High actually mean. This information is no longer present and is missed, but this change is hardly worth more than a mention. Field of view, though, does deserve a mention because a lot of people are reacting quite negatively to it being locked in the game. Personally this does not bother me, but for those of you it does bother, the developers are aware and have already responded to the community. The reason the game launched with a locked FOV is because a greater FOV would disrupt the graphics, as some elements, such as a watch, are important to your survival. Also with more graphics in view, your computer would have to render more, decreasing your performance. However, there is an upcoming patch that will allow you to manually change it from the games configuration file. (Update 5/16/2013: The patch that adds the FOV to the config file is now live.)
For more information on the graphics you can visit NVIDIA's webpage on them: Metro: Last Light Graphics Breakdown & Performance Guide.
Metro: Last Light - Graphics (cont.):
Now we get to the part of this section most of you are actually going to be interested in; how it performed for me. First up, my specs:
- Processor: AMD Phenom II 720 BE, 4-core, @3.40 GHz (17.0x200)
- Cooling: Corsair H50 with push-pull Akasa 120mm fans
- Motherboard: ASUS M4A785TD-V EVO 785G
- Memory: Corsair Dominator 2x2 GB and G.Skill Ripjaws 2x4 GB (12 GB total) @ 1600MHz 9-10-9-28
- GPU: EVGA GTX 570 1280 MB (825/1650/1950)
- PhysX: MSI GTS 250 1 GB (621/1890/1000)
- Hard Drive: 1 x Western Digital Caviar Black 750 GB SATA
- Power Supply: Corsair 750TX
- OS: Windows 7- Home Premium 64-bit
For the majority of the game, I played at my monitor's native resolution of 2048x1152, Very High Quality, SSAA set to High, AF 16x texture filtering, Low motion blurring (personal choice), Normal tessellation, V-sync enabled, and Advanced PhysX enabled (PhysX is not listed on the graphics page but under Game Options.) For the most part my experience was pretty good with a framerate I would estimate between 40 FPS and the middle 50s. Sometimes the framerate would drop at particularly intense moments, but these drops never disrupted my gameplay; it just made it less visually amazing. There was one level, though that had especially poor performance. This level involved a lot of fire, as a colony was being razed around you, but I cannot be certain if that explains the loss. In response I turned off tessellation and PhysX. The tessellation setting changed during the same gameplay session while PhysX required restarting the game. I decided to just beat the level instead of taking the time to restart the game, but it did end up restarting later. Before I explain that I am going to discuss PhysX.
PhysX is eyecandy and thus unnecessary, but if you can run it, you want to run it. In Last Light it was used for many things, including glass bottles that would roll around on the ground and shatter if kicked or stepped on, and fabric curtains that will flap as you walk through them. There are also some parts of the environment that will fall apart as they are shot with bullets. While most, if not all, of these elements were rendered with PhysX, some, such as parts of the destructible environment elements, were rendered via software with the CPU. That means that if you have NVIDIA GPUs capable of running PhysX or not, you will get some of the eyecandy. With the appropriate hardware and Advanced PhysX enabled, you get a lot more of it, though it can be at a price. This game and one other (Batman: Arkham City) actually use so many PhysX elements in some places that my PhysX-dedicated GTS 250 cannot keep up, causing the game to slow down. That is the price you pay for eyecandy though.
I said earlier that I did not take the time to restart the game to disable the Advanced PhysX, but it did end up restarting later. As some of you may have guessed, that means the game crashed for me. In total there were nine crashes while I was playing the game, though the two that were BSODs I am not willing to connect to Last Light. The other seven, however, are either because of the game or the drivers. I was using the latest NVIDIA beta drivers, which have been optimized for this game, supposedly. While these seven crashes occurred at different times, they were effectively identical as the screen either went black before returning me to the desktop (Last Light still running in the taskbar) or in one case just froze, forcing me to use the power button to exit it. My impression of these crashes is that they were caused by the drivers, which may be unstable, or the interaction between the game and the drivers. Either way, I would expect a game patch or newer drivers to fix them.
There were also some minor graphics glitches, such as one person taking a drink from his hand, instead of his cup; a person standing in their bed instead of in front of it; and one that gave me the next image. My guess is that I killed the enemy as it started an animation, which led its body to be stuck in the final position for the animation.
Part of the reason Metro 2033 was so well received was how well it immersed its players into the game world. While high quality graphics are definitely an important criterion for immersion, audio is equally important, if not the most important element for achieving immersion, and the developers of Last Light certainly appreciate that. The music very often features guitars, which are a common instrument in post-apocalyptic Moscow, and smoothly flows from one rhythm to another as the situation becomes more or less dire. Walking down a tunnel towards your next goal is not particularly thrilling, but if you turn off of the tracks and into an area infested with what appear to be giant, mutated insects, you can hear the difference as webs break beneath your feet.
Overall, the soundtrack is extremely fitting for the game, but sadly is not going to be released for a month.
Metro: Last Light - Story (95% spoiler free)
Yeah, this is not going to be as spoiler free as the story sections for previous game reviews because the best way to discuss this story, is to describe parts of it. Fortunately there are so many ancillary parts to it that nothing major will be revealed by the examples I use.
As stated in the introduction, Last Light is only inspired by the novels of Dmitry Glukhovsky, and is not directly based on the story of Metro 2034, the sequel to Metro 2033, the novel. The game's story is a direct sequel from Metro 2033, the game, as you continue to play as Artyom, the protagonist of the earlier title. Though the only information I have seen gives Last Light a temporal setting of 2034, I believe it is actually just months after the events of 2033. The situation of the metro does not seem to have changed enough for a full year to have passed, and the change in seasons suggest to me that fewer than 12 months have gone by. When on the surface in 2033, you would see snow falling and covering some of Moscow, suggesting it was winter, but in Last Light you see plants covering much of the landscape, as though it were spring.
Anyone who played 2033 would remember that it had two endings, and choices you made earlier determined which ending you received. The good ending had you spare the Dark Ones, while the bad ending had you send a group of missiles at their home. The canonical ending is the bad one, so that is the situation in Last Light.
Very early on in the game (so I question calling it a spoiler) you learn that at least one Dark One survived the attack. Throughout most of the game, your primary mission is to retrieve it, especially as you are the only known human able to withstand their telepathic abilities. While this is your long-term goal, you very often have short-term goals you must achieve first, such as escaping from the Reich, one of the larger powers in the metro.
While hunting the Dark One, you reflect on what you have learned about it from both games and start to question your orders to kill it. As was revealed in 2033, you have the ability to communicate with these creatures and in fact it was their attempts to communicate with other humans, which led to their deaths, that made them appear to be a threat. As it turns out though, they never intended any harm to humanity.
Another reason you have to debate killing the creature is how the other powers of the metro treat it. The Reich, being a descendent of the WWII Nazis, seek to destroy all mutated humans (and the depiction of this in the game is actually somewhat accurate to real accounts from the war) so they would likely kill it. You see the Nazis as destructive and evil though, given their propensity to exterminate humans, so if what you do aligns with them, is it right? The Reds, the communist power of the metro, on the other hand would instead wield the Dark One as a weapon to enslave other humans. Other groups want to use it as a sideshow attraction.
Speaking of sideshows, one of the stations you visit in Last Light actually has a theater and what actors remain from before humanity was driven below the surface. Do not expect Russian epics on the stage though. Instead the entertainment is a chorus line of scantily clad women, a 'trained' mutant show, and some musical performers. If you miss the women and wish you had not, do not worry, you actually have to go through their dressing room to proceed. Also, later in the game you enter a brothel with more content earning this game its M rating from the ESRB. And then there is the mostly off-camera sex scene still later in the game.
It may seem odd that I am bringing these more mature aspects of the story up, especially since I am not including the most explicit screenshots, but they actually allow me to best explain what I feel the differences are between the story of Metro 2033 and Metro: Last Light. The first game had, in my opinion, a much more urgent story where you wanted to reach the end to save humanity. This game's story never felt that way to me. The urgency was restricted more to specific moments than the overall experience, but that is not a bad thing. This lack of urgency enables you to explore the world more. If both games were metro tunnels, 2033 was like an express train, with fewer stops between its beginning and end, while Last Light is the regular commuter that takes longer, but lets more on, such as the nudity and sex, and much, much more. (There is actually an achievement for reuniting a child with his teddy bear, and you are a monster if you do not get it.)
Personally, I believe this is good for first sequels. The first game/movie/story should be more urgent and driven, as it introduces you to a world you may not normally be interested in. The next time you enter the world though, you are interested in it and will want to explore it more, which requires a less urgent story. The best way to experience this story is to stop and take it all in. You miss more than just a moment if you do not listen as an adult entertains children with shadow puppets of animals they have never seen, except on calendars and only heard of from their parents' stories.
Metro: Last Light - Gameplay
If you have played Metro 2033 the gameplay is going to be very familiar to you but does come with some important and useful improvements. The two most obvious changes are to your watch and your gun.
Humanity was driven underground due to nuclear fallout, making the surface uninhabitable, but occasionally you must travel to the surface. To do so safely you must wear a gasmask, but filters only last five minutes. To let you know when it is time to replace them, you have a watch, which was analog in 2033 but is digital in Last Light. The watch also has an alarm now when only one minute is left. Two other changes were made concerning gasmasks. You can now wipe off the visor part, which still cracks as you take damage, but you cannot replace filters without removing the mask. It does not take much time to remove and replace the mask, but it is longer than if you just replace the filter.
Being underground and away from all of the factories, many of the guns you find were made from whatever could be found or built by hand. This means that you will come across modified guns fairly often in both games. In Last Light though, you now have the ability to modify your guns, instead of just having to find guns with better modifications. This does change the survival nature of the game somewhat, as you no longer have to scrounge for better weaponry, but it is quite welcome, especially with some of the new modifications. Every gun, even shotguns, can have silencers and even infrared sights for nighttime attacks. Maybe you do not want a silenced shotgun all the time though, but one with an extended barrel for greater long-range accuracy. Carry them both! You have three weapon slots and can equip multiple of the same gun to them, so you can have a gun for all occasions.
Naturally these mods cost money, and in this franchise, military grade ammo is used as money. These rounds will do more damage than rounds made within the metro, but obviously cost you money.
New guns have also been added, such as a handgun-sized shotgun, which is actually very effective. There is also a long, high caliber gun that is very effective against tanks (have not tried the silencer on that yet) and a semiautomatic pistol that can hold eight rounds at a time, instead of the revolver's six.
Of course many of the original weapons remain, including the Hellsing bolt thrower and double-barrel shotgun. The knife also returns and with a new feature that I tried to use every chance I could. While you can run into rooms, guns a-blazing, you can be sure that for every shot you fire, more are coming back at you. If you would rather not dodge bullets, you can try to be stealthy and creep up on human enemies to kill or knock them out. There is in fact an achievement for not killing any humans, except those who leave you no choice, and I do not know which humans I killed that I did not have to.
For my playthrough I took the stealth path and was constantly crouched and crawling around so enemies would not spot me. Actually I found that you could walk right up to their faces this way, so long as no light fell on you. Once near enough the prompt to kill or knock out comes up, and I always went with knock out. I found it to be very satisfying to punch all of those guys in the face. While stealth takes more time, as you have to be mindful of where you and everyone else is, and reload from checkpoints when you mess up, it never seemed to hamper my gameplay. This FPS was designed very well for stealth as routes were never hidden and I never really had to take out enemies in a specific order. You do have to be mindful of who you take out though, as enemies do watch each other and will open fire if they catch you punching their friend. Thankfully this was not the case for entire rooms, but just small groups, often no larger than three enemies. However, you still want to avoid the light if you can.
Something else I strongly feel is worth mentioning is the save system. It is checkpoint based, which is not uncommon, but it reloads very quickly and boy am I happy about that. My happiness is not because I needed to reload a lot but that I have never understood why some games take so long to reload from a checkpoint. It almost seems like the entire world is being reloaded in those games, instead of specific elements just being replaced in the world. Whatever the actual reason is, I am glad that Last Light is as efficient as it is.
With the stealth and non-lethal (in regards to human enemies) gameplay and exploration of the world, it took me 11 hours to complete the game, and I would estimate a less merciful playthrough would be 10 hours or less. Not exactly long, but that does put it around many other modern FPS games. This game does have two endings though, so you can double that time, and increase it further if you hunt for collectibles and try out every single gun in the game.
Metro: Last Light - Additional Gameplay Images:
Metro: Last Light - Conclusion:
Does Metro: Last Light lead you to a better place, or is it best to remain in the dark about this title? Go towards the light. This game is definitely a strong, campaign-focused, survival-horror FPS that looks great, plays well, sounds good, and is just enjoyable. There is not a single complaint or serious criticism I could make about this title.
Of course, that is my opinion of it relative to all FPS titles. What about the nearest to it; Metro 2033? How does it compare to its predecessor? I would say they come out about equal, as far as overall quality and experience. As discussed in the story section, 2033 and Last Light have a different mechanic to their stories, as the earlier title drives you through the world, and this one places you in it. This causes some aspects in one to be better than in the other, so without taking these differences into consideration, you cannot fairly compare these two titles to each other. When you do though, you find two very well made games that serve themselves and their franchise very well.
If you have any interest in Last Light, I see no reason why you should not get it.