When you’ve seemingly wiped out and entire race of beings, how do you go about redemption? Haunted by events of yesteryear, you traverse the post-apocalyptic wastelands of Moscow in search of salvation. Emotions of apparent hope and immediate dread conveyed within the same space are what make Metro: Last Light a special game. These were of course established by its predecessor Metro 2033, but Last Light is in every way a better game whilst embellishing upon the unique and enveloping atmosphere fans of the original clamour for. Put simply, Metro: Last Light is everything a sequel should be; you’d be a fool to miss out this time around.
Metro: Last Light follows on from the events of Metro 2033. It’s 2034 and a year has passed since you – Artyom – unleashed missiles on the race known as the Dark Ones, obliterating their homeland and wiping them clean from the face of the Earth… or so you thought. It comes to your knowledge that one of these creatures still exists; setting up a touching journey in which you must find what is the last remnant of a forgotten race. The obvious choice would be to eliminate this ‘vestige’, but with Artyom having an unique capability to communicate and understand these creatures, he isn’t quite as willing to finish the ‘cleansing’ as your allies would be, especially since Artyom is still racked with guilt following his heinous act just a year previous.
Metro 2033 attempted to bring the personal in its narrative, but fell short in effectively expressing this. With Last Light, you get a genuine sense of conflict and struggle within Artyom. Flashes of the past haunt him as he recounts the events of that merciless day, and not a moment goes by when the brooding atmosphere or perturbing visions communicate this crippling guilt. The paranormal interweaves effortlessly with the oppression of the Metro tunnels and the suffocating Moscow surface to create a world that confidently portrays despondency and hope concurrently.
As you’d expect from existing in such a harsh place, many of the human population have resorted to deceit and manipulation to gain an upper hand; the line between friend and enemy is extremely fine. For every individual who wants to walk a righteous path, ten sought a selfish and macabre route; ready to steal, bludgeon and betray to satisfy their own needs. The mutated beasts that roam the surface may be the most obvious threat to Artyom, but they are not necessarily the most dangerous.
With danger all-encompassing, Metro: Last Light has to balance its core gameplay mechanics without being too action-packed; thus removing itself from its fundamental message of vulnerability and subjugation. Thankfully this balance has been achieved almost perfectly, with gunplay being far more involving and enjoyable yet never over-powered. Retained are the staple weapons choices from the first game which vary from a pneumatic spear gun to a side-loading machinegun, but they all feel more substantial and, well, deadly. Each of the arsenal at your disposal has their pros and cons, so it’s paramount that you vary the weaponry you use given so you can adapt to the combat scenario you find yourself in. Ammo conservation is still a concern but nowhere near as punishing in Metro 2033. This may detract the purists somewhat, but Last Light does a better job to balance the newly refined combat experience. Last Light succeeds in empowering the player without ever making them feel superhuman; a great deal of caution in your strategy is still priority.
Aside from your regular fire-fights however, the ability to circumvent these confrontations has also been developed and is not only more practicable but far more rewarding. Because of unintelligent and inconsistent AI in Metro 2033 a covert method of advancement often became an exercise in masochism. Metro: Last Light, while not perfect, has rectified much of the AI issues, with enemies now reacting believably to light sources being switched off or shot. You can go through large portions of the game without ever engaging in battle; picking your enemies off one at a time is far more gratifying than confronting head-on. You still have some absurd moments where you’re clearly undetectable in the darkest of shadows, yet the alarm is still raised and everyone converges onto your position, but such incidents are few and far between. In general stealth mechanics and enemy AI are vastly superior to Metro 2033, offering furtiveness as a genuine alternative to combat as a means of progression.
Metro 2033 paid close attention to the minutiae of experiencing life in a post-apocalyptic environment, garnering much adulation for bringing to life oft-overlooked details. Metro: Last Light remains faithful to, and even extrapolates upon, the more intricate and persistent details. The best example of this is the gas mask which must be worn when in a heavily radiated area, whether that be in the Metro tunnels or on the surface. The animation of removing/putting on your mask always provides a sense of reality in the adventure you’re embarking upon. Even more convincing however are the necessary actions to maintain visibility or prevent suffocation: wiping your visor of rain/blood/dirt and replacing filters respectively. These could have been ignored, but they lend a sense of tangibility and exposure to an already bleak and dark story. Out in the wastelands of Moscow there are no plasma rifles or omnipresent force fields to protect; it’s just you and your often unreliable equipment, which 4AD have represented flawlessly.
While the review has been nothing short of eulogising over Metro: Light thus far, the game does have issues, some more obvious than others. A handful of the battles you engage in can be incredibly demanding, not because they are difficult as such, but more because of how long these battles are and how tedious they can play out. These are mostly reserved for ‘boss’ encounters admittedly, but they are nonetheless more enduring than necessary. Little in way of tactics are required other than to unload as much lead as possible, making the experience of confronting the larger enemies somewhat monotonous.
The lack of memorable and terrifying moments evident in the original game also disappoints. Metro: Last Light is still tense and at times scary, but scenarios such as that in the library in Metro 2033 never materialise in the sequel. Metro: Last Light does have some unique tricks which help to assuage the loss of these iconic instances, but they don’t replace them either and are, in general, less affecting.
Many Metro purists will also take issue with the last quarter of the game which somewhat turns its back on the three quarters that preceded. Nearly all choice and resource management is thrown away in exchange more mass-market friendly action set pieces and excessive periods of gun combat that feel removed from what is by and large a shooter that goes against modern conventions. It’s easily the weakest portion of the game because of its coherence to current tedious first-person conformities and practices, but it’s still involved enough within the narrative that it doesn’t feel entirely out of place, or dilutes the overall compelling experience to any degree of alarm.
Metro: Last Light certainly holds up on consoles, but it’s on the PC where it impresses most. Put simply, this is possibly the best looking game bar Crysis 3. Animations are sometimes stiff and characters can be rather stoic, but it’s the lighting and texture quality that sets Metro: Light apart from almost anything else. It’s evident that the team have been hard at work since Metro 2033 to decorate its greatest assets whilst retaining the iconic atmosphere of the original. The tunnels are as ominous as ever, but the wasteland above has been given, ironically, a new lease of life. From dilapidated skyscraper horizons to swamp marshes, the Moscow surface is more varied than ever. Much like everything else in Metro: Last Light, the visuals are outstanding and uncompromising. The studio’s roots are in PC development and it shows.
Those with Nvidia Cards will have no issues running the game, but AMD owners will have some serious issues, from sudden frame rate drops to shadow flickering that make the experience unplayable almost. Either AMD needs to deliver a new driver as soon as possible, or 4AD need to be on the case to patching these problems. As an AMD graphics card owner this is infuriating, to the point where you must wonder how games can ever be released in such a condition. Has anyone at 4AD carried out quality control at all? My advice then to those in the AMD camp is to wait until these glaring issues are resolved.
So, having to revert to a last gen Nvidia GTX 580 to provide credible performance analysis, it’s safe to say that Metro: Last Light is an absolute beast of a game. I was only to obtain consistently playable frame rates at high settings: Very high resulted in too many frame rate dips into the low 20s. Nothing less than a GTX 680 or a Radeon 7970 will suffice for the best quality and that’s with antialiasing turned off. Anyone sporting resolutions in excess of 1080p are going to have to look at a high end SLI setup to achieve an acceptable game experience. Metro: Last Light is mercifully scaleable however, so those with a relatively powerful card will have no worries playing the game smoothly with at least medium settings, which still look superb it has to be said.
UPDATE: 4AD have issued a patch and the aforementioned issues with AMD graphics cards have now been fixed. As of 24th May 2013 AMD owners are safe in the knowledge that the game will work as it does on Nvidia graphics card.
For a project that has had a tumultuous development process Metro: Last Light is a resounding success. It certainly has its flaws, but as a whole it delivers on nearly every front. Refined shooting mechanics, diverse gameplay possibilities and an incredible setting make Metro: Last Light more than a worthy successor to a cult classic. Without the distraction of a half-baked multiplayer, 4AD could focus all its efforts on a well-scripted, emotive and engaging single player experience; this has been achieved with aplomb. The lights of the Moscow underground are shining brighter than ever.