Review: Metro: Last Light (PC)
by Ashe Collins on May 16, 2013

coverMetro: Last Light
Publisher: Deep Silver
Developer: 4A Games
Genre: First-Person Shooter/Survival Horror
Release Date: 05/14/2013

I didn’t know much about Metro 2033 other than it being a first-person shooter game set in post-apocalyptic Russia.  I ended up getting it in the Humble Bundle when THQ popped into that last year and just hadn’t had a chance to sit down and actually play it with my work schedule and other reviews.  After playing Metro: Last Light I will be making time to play the first one.  From talking with Mark, they’ve made some marked improvements over the first game between framerate and AI, and other than one or two minor hiccups I saw the game runs beautifully. They’ve done a great job blending the first-person shooter and survival horror genres and coupled them with a great story that really draws you in along with its great atmosphere and richly detailed world. 

The game picks up where the first game and book left off.  The game follows the ending to the first book and the ‘bad’ ending from the first game where our hero, Artyom, uses a tag to guide missiles into an area to kill the Dark Ones, a group of paranormally charged mutated humans who communicate with telepathy.  They’re just some of the surface survivors of a nuclear war that leveled Moscow, leaving the surface uninhabitable and driving survivors into the Metro system, the lengthy subway that runs under the city. The Dark Ones’ thoughts were too strong and drove many people who they tried to talk to insane and killed them, except for Artyom who seemed to be immune.  Realizing that they were only trying to communicate far too late, it was already done and the missiles had wiped them out, or so the Order that Artyom belongs to thought.  It seems a Dark One has survived and they’ve decided to send Artyom out with a partner to sort through the remnants of the strike to find the survivor. 

2013-05-10_00005Plans only last so long as the first enemy contact, and Artyom’s mission takes a nosedive shortly after as he’s ambushed by the Fourth Reich, a group of Neo-Nazis that operate in a part of the Metro.  They’re one of three major factions and are as pleasant as they sound.  The Reds are a communist group that have taken up residence along with the Order Artyom belongs to.  None of the three really get along all that well but haven’t gone to war with each other quite yet, although it’s headed that way.  The missile silo, D6, that Artyom found previously is in hot contention and while the Order controls it, the others want it as they feel it will decide the fate of the Metro.  The Reich try to get information out of Artyom, but one of the Red soldiers that was also captured helps Artyom escape.  From there it gets complicated as Artyom finds out that he can’t really trust his new friend the hard way and the Reds end up setting upon his target as well, the last living Dark One.

Artyom is determined to finish his mission, however, and with the help of a few unaligned friends like the Blacksmith and some Fisherman.  While most of the danger comes from the Reich and other human groups, there are plenty of critters that crawl in the dark with hints of what they might have been long before the apocalypse but are far more dangerous and deadly than they used to be.  The characters are well written and you’re given some free reign to interact or not interact with a variety of characters throughout the Metro as you encounter them even though the story is very much linear in its telling and progression.  Going into this without having played the first game I was a little lost at first even with the very brief recap, but a quick trip to Wikipedia to read up on the previous events was enough to keep me up to speed with what was going on.  The politics and the mission drive this story and it feels very distinct despite the post-apocalyptic setting, which we’ve seen before.  While I wouldn’t want to live in that world, it is fun visiting and exploring it.

Visually the game running on my gaming laptop with the settings cranked is a feast for the eyes.  The only time I had complaints are a few cases of smoke or mist doing very odd things, of which I can only think of two instances, a few stutters that can be attributed to Windows coughing and hacking on my hard drive and not the game, and an airplane crash site interior that wasn’t as detailed as I’d have liked compared to the rest of the game.  The areas look dirty and lived in, the people grimy and fairly realistic, and even though you spend an enormous amount of time moving through Metro tunnels, they never feel like you’ve been in that exact one over again.  Animations are pretty well done, and when you’re moving around you don’t feel quite as disconnected as you can see your hands interacting with things like the table.  When you eventually have to leave the rail car and the Blacksmith leaves you, Artyom gave it the sentimental pat on the side reflecting the same thing I was feeling as I didn’t want to leave it behind either, but it wasn’t going to go any further. 

2013-05-13_00004They’ve designed what little of the HUD there is into your character.  You wear a watch that doesn’t tell you the time, but rather how much oxygen is remaining in the canister in your gas mask and a light that pops on when you’re not in the dark anymore and stick out like a sore thumb.  Weapons don’t have ammo counters but there’s a visual clue on them to give you an idea how many bullets you have left.  On the screenshot here you see a counter but that only pops up when you pick up more ammo and items or reload. Blood smears, a throbbing screen, some visual smearing all let you know you need some kind of healing.  The only other visual cues that pop up are when you can interact with something or someone.  They do their best to keep you in their world instead of visiting a world of menus and stats and it works amazingly well.  This feels like the world they’re depicting and when they want it dark and creepy they do that extremely well.  I haven’t been nearly so cautious moving into an area as I was in this game in a long time. 

The audio matches the action well and they play off sound rebounding and calls in the distance.  Crowded areas feel that way between the visual cues and the sounds.  I highly recommend playing this with headphones on as it adds to the effect.  The voice cast does a great job with this, as the interactions don’t feel detached even if your character doesn’t say much except to bring you up to speed between chapters.  The music is decent, but ends up being a kind of background noise when you’re busy shooting.  It can act as a reminder that you’re still in combat, though, and there are other enemies around when you think you’ve killed them all, which is both a benefit and something of a detriment when that one guy who wandered up the corridor before you descended on his squad with a knife and a silenced pistol isn’t aware but is part of that group, so the combat music plays on. 

The game controls mostly like a first-person shooter.  There are a few instances where you have things like quick-timed events but it only involves hitting one button to get out of a situation, be it getting attacked by a critter you didn’t know was there and has you pinned, sneaking up on a guy to knock them out or kill them, or trying to grab hold of something to keep you from drowning.  While it might not be as twitch happy as the keyboard and mouse, you’ve got quite a few options at your disposal with a 360 controller.

2013-05-11_00015The default settings on the 360 controller on PC map your journal to the back button and the menu to the start button. The journal tells you where and what you’re supposed to be looking and also provides you with a lighter. The left analog stick controls direction and if you press it kicks you into a sprint. The d-pad controls your medkit and lighter use. The right analog is your camera and your melee attacks. A jumps, B toggles the crouch, X is to use/interact, and Y brings up your weapons inventory screen. RB fires off your secondary, which is knives and grenades. RT fires off your readied weapon. LB brings up the equipment inventory and lets you charge your light, change out air filters, and swap your mask and light on and off. LT is an alt firing button and also brings up your aiming options. These controls are all mapped to the usual keys on the keyboard and the layout there worked for me as well, but I’m mellowing out in my old age and like sitting back with the controller. Either way, it plays well and responds well, so no matter your poison you’re in luck.

You aren’t relegated into shooting everything you see either.  And I don’t recommend it.  This is a shooter, but it’s not designed to be one where you run into a room and lay waste to everyone in it.  If you do that, especially on higher difficulties, you’re going to be loading from the last checkpoint a lot.  There are ways to whittle down most big groups without drawing too much attention to yourself before you have to risk a firefight, and then most of the time, there are ways to sneak around completely without having to kill anyone at all.  I tend to opt for the sneak and kill method, especially for some of the humans. The guys who beg for their lives get knocked out, but the ones I caught that had hijacked a group of refugees were taken down one by one.  There are lights about and sometimes they’re to your benefit, like when the giant bugs attack you as they’re light sensitive and tough as hell on top.  When you’re dealing with humans, though, and need to sneak it’s better to move up quietly and douse the light, either by turning the bulb, blowing out the lantern or putting out the fire.  You can avoid some lights, but with others you have to get creative.  If you upgrade your pistol with a silencer you can shoot them out at a distance as well.  Throwing knives work as well, but those I tended to save for people when a gun would be too noisy and I knew I couldn’t make it out without taking down a guard or two.

2013-05-13_00013Most of your time is spent making your way through the Metro tunnels, although there are a few places where you go up top to make your way through the Moscow wasteland.  You have a gas mask with an oxygen filter. New filters are good for five minutes.  It’s rare to find a new one.  You have a portable power charger for your floodlight you can carry around and you also use it to get around doors.  There are puzzles in here, but most involve heading into an area infested with something to find a lever or charge up a panel.  Some involved bashing through a barricade with the wheels the Blacksmith provides you, which I thought was a lot of fun.  You can interact with other characters but most of it is scripted dialogue.  Shopkeepers will have a few things to say, and if you listen to some people you get far more into the lore of the Metro Universe which runs pretty deep, no pun intended.  There are a number of people that will offer advice if you donate bullets, which are the currency of choice in the underground. 

Overall, shooting and interacting with the world is smooth and fluid.  The enemies don’t seem stupid and react to a person dropping next to them in the dark or not.  While the animals are a little predictable, they do have a great pack behavior when they attack that way and the bugs reacting to the light and the way they go after you is really well done. It was nice to hop into this and play the game instead of having to fight with it.  They did a great job here.

The game does follow a linear path, there are different ways to handle situations, and you can go back to specific chapters to work on achievements.  You’ve actually got two different sets for several things, like whether you shoot out lights or simply turn them out, getting through areas without getting hit, using a variety of weapons, and so on.  Then of course you have the varying degrees of difficulty as well.  And if you didn’t pre-order, there’s the Ranger mode DLC that give you two more difficulty levels if you want even more of a challenge.  If you just blow through the game you can always go back and just wander around.  I know there are things I missed as I didn’t spend enough time looking around.  They’ve done a great job putting in lots of little details that make the Metro feel lived in. The game runs between ten and twenty hours depending on how you play it.  You’re going to get your money’s worth if you get this on PC. 

While I can’t say how original this idea is based on the first game, and it certainly revisits themes and elements and feels like a first-person shooter with survival horror elements, this game isn’t based on a previous work but rather launches off from one to do its own thing in that world.  They’ve taken the character, Artyom, from the first book and game, and have expanded on his story with collaborations from the author of Metro 2033 to the point where he’s going to write a third book based on Metro: Last Light‘s events and story.  So while the setting is similar, and certainly some of the monsters and factions, the game’s story itself is something completely new and original.  It’s that atmosphere and story that really drive it and made me love the experience. 

2013-05-11_00029The game itself is optimized for the PC, making this far more than just a port.  The fact they’ve improved the game technically from the original as well as delving further into the setting should definitely peak fan interest.  While it may not be as accessible to newer players relying a bit on the previous story to propel the plot without much explanation, it’s fairly easy to pick up what’s going on as you listen in making the game a bit more accessible.  Plus if you’ve played a first-person shooter in the last 5 or 6 years, stepping into the controls here will be a breeze.

I did have a few minor glitches but only one that forced me to reload.  Most were small visual things like the smoke I mentioned earlier and a weird drop in framerate that vanished as quickly as it crept in.  The one that had me reload involved the Journal that you keep that you can pull up to check to see what you’re supposed to be doing next.  The game is plays out so well that I’d rarely been checking it but when I’d gotten to a point where you have to summon a ferry I didn’t know how as I’d walked right passed the summon point and to a dead end.  I couldn’t put the journal away and had to load again.  I couldn’t replicate the error again so I have no idea what caused it.  Other than that the game plays and loads smoothly and has equally impressed me with its presentation and made it a favorite through how well it plays.

Short Attention Span Summary
Not as easily accessible plot-wise as a sequel could be to players who haven’t played the first, Metro: Last Light offers a solid and compelling first-person shooter and survival horror experience set in a post-apocalyptic Moscow and its Metro system.  A unique and driving story along with a rich atmosphere keep you going through the game.  It plays smoothly and invites you in with a minimalistic and inventive approach to eliminating any kind of interface like players had in Skyrim.  The world of Metro is deep and rich and the polished end result was both exciting and engrossing and easily makes it one of the better games I’ve played all year.  While the moments of plot might not make it as fast paced as some shooters out there, it’s the plot and atmosphere that makes the game first rate and easily on my recommend list.



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