GAME NAME: Metro: Last Light
DEVELOPER(S): 4A Games
PUBLISHER(S): Deep Silver
PLATFORM(S): PC, Xbox 360, PS3
GENRE(S): First person shooter
RELEASE DATE(S): May 17th 2013
4A Games delivered something special with Metro 2033. Adapting Dmitry Glukhovsky debut novel for the games medium was no mean feat, but the Ukrainian developer did it with style, giving us a dark shooter that dripped with atmosphere and one of my favourite games of this generation. The task with Metro: Last Light, to follow that critical success, especially while also faced with the collapse of their publisher THQ, was gargantuan. In stepped Deep Silver to the rescue, but many wondered if the THQ fiasco would impact the development of the game. However, I’m happy to report that 4A Games have once again delivered a fantastic shooter, one that iterates on Metro 2033 in all the right ways.
When we last left our hero Artyom, he was carrying out a vital mission in order to save his people. I could go into detail, but I’d rather people went and played Metro 2033 for themselves. Since the conclusion of the previous game however, the survivors around Moscow have continued to eke out an existence for themselves underground in the metro tunnels, shielded somewhat from the radiation that plagues the planet after nuclear annihilation. Life in the tunnels continues to be rough for people, with resources very scarce and humanity splintering into more and more extreme factions, including a rebirth of Nazism.
Artyom awakens to discover his mission was not completely successful, and so he must step once more into the world above, gas mask and filters ready, ready to brave the poison that has replaced the air. The world above, devastated by the nuclear fires, is stunning in it’s destruction. Sweeping cityscapes reduced to rubble capture your attention but you cannot linger to appreciate the complete destruction for long, as the world is constantly working to kill you. The filters on your gas mask only last a limited time and exposure to the toxic atmosphere without them is deadly. Navigating the world won’t be easy though, you’ll have to use your compass to navigate to the next objective, which you’ll have jotted down on your trusty notepad. When it gets dark, which is often does, you’ll whip out your trusty rechargeable flashlight. Careful though, that battery doesn’t last long. While not truly hardcore in it’s experience, Last Light does enough to ensure that few will complain of hand holding.
While Artyom scrapes through mission, low on supplies and ammo, players will begin to appreciate the improvements that 4A Games have made. The controls in general have been overhauled, tightening them up nicely, especially in combat. Gunplay feels much more intuitive and natural this time around, and surviving the frantic, panicked encounters with enemies feels much more manageable. While odd moments of frustration do still linger in places, they are a thing of the past in the main, and it’s a welcome improvement. Artyom will find himself encountering pockets of humanity, some of whom help shape the world around him with snippets of information that paint how the world we know came to be this hellish nuclear landscape.
I might be seen as a stickler for detail, but in my opinion there’s only one way to play the Metro games, and that’s with full Russian audio and English subtitles. This helps massively with the sense of immersion in the world, I mean it’s set in Russia so why would everyone speak English? However, this done mean that I am left to infer and guess at some of the smaller details of the world around me, as not everything is subtitled. Idle chatter between characters is rarely transcribed, but I feel this actually enhances the experience, allowing my imagination to fill in the blanks. Those following my example, and you all should, are not left completely in the dark however, with various scenes playing out that help illustrate both how the world fell so far, and just how low it has sunk. One scene in particular, involving those Nazi’s I mentioned earlier, is a real stand out moment, harrowing yet beautiful in both a technical and narrative sense. The level of great “small touches” on show cannot be overstated, Metro Last Light simply nails so many of the finer details to ensure players rarely lose the feeling that they are in fact Artyom, trapped in this hell, barely surviving.
Returning to the darkened tunnels below is of course a staple, and the sense of claustrophobia returns, the dread of constantly looking over your shoulder lest a mutated monster eat your face. The dynamic lighting and ambient sounds feature heavily in these sequences, combining to deliver truly creepy experiences. Unfortunately this can be ruined by the expansion of the stealth system, which is both poorly utilised and grossly overpowered. Enemies seem almost incapable of spotting you as long as you remain in sneak mode, even if they are looking right at you. Making stealth gameplay so ridiculously easy, at direct odds with almost every other aspect of gameplay is both baffling and infuriating, especially because the opportunities to approach situations in this manner are plentiful throughout.
Metro: Last Light is a technical juggernaut, there’s no other way of putting it. While both the 360 and PS3 versions hold up well enough, it’s a PC game at heart and that’s the platform you should look to play it on if at all possible. You’ll need a beefy rig though, the recommended specs we posted a few weeks back should actually read as minimum required, and they are not lying when they say you’ll need a Titan to play it at the top detail level. Maintaining my prefered 60 FPS with a high level of detail was a sizable task, especially given the menu system isn’t exactly intuitive for those not experienced in getting a little dirty “under the hood”. That said, even on modest settings and hardware Last Light is a visual treat, although Nvidia owners will get a significant performance bump over those of us packing an AMD card.
Presentation is an obvious high point. I’ve already waffled on about the graphics, but it’s more than just pretty visuals. The sense of atmosphere, of isolation and tension is an ever-present for the most part, aided by excellent lighting, and eerie sounds. As I previously mentioned, I play with Russian audio so while I’m not able to comment on the final nuances of the voicework on show, it seems to fit with the visuals very well.The English translation, via subtitles is certainly well written, and the story has the additional benefit of being a truly unique Metro story. 4A Games felt that the story within Metro 2034 was not well suited to games so worked with Dmitry Glukhovsky to craft a new narrative, which Glukhovsky has stated he’ll now adapt for his Metro 2035 novel.
Metro: Last Light is an experience unlike many others in the games medium. So many shooters these days seem to be carbon copies of one another, all attempting to emulate the success of Call of Duty or Battlefield by simply copying those games. Last Light instead forges it’s own path, favouring a combination of slick gunplay, well crafted narrative and an unmatched sense of atmosphere and immersion, aided in no small part by truly stunning graphics that point towards an oncoming generation of games that cannot fail to excite. Sure it has it’s quirks and failings, the need for monster hardware especially rankles, but it’s a stunning achievement for 4A Games, even more so with stories leaking this week of truly horrific working conditions for the development team in Ukraine. For fans of atmospheric shooters, there is simply no better way to spend your money right now.