Metro Last Light review: You won’t eat fresh in this subway, but it’s still pretty tasty
When Metro 2033 came out about three years ago, it didn’t make much of a splash at first. The name and cover art didn’t explain much, and its publisher did not have a Call of Duty–size ad budget. By the time we understood that it was set in a post-apocalyptic Moscow where everyone had to live underground (to avoid radiation sickness and hideously mutated beasties), Metro 2033’s moment had passed. However, probably thanks to aggressive and frequent discounts, it gained enough of a following to bring us a sequel.
Just your usual Moscow traffic congestion.
Metro: Last Light is a direct continuation, picking up right where 2033 left off: The main character Artyom has discovered an enormous underground complex called D6, presumably made by the government as the ultimate fallout shelter, stocked with enough supplies to sustain everyone for years and years. Naturally, some people want to control this supply now. And naturally, they are not very nice. Artyom must figure out how to deal with that, while also wrestling with killing off the Dark Ones, a group of mysterious humanoids whom he perceived as a threat to humanity in the first game. But the theme of Last Light is that humanity’s greatest enemy is usually itself.
If this sounds like heady stuff, there is a lot of straightforward stealthy action, as well. The game’s achievements even reward you for non-lethal approaches (at least more so than killing everyone). You can approach patrols and guards with a variety of weapons and tactics, and your opponents are somewhat varied, too. They’ll occasionally lob a grenade at you to flush you out, notice bodies and call for help, turn lights back on, activate headlamps and laser sights to hunt you down, and even call on elite troops for backup. However, human enemies do tend to wander alone into the darkness a lot, and they’re not as alarmed as they should be when the power suddenly goes out.
And, of course, there are the mutants. Neither 2033 nor Last Light ever explain how these creatures evolved so quickly. It would be easier to believe that they were somehow transported from a different planet or dimension. That would create some story issues, but it’s arguably better than pretty much ignoring how evolution works. That said, the muties present some engaging challenges, because they take a lot of punishment, move rapidly, and behave unpredictably. Sometimes they’ll ignore you if you don’t make much noise, and other times they will converge on you regardless.
Mutants are not the only thing standing in your way this time.
In either scenario, Last Light does not have many difficulty spikes, which plagued the first game. On normal difficulty, an experienced FPS gamer should usually die only when they make a mistake, rather than because they are simply overwhelmed. Speaking of difficulty, the challenging Ranger Mode from 2033 is available at launch this time; it removes onscreen indicators, makes resources less plentiful, and will cause you to die after taking a few hits.
Officially, you can only get it if you either pre-ordered the “Limited Edition” or paid $5 to unlock the mode after launch. But we found copies of this version available at Amazon and Best Buy after launch, for the same price as the base game. The publisher said that “retailers” put pressure on them to issue pre-order DLC, but GameStop appears to be the only one in North America that stopped offering the Limited Edition after the game’s release. We guess the other guys didn’t get that memo.
The more common choice is to include some weapons and currency as pre-order DLC. Last Light’s Ranger package does that as well, but it’s not really needed. The base game has a variety of guns, customizations, ammo, and money. “Military-grade” ammo is still the coin of the realm, but it and everything else is a lot more plentiful than in 2033. The availability of weapons and ammo is not noticeably different from a standard shooter, despite the post-apocalyptic “scavenger” setting; the lack of scarcity sometimes breaks immersion. You need to use a gas mask to breathe on the surface, but we never wanted for oxygen canisters, undercutting the tension. They were strewn everywhere, as were spare masks with unused canisters pre-attached. Experienced FPS gamers should probably go straight to the game’s built-in “Hardcore” difficulty, or even Ranger Mode if available.
Although the supplies issue is kind of ugly, the visuals are not. Metro: Last Light is an undeniably pretty game, even in its depiction of a dead city and decaying train system underneath. (Moscow’s station architecture is actually quite beautiful in real life, making the contrast especially stark.) This beauty is not without cost. The game is arguably more demanding than Crysis 3; Deep Silver recommends a GeForce GTX 690 or Titan for an “optimum” experience (the game is branded by Nvidia), a quad-core CPU, and 8GB of system RAM.
This game can look pretty slick, if you have the horsepower.
By default, the game uses an antialiasing method called FXAA. You can’t disable it, and its presence is not announced, but its performance impact is fairly minor. You can enable super-sample antialiasing on top of it (which generates an ultra-high-res frame and squishes it to fit your display resolution), but the impact may kill your frame rate. The highest level of tessellation (a technique to round off blocky objects) may also punish your system. There is also no option or even a hack to adjust the field of view, which is set to a relatively narrow 70 degrees; this is known to cause motion sickness in some people.
Though Metro: Last Light is fundamentally a shooting gallery, it also knows how to pace itself and tell a story. You can go through tense stretches on the surface, encountering little more than the howling wind and spooky shadows, or listen to extensive conversations between Metro residents. The plot doesn’t always make sense, but there’s a certain “just go with it” mysticism that starts to click toward the end. Sometimes things are ambiguous, and that’s OK. It pays to stick with Last Light and just see where it leads you. Were this an open-world environment, we could see ourselves spending a lot of time here, bloodthirsty mutants and all.