Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Metro: Last Light

Post-Launch Review
Metro: Last Light Redux (PC)
Developer: 4A Games
Released: May 14 2013 (original) / August 25 2014 (Redux)
Played: story complete in 13h:30min


Recognized as a hero for destroying the nest of the mysterious and dangerous Dark Ones, Artyom was catapulted into the ranks of the rangers defending the Metro. Now, one year later, evidence surfaces of a lone remaining Dark One - a child. Artyom's orders are to find it and kill it before it can hurt anyone, but the mission is not that simple. Others are interested in the young Dark One, and a war is brewing between major factions in the Metro...

At Launch

Last Light earned average review scores of 80%. Critics strongly praised the graphics, story, audio, and atmosphere for being unique and effective at building the world of the Metro. Some reviewers were dissatisfied with the last third of the story, the enemy AI, character animation, and voice acting. Many reviews criticized Last Light for its more forgiving and action-oriented gameplay compared to 2033.

Post Launch

Ranger Mode was (somewhat controversially) available as a pre-order bonus and later added as DLC.
Four DLC mission packs were added, each including one or more additional missions as different characters, expanding the world and story.
Last Light Redux includes all DLC and upgraded visuals, and addresses the main criticism by adding a choice between 2033-style gameplay and Last Light-style gameplay (with the same choice available in 2033 Redux).

I loved Metro 2033 and completed it on all difficulty settings, so I was very excited to play the sequel. But the graphics were cranked up, so while I was able to run 2033 reasonably well at medium-high 166x768 on my old laptop, I just couldn't get good balance of visuals to performance with Last Light.

But then I got my fancy expensive laptop. Last Light is the first game I've played on it that really pushed the hardware - at maximum settings with no antialiasing, my average frame rate was about 40 (as opposed to capped 60 for everything else). But it sure was worth it - this is one of the best looking games I've played. The lighting and particle effects are phenomenal, especially with PhysX active. The lens flares, dust, mask effects, and debris may be a little exaggerated compared to real life, but they give the game a unique feel.

The original release of Last Light featured more action-oriented gameplay than 2033, with reduced emphasis on survival and stealth. The Redux version gives you the choice to play in that style (Spartan) or 2033's more survival-oriented style, with reduced access to valuable resources and less forgiving stealth mechanics. I payed in Spartan mode to see what it was like, and I actually regret it slightly. While I still enjoyed the experience immensely, it didn't quite feel right to never have to worry about ammo or money or filters, and stealth was too easy. But that's a minor complaint, easily resolved by playing Survival mode.
The hallmark of the Metro series is its unique atmosphere. The underground is dark, claustrophobic, dangerous, and full of waste... but also contains life and mystery. Life is bleak and desperate, but there's still some hope. That same atmosphere is present in Last Light, including some levels where there's no actual danger but you still feel tense and uncomfortable due to the excellently developed feel of the world. These are my favourite levels - wandering around in the ruined basement of a great city, or its broken empty surface, exploring for supplies and information, trying not to disturb the monsters or the dead. Last Light even expands a little on the ghosts that stuck out to me as different from other interpretations with a trip through some residential areas on the surface - a safe but very moody, oppressive level.
I was a little worried that the game would focus too much on the human elements - the brewing war between the factions - at the expense of the mysterious mutations of the Metro. But that fear was unfounded, and the core of the story is once again about Artyom's relationship with the Dark Ones that the citizens of the Metro view as insidious monsters. I'm always impressed with the morality in Metro: you don't always know when you're making choices, and even when you do they aren't black and white. Some people might be frustrated by the hidden morality system, but I love it, because in real life you don't always know the outcomes of your choices as you make them, and you can't peg your exact position on a scale of good vs. evil. 
Rat swarm in the Khan DLC mission
Some of the DLC missions are kind of buggy. Some feel jumpy when I move, as if my character's half stuck in the floor. The library salvage mission tells me to go back to base to save checkpoints, but upon death, I'm back to the start. A few of the missions are competent but feel disjointed from the story and therefore kind of pointless, like the faction pack. But a few add new experiences and add to the story. In particular, the Spider Lair level gives you a flamethrower and feels like Aliens in the metro; and Khan has you take a trip through a supernatural area of the Metro and witness a defining moment in Khan's life. These two missions are great (if short); the others are more forgettable.
Flamethrower in the spider nest DLC
On the whole, Last Light is an excellent sequel. Its only real problem - different gameplay than its predecessor - is solved in the Redux edition. Star Wars games have gotten me accustomed to expecting the good ending to be the canon for the sequel, but Last Light does the opposite. It's refreshing to see a whole game built around the character having made the wrong choice out of good intentions, then seeing the mistake and working towards redemption. And when that story is told with the unique atmosphere-dripping style of the Metro series, you've got a great game.

Recommendation: play it.

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