From PlanetSide to Quake to Team Fortress, the current issue of PC Gamer US is locked and loaded for a countdown of the 25 Greatest Shooters of All Time. Plus, we bring you our review of a brand new Eastern European dystopian shooter with mutants—Metro: Last Light—and invite you to Reinstall a classic Eastern European dystopian shooter with mutants—S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Shadow of Chernobyl.
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Double Fine Adventure now has a name: Broken Age. We have new details!
Competitive Minesweeper? Yep. It exists.
Our first glimpses of Battlefield 4
Five hours hands-on with Company of Heroes 2's campaign
Reviews of six gaming headsets
Reviews for Defiance, Monaco, and Resident Evil 6
A mod to make Legend of Grimrock even grimmer
Your letters, the PC Gamer Rig, and everything else you expect to see
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Chris, Tom Senior and Rich discuss Call of Juarez: Gunslinger, Metro: Last Light, spiders, Tomb Raider, and the Oculus Rift. We also have a bit of a think about the Xbox One and what it means for entertainment in general.
The podcast is rated adult-only on iTunes, but this is one of those episodes where that's actually true. This is almost enitrely Tom's fault. We're never going to let Tom describe a game experience that involves a tunnel of any kind ever again. Apologies in advance.
Click here to subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. You can also download the MP3 or listen on YouTube.
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Marsh's review of Metro: Last Light.
Three ways the Xbox One could affect PC gaming.
Joe Danger is coming to PC.
Our Planetside 2 community. Again.
Most people would be glad to get out of the unrelenting despair of a post-apocalyptic existence. But 4A and Deep Silver are hoping we'll want to jump right back into it, having announced the DLC that will be making its way to Metro: Last Light in the coming months. I suppose it's possible that their content plans include a cheery holiday to the underground equivalent of Blackpool. Although, on second thoughts, that'd be the most harrowing experience to date.
"Artyom’s story may have been concluded in Metro: Last Light, but there are other characters with stories to tell, some familiar locations that fans of the Metro series wanted to revisit, and some new challenges that 4A wanted to explore," teases 4A creative director Andrew Prokhorov. "Since completing the game we have been working on these new stories and hope to release them throughout the summer."
Those stories include the Faction Pack and Chronicles Pack, both being single-player content that "expands on the Metro: Last Light universe". In addition, there'll be the Tower Pack, which is billed as a "unique solo challenge to Metro veterans". Perhaps more interesting is the Developer Pack, which 4A cryptically say will "give creative players some interesting tools with which to explore the world of Metro."
As is the way of things now, you can pre-purchase all of the DLC through a Season Pass, giving you a slight discount for the gamble of paying sight unseen for four unknown content packs. Season pass buyers also get an in-game "Abzats". It's a semi-automatic shotgun with an alternate fire mode that fires six shells at once - which sounds like a fine way to completely waste some ammo. Notably Season Pass owners don't seem to get Last Light's other DLC purchase, the Ranger Mode unlock.
The Faction Pack will be up first, and it's due out in June.
Deep Silver have released the previously promised FOV fix for Metro: Last Light. A custom config tweak will now let you increase the game's field of view from its default setting of 50 vertical degrees. The developers had warned that changing the FOV could "trigger a number of issues," but isn't post-apocalyptic survival all about cobbling together barely functional tools and resources? At the very least, this crude workaround seems in keeping with the setting.
To change the FOV, find the "user.cfg" file in:
%LOCALAPPDATA%\4A Games\Metro LL\
Locate the line: "r_base_fov X", changing X to your desired value. Just remember, the attribute is the less common vertical FOV. This FOV Calculator will help you out should you need to covert.
The update also brings good news for AMD owners: "A patch has been released on Steam to fix issues with AMD hardware, and improve performance for these cards," writes Deep Silver's community manager on the Steam Forums. "It also fixes a shadow visual corruption bug on AMD 7xxx cards, and fixes an issue with the game starting only in 3:1 resolution on some TVs."
Of course, for those of us in the UK, all of these things will already be available for the game's launch, which is due in around seven hours. Let's celebrate that fact with the game's dramatically depressing release trailer:
Thanks, Strategy Informer.
May 15, 2013
Former THQ president Jason Rubin, who joined the struggling company in 2012, has submitted a story to GamesIndustry International detailing adversities faced by Ukrainian developer 4A Games while developing Metro: Last Light, painting the team as underdogs who struggled against dreadful working conditions, a low budget, and unrealistic expectations.
"Let's be honest: 4A was never playing on a level field," writes Rubin. "The budget of Last Light is less than some of its competitors spend on cut scenes, a mere 10 percent of the budget of its biggest competitors." On top of that, Rubin laments the "irrational requirement of THQ's original producers to fit multiplayer and co-op into the same deadline and budget."
It gets worse. According to Rubin, the team "sat on folding wedding chairs, literally elbow to elbow at card tables in what looks more like a packed grade school cafeteria than a development studio." Dev kits and high-end PCs had to be smuggled into Ukraine in backpacks to avoid the sticky hands of "thieving customs officials." Pile on frequent power outages and broken government-run heating which frequently led to below-freezing working conditions, and Rubin says that 4A's success is equivalent to that of the Jamaican bobsledding team which finished ahead of the US in the 1994 Olympics.
Working on fire effects with freezing hands couldn't have been fun.
It's a harrowing story if it's all true, and I doubt anyone outside of Ukrainian customs officials would want it to go untold, though Rubin oddly spends a good portion of his text justifying its telling. "If you care about the art of making games then you have to care about more than the final product," he writes. "The struggle and the journey becomes part of the story. Like sport, you cheer when the underdog comes from behind, and triumphs in the face of incredible odds."
Who doesn't love an underdog story, and why are we just hearing about it now, months after THQ dissolved? According to Rubin, 4A's story hasn't been told in as much detail until now due to "a combination of a complex and secretive industry, a press that lags the movie and music press in calling attention to the stories behind the games, a dysfunctional and ever-changing sequence of producers causing confusion, the inevitable anonymity that comes from being an Eastern European developer, and a new, last minute publisher that doesn't see the upside in doing your team's publicity."
That new publisher is Koch Media (known better to us as Deep Silver, its game publishing wing), which purchased the publishing rights to the Metro franchise after THQ's bankruptcy. Deep Silver Director of Marketing & PR Aubrey Norris reacted to Rubin's criticism, tweeting: "I love when @Jason_Rubin runs his mouth about things at other companies he knows NOTHING about. Solid guy."
Rubin responded, pointing out 4A's near invisibility on the official Metro: Last Light website, which Norris says is due to time constraints and the complexity of assuming control of THQ's assets over the past four months. According to Norris, Deep Silver concentrated on the critical task of "making the game live."
With Rubin's timing and criticism of Deep Silver, the press, and other developers, he clearly has motives beyond simply telling 4A's story, but Twitter bickering aside, the story ought to earn 4A a huge shipment of respect (as long as it makes it past customs). Have a read of our Metro: Last Light review for more on the impressive game, and read Rubin's full editorial at GamesIndustry International.
Update: Commenter Wildfire has pointed out this video, in which 4A's offices can be seen. While it does look cramped, especially compared to the offices of larger Western developers, there are more than a few non-folding chairs, adding some clarity to Rubin's picture. His claims of frequent power and heating outages, however, can be confirmed by other sources.
While Metro: Last Light has mostly stayed on the right side of our PC porting guide - it's well optimised, offers rebindable controls and, most importantly, doesn't use the mutant abomination known as Games for Windows Live - the folks at PC Gaming Wiki have found some creak in its otherwise sturdily developed tunnels. And while many of the potential issues have a (relatively) simple .ini fix, others - like the locked FOV limit - are a hazard the game forces you to survive.
The Wiki's Port Report guide notes that the game's vertical FOV is locked at around 45 (equivalent to around 70 horizontal FOV on a 1920x1080 monitor). Deep Silver's brand manager Huw Beynon explained the thinking behind this to NeoGAF. "The main reason for maintaining a fixed FOV is because we have 3D elements like the watch and weapon ammo that need to remain visible."
"In addition, all the game's first-person cut scenes and cinematics and each and every animation involving Artyom's hands - idle weapon animations, reloads, ladder climbing, melee attacks etc, - were created assuming the same, fixed field of view. Changing the FOV would break all the cut-scenes and animations - you would be able to see inside Artyom's arms, or they would appear to float in the air in front of you. Or worse."
Despite this, Beynon says possible solutions are being worked on. In the short term, this will mean an update that will allow players to configure the FOV through the game's .cfg file. He warns that this might cause "a number of issues".
For some of the other complaints, fixes already exist. For instance: aiming assist is turned on by default. To disable it, head to:
%LOCALAPPDATA%\4A Games\Metro LL\
Open the file "user.cfg", find the line "aim_assist 1", and change it to "aim_assist 0". Simple enough, although you'll also need to change the .cfg file to read-only, in order to stop the game from stubbornly reverting to its preferred set-up.
A selection of other tweaks are available through user.cfg, including DirectX version control and finer audio settings. Head to PC Gaming Wiki's Last Light page for details on what to change.
May 13, 2013
There’s a moment in Metro: Last Light when you get a car – a bodged-together, fortified jalopy – and you immediately think of Half-Life 2’s driving sections. Ah, the open road!
The difference is that Last Light’s car runs on train tracks. There’s something about seeing your future snake off with rigid inevitability that makes it a particularly easy metaphor for Last Light’s frustrations: sometimes it feels like an on-rails shooter in every sense.
Those are just lulls, however. Elsewhere it’s a game of gratifyingly kinetic gunplay, intense stealth sequences and a stunning, bleak vision that rivals the imagination of even BioShock Infinite. Its stage-managed linearity cuts both ways, too, enabling Last Light to draw a world of incredible detail, carefully framing sights and scenes of postapocalyptic tragedy and chaos. It describes humanity with a degree of success that few games of any genre achieve, much less shooters.
"It describes humanity with a degree of success that few games of any genre achieve."
Set in the nuclear-shielded Moscow subway system following a devastating global war, Last Light’s story picks up where Metro 2033’s ended. You once again play Artyom, now a newly minted member of the Order – a sort of subterranean Night’s Watch, formed from ex-Spetsnaz soldiers. Two important things have happened: with Artyom’s help the Order has located and taken control of D6, an experimental weapons facility likely to become the envy of the Metro’s other warring factions. Secondly, Artyom has just used the missiles within D6 to commit genocide, obliterating a race of benign mutants who had the poor luck of being 12-foot-tall wormy-mouthed psychic ape-monsters whose mere presence causes men to die in terror and pain. Because of the stigma attached to being a telepathic death beast, not everyone is convinced of their benevolence, and when one is discovered to have survived the holocaust, you’re dispatched to kill it.
What then follows is a nightmare version of Mornington Crescent, taking Artyom on a circuitous round-trip through the desolate tunnels of the Moscow subway system, along underground rivers, into military bunkers and other even darker places. Human existence here is precarious, and even a short trip between pockets of civilisation feels suitably dangerous: dereliction and nuclear destruction have left the tunnels in a bit of a shabby state, while gruesome mutants stalk the black halls and the sad, shattered city above is haunted by things even weirder and more worrisome still.
"Human factions tussle over the scant resources, or vie for Metro-wide domination"
Worst of all, other human factions tussle over the scant resources, or vie for Metro-wide domination. Nazis and Communists have carved out portions of the railway system for themselves, one establishing a Fourth Reich bent on eradicating mutation, and the other the Red Line: a literal line of track that bisects the entire subway system.
It’s an incredibly well-fleshed fiction, and Last Light’s most tremendous success is the way that it communicates this world, visually and narratively. The overall arc of Artyom’s story is, oddly, the least thrilling thing about it – the plot beats are predictable and Artyom himself is a bit of an empty shell. You do get a sidekick every now and again who is worth his weight in dialogue, but even these characters are lightly sketched. However, if nothing else, this story is a conduit for delivering the intoxicating, forbidding Metro itself – and that’s worth the price of admission. The echoing warren of tunnels creates a powerful and oppressive feeling of enclosure and decay: lights sputter and surge, concrete walls crumble or run with water. Groans, mutters, creaks, clanks and drips ripple up and down the long black tunnels. The austere militarism of a nuclear bunker segues into the grimly functional tube network and the art deco opulence of the stations – all now rotting or reclaimed by nature.
Death is everywhere – I can only imagine that the developers, 4A Games, have an entire department dedicated to corpses. There are so many, animal and human, and in so many varied states of exquisitely studied decomposition. It starts to lose its shock: death becomes an all-pervading force, a simple, grim inevitability. Metro is, I found, rarely as scary as it is sad.
"Metro is, I found, rarely as scary as it is sad."
Things aren’t much cheerier above ground. The toppled skyline of Moscow has a grim sort of majesty to it, but it’s colonised by a bloodthirsty ecosystem that harries your every step, ripped at by winds, whipped by rain and crumbled into pools of irradiated slurry. It all feels rather like you aren’t meant to be there – which is entirely the point.
The only places where mankind still thrives are the underground stations, each its own semiautonomous city-state. It’s here that 4A go to town on the scripting. Each station looks incredible, but they are essentially galleries, and each cluster of people in them a separate exhibit, triggered one after the other as you follow the prescribed route. An elderly man makes shadow puppets to entertain a gang of kids, but none recognise the pre-apocalypse animals he’s describing. A soldier strums a guitar while a pair of civilians bicker with an officious guard. Dancing girls with improbable breast physics do their thing and hoodlums scour the docks, shaking down whoever they can. Not all the voice-work does it justice – the children, in particular, are dreadful – and the ludicrous, non- Newtonian mammaries really stick out (ha) in a game otherwise drawn with such consistency. All the same, the hubbub of personal stories is so captivating that you almost forget that your consumption of it is essentially passive.
There are a few minor opportunities for interaction in the hubs, but they are largely just for show. And that’s fine, but after a while, the part of my brain that craves interaction grows impatient. It’s not simply that it’s linear – in fact, Last Light has more incidental details and siderooms to explore than most shooters. Instead, a mixture of game-balance and scripting works to trivialise your input. Early on, there was a period of an hour or more in which I felt like I’d done little but follow people between doors. Even the momentary bursts of combat here were given scripted conclusions that made me wonder if I’d wasted my ammo, or bundled me into cutscenes I was powerless to affect, or were restricted to tactically-void turret sequences or wave-survival.
"When the stealth and combat systems are finally allowed to blossom, Metro: Last Light is riveting."
Some of the early stealth sections are so easy that I felt irked to miss out on potentially entertaining combat. Throwing knives make things simpler still: they fly straight, kill instantly and silently, and can be retrieved from corpses to give you an infinite supply. The game barely seems to resist your forward momentum: even open confrontation poses little threat on normal difficulty, and you’ll rarely find yourself running low on supplies. The first game had a clever, if overly fussy, economy: militarygrade bullets were a currency but also significantly more deadly than the plentiful crappy ammo for which they could be exchanged. The same is supposedly true here, but on normal difficulty I never found the power of my weapons wanting, or really any need to buy ammunition at all – more than enough was available to scavenge. On the harder difficulty, combat becomes appropriately lethal, and resource management more important, but the trade-off is that the game’s duff bullet-sponge boss-battles become a right old slog.
When the stealth and combat systems are finally allowed to blossom, Metro: Last Light is riveting. Humans are still the most fun to fight, and the most exhilarating encounters are the ones that give you a chance to whittle down the opposition using stealth before forcing open combat in large, multipathed arenas. The dark is a powerful ally – almost ludicrously so, enabling you to stand directly in front of someone without being detected – and many of the battles begin with a gentle puzzle element as you work out how to reach circuitbreakers and deactivate the lights. Enemies come equipped for such situations, and will flip on headmounted torches while sauntering over to check the breaker box, forcing you to flee into cover as their torch-beam flits across the room.
The score rises to a trumpety shriek as you are exposed by light, giving you the briefest moment to retreat back into dark – if indeed you want to. After all, what’s the point of carting all that ammo around if you don’t get to shoot it into people? It would be a particular waste given your arsenal’s enjoyable variety and uniform heft. Even when silenced, the pistol feels potent and mean, spitting out beads of death with a contemptuous ‘phut!’ Each weapon is upgradeable and customisable, letting you choose between a number of sights and scopes, and giving your three weapon slots an enticing tactical flexibility. I spent most of the game slinging a silenced pistol with a telescopic scope and laser sight, a night-vision-enhanced assault rifle and an absurd fourbarrelled shotgun – a handy deterrent for the game’s swarming mutant enemies.
"Mansized mole-mutants have been given an animation overhaul that gives them a scuttling, vicious guile."
One of Metro 2033’s weaknesses was its monster design, being neither especially threatening in appearance nor entertaining to fight. Both aspects have been vastly improved here. The bounding packs of mansized mole-mutants have been given an animation overhaul that gives them a scuttling, vicious guile. And no longer do they just plough into you in a suicidal stream, instead opting to lash at you from multiple sides, or hanging back before closing the distance in a single ferocious leap. Spidery horrors burn in the light, creating a crowd control problem as you try and concentrate your beam on one of them long enough to inflict damage, while keeping the others at bay.
They still don’t have the AI behaviour that makes the game’s human opponents a joy to manipulate, but Metro’s monsters serve to panic you rather than tax you tactically. Though to a blessedly lesser degree than in Metro 2033, your vision is constantly under assault, and this is most true when scrapping in a melee. Visors crack or bead with condensation or blood. Putting your shotgun to a beast at close range will spatter you with jam, which you’ll have to smear away with the tap of another button. It’s one of the many small make-work tasks that keeps combat a frantic act of multitasking. If you’re underground, the chances are you’ll periodically need to crank a handheld charger kit to stop your flashlight sputtering out, or to keep your night vision goggles powered. If you’re overground you’ll need to keep an eye on the clock, changing your gas mask’s filters every five minutes, or replacing it entirely if damaged.
This was a source of extreme tension in the previous game, largely because the signposting of its external sections was so poor it was easy to asphyxiate while scrabbling against one of the level’s invisible walls. Last Light makes sure you have a fairly generous supply of filters at all times, and although this takes some of the terror out of your overground excursions, it does at least mean the game avoids boxing you into a fail state. It’s also a relief in the game’s more open environments, which still don’t do a great job of telling you where to go, but are quick to punish if you try something the designers don’t like.
"you can climb over a low wall if it’s part of the path laid out for you by the designers, but other walls thwart your efforts."
In part this confusion is intentional – you are meant to find the route yourself (and if you’ve been paying attention to incidental conversations, you may have a hint or two to help you) and you are meant to feel panicked by the vague notion of time pressure. But there’s not quite enough consistency to the design to stop this being annoying: you can climb over a low wall if it’s part of the path laid out for you by the designers, but other walls thwart your efforts, even though they might look like a happily navigable route.
This is especially true of a section in a swamp, where stumbling into a pool of water can mean instant death. The game doesn’t allow saving, it uses a checkpointing system instead, and it’s not especially sympathetic to your predicament. I had to restart the entire chapter when the game checkpointed me at the bottom of a riverbed.
By and large, however, the checkpoints neatly punctuate short bursts of action and that was one of the only times I felt punished by the lack of a save file. Nonetheless, it seems like a needless omission, and I’d like to have kept a few personally timestamped saves so I could go back and try different approaches to the same battle. Because: why wouldn’t I?
"When it’s all working perfectly, Metro: Last Light assembles a forlorn and beautiful world."
The checkpointing system, and, I suppose, the low default difficulty, are the only two bugbears imported from console land. The game has plentiful graphics options, letting you tweak vsync, motion blur and tessellation – but not FoV, presumably to maintain the necessary sense of claustrophobia. My review machine runs on an i5 with a GTX 560 Ti, and, unsurprisingly, it devoured the game. It’s also relatively glitch-free - I had a few very rare issues where I was spotted through scenery or immobilised during a context-sensitive animation. More entertainingly, at one point all the children’s faces contorted into terrifying beaks.
When it’s all working perfectly, Metro: Last Light assembles a forlorn and beautiful world, and your journey through it takes in many poignant, delirious and terrible sights. When you get to wield some autonomy, the game creates brilliantly panicky, desperate gun battles and heart-in-mouth stealth escapades – but it’s worth it for the ride, even when your hand isn’t always on the tiller. We’ll just have to keep hoping for a game where the scenes of highest drama are played by you rather than before you.
May 10, 2013
For many publishers and retailers, convincing you to commit to a day one purchase before anyone's played/reviewed their game is a big win, and pre-order bonuses are a handy way to entice customers and bank sales estimates before launch day. As these promised bonuses grow in heft and significance, we face increasingly frustrating dilemmas about where and when to put money down for new games.
Metro: Last Light's hardcore "Ranger Mode" is a particularly thorny example. It's advertised as "the way it was meant to be played" on the front page of the Metro site, but is If that's the case, why isn't it available to everyone who buys the game? Is it really, as implied, the definitive Metro experience? We put the question to Huw Beynon, global brand manager at Metro: Last Light's publisher, Koch Media, who explains why it was segregated out as a pre-order bonus.
"Offering game content as a pre-order exclusive is a requirement by retail"
"Game makers and publishers now live in a world where offering game content as a pre-order exclusive is a requirement by retail, and Ranger Mode seemed like the best choice since it was a mode for hardcore fans who would most likely pre-order the game, or purchase it at launch in any case," he says. "We rejected requests to make story content or additional missions exclusive. We also rejected requests to make this a timed exclusive."
Ranger Mode was added to Last Light's precursor, Metro 2033 after launch as "a direct response to the demands of the hardcore Metro community." It removes the HUD, makes enemies tougher and increases the scarcity of ammunition, which can also be used as currency in the Metro world. It sounds like a big feature. The ad phrasing makes it sound essential. Beynon suggests otherwise.
"We do not recommend Ranger Mode for a first playthrough, and this is made very clear both in-game. We expect Metro fans will want to try Ranger Mode for a subsequent playthrough, and we think that for this hardcore player, Ranger Mode offers a richer experience - but only once you've clocked the game at least once."
The difficulty mode will be "included in all copies of the initial manufacturing run While a pre-order guarantees this 'Limited Edition' it is not a requirement." Ranger Mode will be available to buy on launch day as DLC at $5/£3.99 - "the lowest 1st Parties would permit us to charge for content of this nature" Beynon suggests.
"We took all the steps we could to ensure that, while still offering retailers a pre-order incentive that met their needs, we did not force players to pre-order, or make them wait to get this content," he says.
Our review of Metro: Last Light will go live on Monday. How do you feel about pre-order bonuses? Do you pre-order or pre-purchase often, or do you prefer to buy games on day one?
Apr 29, 2013
I think Metro: Last Light may be locked in an attempt beat Bioshock Infinite for most trailers released this year. It won't work: as many as there have been so far, to usurp Irrational's ridiculous throne 4A would still need to drop a new video every day, right up to the game's May 17th release. Not that it'll stop them from trying. This time: Will protagonist Artyom lead humanity to salvation? Will he stab hundreds of people in murky post-apocalyptic tunnels? Are the two mutually exclusive? Probably not.
More specifically, we meet Anna - crack sniper for Artyom's Spartan Order of Rangers. She's a bit of a pessimist. But then, if you're constantly defending against mutants, fascists, cultists and heavily armed militia, you'd probably struggle to see the lighter side too.
If you've had your fill of moving pictures, read our comfortingly static Last Light preview here.
4A have posted the last of their Metro: Last Light survival guides, this time focusing on the tools you'll need to thrive in the post-apocalyptic hellscape they've created. There are gas masks, letting you breathe the suffocating toxic air of the surface; weapons, with which to defend against mutants and bandits; and a lighter, used to... er, burn down cobwebs. Bothering spiders doesn't sound like the most pressing survival tactic, but I guess everyone needs a hobby.
For players of Metro 2033, much of what's seen here will be familiar. Pumping the dynamo of a flickering torch, checking your watch to ascertain your visibility, and balancing military rounds between high-damage fire and trade. It suggests the sequel will deliver a similarly claustrophobic experience - although that's hardly a problem given the quality of the first game.
Metro: Last Light is due out May 17th. Preview here.