Metro: Last Light Video Card Performance and IQ Review

Today we look at 4A Games Metro: Last Light. Running the 4A Engine it supports modern DX11 effects including tessellation, and NVIDIA PhysX, providing realistic simulations of particles, water, cloth and fog. We'll evaluate this game using today's latest video cards including GTX TITAN and GTX 780, for a total of eight video cards.


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On May 14th, 2013 Metro: Last Light was released. It is a post apocalyptic first-person shooter game, and the sequel to Metro 2033 which launched back in March of 2010. Metro: Last Light was developed by 4A Games, and published by Deep Silver. The game received a Metascore of 82/100 from Metacritic with a user score of 9.0.

The plot of Metro: Last Light takes place one year after Metro 2033, in post-apocalyptic Moscow. The protagonist is Artyom, who’s POV we follow. Much of the story takes place in the underground metro system, with above ground missions in the heart of in Moscow. Above ground is still highly polluted with radiation from nuclear war 20 years earlier. The radiation caused many animals and humans to become mutated, leading to the "Dark Ones."

Metro: Last Light was developed by 4A Games using the 4A Engine. Although this is the same engine used in 2010 with Metro 2033, it has been rigorously rewritten to improve performance and optimize for the DX11 rendering path. DX11 is used to the full degree in this game, running many modern DX11 effects to a heavy degree. You will find tessellation used in this game to a greater degree than the last game. Not only is there character tessellation, but environment tessellation is also used at the same time. This improves not only characters, but the actual environment itself in a bit way.

4A Games also implemented newer and more advanced features over the previous game. Last Light's primary AA solution is Analytical AA. This is a combination of FXAA technology and 4A technology. Basically, it is a post-processing technique that produces a smoother and clearer image than traditional post-processing methods. It does so by doubling the internal resolution of an image via shape and pattern detection and then downsamples the image back to our resolution for us to view. It sounds a lot like how SSAA works, but it isn't, that is described below.

This game also supports SSAA as a replacement for MSAA which had horrendous performance in Metro 2033. The way SSAA works in this game is described as such:

Creates a significantly smoother, more detailed image by internally rendering every element of the screen at a higher resolution. In other words, on a player's 1920x1080 monitor, 2X SSAA renders Last Light at 2688x1512 on the GPU before resizing the image to 1920x1080, increasing the amount of detail per pixel. At 3X SSAA the downsample resolution increases to 3264x1836, and at 4X SSAA it is 3840x2160, the resolution of next-gen "4K" monitors and screens.

Both AAA and SSAA can be used simultaneously for the absolute best possible AA image quality.

PhysX is also a key role player for NVIDIA video cards, which is implemented effectively into Last Light. When playing with PhysX enabled, we benefit from many advanced physics effects that we otherwise miss out on. There are a wide span of PhysX effects added in this game. One of the most notable effects is destruction. For instance, if you start shooting at a concrete wall with PhysX disabled there will be some dust and a few small pieces that fall to the ground. Enabling PhysX will show the dust, and smaller pieces of concrete flying through the air and hitting the ground where they are now visually noticeable. Bigger explosions will project debris faster through the air, and even allow big chunks to collide.

PhysX also provides a more realistic smoke, steam and volumetric fog simulation in which players and AI walking through fog will cause and interaction, making the fog to billow and swirl around depending on where it was disrupted from. PhysX is also very notable with cloth. With PhysX disabled cloth may seem stagnant and non interactive with the environment around it, and in other places may remove cloth entirely. With PhysX the cloth will react to things in the environment like wind and explosions, and even fluttering through the air.

A lot more is included, and for that we have a table to show you below.

Metro: Last Light Settings

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The table below comes from NVIDIA's Metro: Last Light Graphics Breakdown & Performance Guide. This is an excellent read, and if you really want to know more about this game's graphics, that is the article to read as it breaks things down in more depth.

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As we mentioned earlier optimization was a big focus for 4A Games with Last Light. We have relatively few graphics options in the menu to enable and disable. This is because 4A Games optimization has predetermined settings that are all controlled via the "quality" option. We will break these down momentarily. Other video settings include resolution, texture filtering, and Vsync. Tessellation and motion blur are also adjusted from this menu. Our alternative aliasing option is also available here, SSAA. Under the game options menu we can choose to enable PhysX.

Analytical Anti-Aliasing : This is enabled by default no matter what quality you are running at. Be it very high, high, medium, or low users will benefit from AAA. This is the primary solution for anti-aliasing.

SSAA : Alternatively we can enable SSAA. SSAA takes the image and renders it at a higher resolution than we are using, which straightens and smooths the entire image. This has a very large impact on performance, and is unplayable on nearly all video cards we will be looking at. It can be enabled at 2X, 3X, and 4X. It can also be set to .5X which will render the image at half the resolution. This instead adds a lot of performance, but the image quality degrades too much.

Tessellation : This can be disabled or set to normal, high, or very high. Tessellation smooths characters, and other jagged polygon edges. An example are buttons on a control panel. Without tessellation these buttons may run flat across the board, not protruding. Adding tessellation brings these buttons out a little farther, giving more depth. It also improves the environment around it like the ground. At "normal" objects, characters and enemies are being tessellated. Increasing it to "high" means more detail to the environment. When set to "very high" it adds no more detail, but increases the maximum view range from 10 to 15 meters.

PhysX : This option can be either enabled or disabled. We found that only NVIDIA GPUs are capable of using this. We tried to enable it on AMD video cards and it significantly hurts performance when trying to run it. Our previous description of PhysX above highlights the benefits we receive by enabling it.

Ambient Occlusion : Shadows that are created when two objects meet each other are cast via AO. When using the "low" and "medium" AO uses an approximate technique, which adds only a basic level of AO to objects. With the "high" and "very high" quality spec, it uses precomputed AO which is largely displayed in the games world. SSAO adds higher resolution shadows to objects and surfaces that are examined close up, and on objects that players come into contact with.

Motion Blur : At low and medium it is disabled. Enabling it at high will mean that the player's camera is blurred. With it set to "very high" the camera and other objects including enemies can all be blurred to some degree.

Testing Metro: Last Light

To test Metro: Last Light we first played through the entire game. We looked for scenes, levels, or areas which produced lower framerates than others. Our run-through takes place in the chapter "The Red Square," which is located near the end of the game. Our testing procedure takes place at the beginning of the chapter. We begin our testing procedure in the tunnel when the level loads, pull out our lighter and walk through the spider webs. Then we proceed through the decimated city, while being bombarded by a massive storm comprised of high winds, radioactive rain, and a lot of flying debris.

The middle portion of the level is full of lush texture being improved by tessellation. These textures including a tunnel full of anguishing people, a trench, and in the distance, many noticeable buildings and debris. The middle segment of the level has a larger amount of vegetation that interacts with the wind. The last segment of the mission we are engaged in combat in a courtyard of an old building. We are surrounded by destroyed cars and barriers, and lots of volumetric fog. After defeating all of the enemies outside, we proceed through the gate and up to the stairs.

We conclude our testing procedure after confronting a "friend" who became an enemy over the course of the game. The entire run through takes between 7 and 8 minutes to complete. We found that most video cards became playable and smooth in when averaging around 45 FPS. There are a few instances where slightly lower framerates were playable, but require certain video settings in order to be considered thus.