Metro Last Light First Look Preview -- Our Underground Future Never Looked So BrightBy Jake Gaskill - Posted May 31, 2011
Around THQ, Metro 2033, 4A Games’ bleak, survival horror FPS set inside the subway systems beneath Moscow, is lovingly referred to as the publisher’s “flawed masterpiece,” and the game’s since established cult hit status is the perfect testament to this distinction. Still, as THQ's head of communications Huw Beynon told us at a recent pre-E3 session, the developers are keenly aware of the issues that prevented the first game from achieving the level of success THQ had hoped it would, and the devs are making sure to address each of those shortcomings in Metro Last Light, the atmospheric sequel slated for release in 2012, by adhering to three core development goals.
“We want to keep everything that was great about the first game and that our fans loved,” Beynon explained. “We’re not going to westernize it or dumb it down. The design philosophy isn’t turn everything up to 11. We want to maintain and preserve that unique soul and spirit, that Eastern European perspective. We want this to appeal to the more cerebral gamer. We want it to be a more slow paced affair, and we’re going to preserve those moments of horror and exploration and the gameplay mechanics that reward the more investigative player.”
Like I said, the developers have listened intently to the complaints and frustrations expressed by gamers and critics, so it should come as no surprise that 4A Games has essentially “rebuilt all of our gameplay systems from the ground up to address all of these issues.” In addition to improvements to the A.I. and animations, the devs have also made the weapons more visceral and satisfying by communicating each weapon’s capabilities more clearly via visual clues like ricochet sparks to “make the combat feel a lot more exciting, a lot more tactical.” The game will also feature an improved economy system, so while you'll still be able to trade bullets, weapons, and gear, it won't follow the same/unfortunate "save all my best ammo and guns in case I need them later only to never use them at all" loop found in the first game.
As anyone who has seen Metro 2033 in action (especially on a high-end PC) can attest, the game is an absolute stunner and features some of the best graphics of this generation and is often used as a benchmark for testing PC hardware. And as Beynon explains, it is one of THQ’s biggest aims to have this be the case with Last Light as well.
“We fully expect to deliver something that will, if you have the right machine, look absolutely glorious that you won’t be able to see anywhere else, but at the same time make sure we’re creating one of the very best looking games on the console versions as well.”
While I can’t attest to how good the entire game looks, I can say that based on the gameplay sections we saw as part of our eyes-on gameplay presentation, Metro Last Light sports some eye-meltingly impressive effects that bring the moody, dank, and depressing game world to life in even more vivid detail than the original game, as hard as that might be to believe. There's also some fantastic environmental damage on display, with concrete chipping away and boxes exploding. At one point, a stray bullet even set a box on fire from the impact.
The gameplay demo we were shown consisted of a variety of scenarios that had been pieced together for demo purposes to show off the game’s improved stealth mechanics and pulse-pounding action sequences. Sorry. No monsters or irradiated ghoulies to speak of here.
When we first meet up with Artyom, he and a fellow Ranger (i.e. Metro’s top notch soldiers), are seen on the monster-strewn and utterly devastated surface, climbing into a tunnel entrance. The pair are attempting to track down a prisoner, who they believe is “the key to ending this madness,” and who is also being held at a nearby station controlled by a neo-Nazi group known as the Reich. As Artyom and his pal climb down the ladder into the metro, the lighting effects are on full display, as rays burn through the darkness, perfectly catching drops and streams of water as they trickle down from above and along the root covered walls around you.
Our first kill comes via two wandering guards. In the playthrough we watched, the THQ rep playing the game waited for the pair to move past us, snuck up behind the straggler, and slit his throat before taking out his buddy with a few choice machine gun shots. As you can probably guess, there are plenty of options when it comes to combat, so while some players might favor all out stealth as much as possible, others might choose to the pure action route. The game supports both play styles, so it up to the player to decide how they want to engage in combat.
Since stealth is a major component in the game, you’re able to shoot out lights to create hiding spots, or, in our case, you can even put out campfires, assuming there’s a pot of boiling liquid being heated in it that you can shoot and cause to spill onto the fire. Sadly, the guards in the area didn’t seem to notice the lights being shot out or the sound of ricocheting bullets echoing through the cavernous guard station, but there’s plenty of time for this sort of issue to be worked out. After taking out another guard with a throat slit, we unload on the other guards, triggering out first shootout.
The sound effects on display here are definitely worth pointing out, since Beynon made it a point to mention the work that had been put into making the weapons and combat to feel more visceral. Between the guns firing and the bullets twanging off metal and whizzing by your head, I don’t know which was more jarring, but I do know that I felt myself wanting to duck on multiple occasions (not in the game, in my seat). This timidity was lessened a bit when we picked up a chain-gun, and started mowing down charging enemies from our position atop the guard station. My comfort then dissipated when we went to reload and it literally took 11 seconds to reload the massive gun, and I could hear more enemies approaching. Fortunately, it all worked out, for me that is.
After clearing the area, our duo moved forward, eventually sneaking into a Reich pep rally of sorts that would have made Leni Riefenstahl proud. Calmly and quietly, we moved through the intently listening, and highly detailed crowd. There’s nothing quite like bumping shoulders with people fully capable of ending your life in an instant, and it was just as nerve wracking as you’d expect it would be. Just then, someone runs onto the stage and alerts the speaker to our presence. With the crowd starting to get noticeable suspicious of us, our partner fires a shot into the air, scattering the crowd. In the ensuing panic, we escape, kicking off a feverish chase through a residential area of the station lined with civilians. Eventually, the pair hops onto a mine cart and engages in a literal on-rails shootout with karts filled with enemies; very Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Our target? A prison train that just left a nearby station, presumably with our target on board.
As you’d expect, the chase and shootout was quite intense, with carts flipping off the tracks and, at one point, even sailing majestically in slow motion directly over our heads. In between breaks in the enemy waves, Artyom would inject himself with a small health syringe to get him back into top shape. Eventually, we caught up to the train, and Artyom leapt onto it and began clearing out each compartment on his way to the front. There was a nice variety of weapons, with the single-shot ranged pistol being the standout for me, mainly because of its badass reloading animation (slap the barrel to the side to release the chamber, toss in a slug, and slap it back in place). Our final enemy encounter was with a bit of a mini-boss, aka a dude was decked out in full armor plating from head to toe that was basically a walking tank. After bringing him down, the sequence, and our demo, came to explosive end.
Now, before you start throwing bottles at your friends in disbelief, you should know that Metro Last Light will in fact include multiplayer. I would expect the reaction of Metro 2033 lovers to be similar to that of BioShock fans when they heard BioShock 2 would introduce multiplayer, given that both games pride themselves so passionately on their respective single-player experiences. But as Beynon explains, 4A Games didn’t just suddenly decide to tack on multiplayer; it’s been in the making since Metro 2033.
“We had our prototypes up and running for the previous game, and we just realized that we couldn’t do the single-player justice and try and build the multiplayer in. We’ve got some phenomenal ideas for it that make full use of the world and the tech and our unique weapon set. So we’ve been afforded a bit more time and a bit more resource this time to build a fully featured mode from the ground up.”
Nothing more is known about the multiplayer at this point, but expect to hear more about it, and more about the gorgeous horrors that await players in Metro Last Light, during E3 2011.