Could this be the prettiest shooter of 2013? We investigate.
By their own admission, THQ didn’t help Metro 2033 become the success it perhaps deserved to be way back in 2009. They didn’t advertise it heavily enough, they didn’t give 4A Games enough insight to make their game palatable for a Western audience, and as a result the imaginative survival shooter was awarded the dubious award of being labelled a ‘sleeper hit’.
That was then and it this is very much now, as Metro: Last Light is a prime example of a publisher giving time, money and exposure to a deserving developer to ensure that the same mistakes don’t occur again. All of this extra effort is encouraging, especially if the recent live-action trailer is anything to go by, but all that expensive pomp may be just hot air if 4A Games don’t produce the kind of tense, hostile and atmospheric experience they’ve become known for. Thankfully a recent gameplay demo cut through the marketing hyperbole and showed off a section which was encouragingly familiar.
Last time we saw Last Light in action we were taken aback with how action-centric 4A Games seemed to be taking the series, with a dramatic gunfight on a train forming the main component of the action, but this section was much more sedate, with Artyom and what sounded like the returning character Hunter making their way outside of a safe metro station to another on the other side of the underground, auspiciously named ‘The Theatre’.
Their journey involved venturing out into the vulnerable urban sprawl which was bathed in brilliant sunshine, before giving way to gloomy overcast skies and driving rain. As ever a gas mask was needed to cleanse the air with the aid of air filters, with the wristwatch indicator no longer showcasing an analogue clockface, with the substantially more modern digital format taking its place. It’s a small yet very deliberate concession to accessibility that shows that 4A are subtly changing aspects of their experience to be a bit easier for gamers. Another is that rather than having to affix gas filters manually to your mask as soon as you find them, on pick-up they add more time to your air clock wristwatch automatically – just taking a bit of work away from the player.
Thankfully this change wasn’t the most exciting part of the demo, with the savaging duo facing flying bats, narrowly avoiding a pack of dograts and making their way carefully through the rubble that once symbolised a hopeful and functional Moscow. One particular moment featured Artyom being picked up by a flying monster, which then required the player to fight him off via repeated melee attacks allowing a painful escape onto the hard pavement below. It was hard to tell whether this short mid-air battle involved any kind of interaction from the player, but it’s clear that 4A Games are going for a more cinematic tone with Last Light, and it was about to get a lot more intense, and dare we say it unsettling.
In order for the apocalypse venturing duo to make their way into ‘Theatre’ they needed to pass through a downed plane which had penetrated the old metro station’s entrance. Despite this series’ apocalyptic war taking pace dozens of years before Artyom and Hunter make their way into this plane, we spotted dozens of passengers mummified in their seats.
This scene was haunting in itself, but a quick glance at the passengers led both protagonists to seamlessly flashback to a time just moments prior to Moscow pitching itself over the precipice of atomic annihilation, which these unfortunate passengers find themselves victims of.
As the player moved through the plane, the camera shifted seamlessly in-game to a previous time with the passengers screaming for their lives as the plane plummets on approach to Moscow. Once Artoym made his way to the cockpit the visions give way to show the plane flying over downtown, with missiles flying overhead and hitting buildings resulting in a huge mushroom cloud which caused the plane to lose power and dive nose-first into the flaming hellish landscape below.
Seeing this stunning scene with no loading times, just seamlessly transitioned within the regular gameplay, all in-engine, was undoubtedly the highlight of the demo. Taking a peak into the events which plunged this version of humanity into chaos is exactly the kind of sight fans will relish to see, and in true Metro fashion these ghostly visions led their witnesses to lose all sense of reality with the camera fading up to Hunter unmasked, struggling for breath, and Artyom in a similar state of discomfort. Despite almost suffocating, both characters regain their composure and fight their way out of the plane and down two intimidatingly long escalators which lead to ‘Theatre station’, only they brought an army of rat-dogs in their wake. Within moments two flame-thrower touting guards jump out of the vault entrance and turn the hell-hounds into hot dogs, therefore enabling safe thoroughfare into a new metro station. At this point we were relishing the opportunity to see that slow and rich station-roaming gameplay that Metro 2033 became known for – only this, unfortunately for us, is when the demo concluded.
Even though we’re yet to see how the new and improved 4A Games – now aided by THQ’s considerable insights and bigger budget – will deal with what was arguably Metro 2033’s most compelling content – walking around depressing stations, hearing tales from other survivors and being privy to their misery – but if those sections are as polished and impressive as the rest of this demo than they should prove to be a step up from what we’ve seen before.
Metro 2033 undoubtedly deserved more success than it ultimately enjoyed and it’s only right that THQ are giving 4A Games much more time and money to deliver on their unique vision of ‘post-modern apocalyptia’. We have no idea how the newly announced multiplayer functionality ties into what is really an intensely story-driven experience, but as long as this series stays true to its intense roots, we’re sure Last Light will be a more successful and ultimately enjoyable game for everyone involved.
This is just a taste of our coverage of Metro: Last Light in the June issue of PCGZine, which includes an exclusive interview with THQ big wig Hew Beynon. Download it today!
Tags: Metro Last Light
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