Metro: Last Light caused quite a stir when it debuted at E3 2011. While shooting was an integral part of 2033, it was heralded for its world and atmosphere, something the E3 trailer failed to address. With both the developer and THQ still contending with the fallout, we take a look at cult hit Metro 2033′s sequel to determine just how far it has strayed from the formula.
Back in 2011, developer 4A Games unveiled the first public footage of its apocalyptic first-person shooter Metro: Last Light. Bulging with set pieces and boasting a body count that stretched well into the 50s, the ten-minute reel failed to champion any of Metro 2033′s real glories bar, perhaps, its knack for thawing computer intestines.
2033 was a melancholic trip through a rigorously realised post-apocalyptic Moscow that nursed a thick pall of horror and stressed savvy survival skills over tales of derring-do, and while it certainly didn’t skimp on the shootouts, it managed to balance its carnage with moments of pure atmosphere. The footage of Metro: Last Light shown at E3 was of a bombastic first-person shooter starring a badass with a minigun and a few too many memories of 80s action movies in mind.
The missive was clear: we’ve fixed the shooting. The fan response clearer still: where’s my Metro?
“For those of you familiar with the first game you’ll understand when I say that Metro is a multi-faceted beast,” THQ’s Huw Beynon reminds us before we’ve even caught glimpse of Last Light in action. “I guess by genre definition we’re a first-person shooter, but we think we mix a lot of different gameplay styles and trying to encapsulate that in the E3 ten-minute demo constraint has proven quite difficult.”
The good news is Metro: Last Light seems very much a multi-faceted beast, at least no less so than Metro 2033. During our presentation, we’re taken on a lengthy tour of Last Light’s mournful metros followed by a brief trip out into the decadent skeletal remains of Moscow itself. Between the two areas we get a decent feel for how those gameplay styles differ and, while 4A aren’t looking to distance themselves from the early footage shown (linear and scripted aren’t dirty words, says Beynon, they’re part of the experience), they’re keen to shine light on the more cerebral side of Last Light.
And so we begin, not in the symbolic, tumbledown metros that have doubled over as surrogate homes for the weary survivors of the nuclear apocalypse, but in a factory lost somewhere beneath Moscow. This is bad guy territory, but it’s also an exercise in world-building says Beynon. ”We don’t have these arbitrary, abstract corridors you’re funnelled down to take out whatever enemies are aligned, armed and ready for your arrival. Instead we try to create these believable spaces.”
The effect is immediate. The soldiers here have found a way to cultivate plants. They smoke cigarettes and trade stories, not all of which come with a side-order of doom and gloom. Luxury is far too strong a word, but throughout the playthrough we see the slightest, seediest comforts creeping back into the metros. Unfortunately for the soldiers stationed here on the factory floor, seedy comforts aren’t the only thing creeping into their murky world.
Enter Artyom, star of Metro 2033, mute and murderer-extraordinaire. Artyom’s here on a rescue op, we’re told. Russian nationalists have captured our friend Pavel and we’re jolly well not having that: good friends are hard come by in this cutthroat world.
So Artyom sets about compartmentalising guard routes, using the walkways that crisscross above the factory floor to catch enemies unaware and their frequent forays into the shadows as a cue to squeeze the jerry-built trigger of his svelte silenced pistol. You learn quickly that enemies have a knack for ignoring things that have been wrapped in shadows, including Artyom himself.
Suffice to say the stealth system has been overhauled, now anchored in an impressive dynamic lighting system. Throughout this section of the presentation, Artyom makes frequent use of fuse boxes peppered throughout the tunnels to douse lights and interrupt guard routines. Lights that aren’t extinguished can be unscrewed or, for those of a less frugal bent, simply shot.
A wristwatch indicator informs you if you’re at risk of being spotted, but as long as you stick to the shadows and nearby enemies aren’t on high alert, you can’t be rumbled. As you might imagine, it can get a touch silly – at one point during the presentation Artyom was crouched within tickling distance of a bandit who failed to notice the wide-eyed murderer hovering nearby – but realism isn’t necessarily much fun, a truth many Metro veterans will attest to.