Why Metro: Last Light’s Best Character Is A Gas Mask

By Nathan Grayson on June 15th, 2012 at 1:00 pm.

When I walked into the E3 demo room for Metro 2033 sequel Last Light, I was immediately presented with a small, thin military-green bag. Inside it, I found an actual, factual gas mask – sturdy yet pliable, and reeking of fresh-off-the-assembly-line rubber. It might seem like a curious object to take home from a gaming convention, but given the events that unfolded during Last Light’s demo, I can’t think of anything more fitting. So what follows is the story of a videogame. And also a gas mask.

After a blinding flash of sunlight nearly knocked Artyom flat, thunder crashed and lighting tore open a cloud-eclipsed sky. Rain drops began to pound on his gas mask – like bullet-quick pieces of gravel pinging off a car windshield. Then, one by one, they drizzled down it, blurring mournfully serene remains of buildings and struggling-to-survive grass tufts into a mess of gray and green. So our presenter made Artyom do something that – to my knowledge – no game character’s ever done before: he, you know, wiped it off.

I know what you’re thinking: Hallelujah, this will change the way we play shooters forever, and it’s not the Citizen Kane of gaming because Citizen Kane is – retroactively – the film equivalent of this mask-wiping masterpiece. Sarcasm aside, no, it doesn’t sound like much on paper. But it’s all at once indicative of Metro’s focus on putting you in Artyom’s eerily silent shoes and a brilliant mechanic in its own right. This could very well end up being a shooter in which the thing you do most isn’t shooting things; it’s wiping your face. Mundane? From a conceptual standpoint, perhaps, but the E3 demo gave no indication of it.

So Artyom and his presumed dead (at least, after the events of Metro 2033) companion, Pavel, marched on, taking shelter from the downpour in a total trainwreck of a train tunnel. In its nearly pitch black depths, they encountered another traditional gaming trope: a handy, dandy dead body – aka, “Hooray, treasure!” Disturbing its eternal slumber, however, yielded no loot – well, except for giant mutant spider creatures, because of course it did.

Artyom, though, isn’t Richard Cobbett, so he nonchalantly crushed one of the headcrab-wannabes as it skittered across his mask. As you might expect, our presenter immediately reached up and wiped away the resulting uranium-green blood smear, because ewwwwwww.  Apparently fearing nothing – perhaps because, you know, genocide and all – Artyom then wandered off alone down a random hallway. He passed another corpse, at which point its band of rot-borne flies migrated to the mask’s surface, lingering and squirming about. In both cases, Metro’s world felt alive – but not in a pristine, robotically scheduled Skyrim sort of way. It’s a dirty, dust-and-grime-coated mess, and it doesn’t particularly care that you’re buzzing around on its surface.

However, the gas mask really shined (by which I mean “got completely caked in every irradiated goo imaginable aside from Mountain Dew”) in combat, of all places. Artyom hit the post-apocalyptic jackpot in the form of a loaded shotgun, but was immediately pinned to the ground by what can only be described as a giant ape rat – mostly because I don’t know what it was actually called. Jagged rows of teeth gnashing inches away from Artyom’s neck, its breath fogged up the mask as limbs of all shapes and ape-rat-ness flailed in mortal panic. But then – agonizing hour-seconds later – Artyom found his range. Blood erupted in suitably volcanic fashion, and the gas mask had front-row seats to the sloppy spectacle.

Pavel, meanwhile, actually reacted when he noticed Artyom – now probably wishing for a pair of windshield wipers – scrubbing away heaping globs of gore. “You’re covered in blood!” he exclaimed – though he seemed perplexingly unconcerned about whose blood it might be. Again, though, this place is a mess, and you’re certainly not moving through it in some hermetically sealed bubble. Games like Mirror’s Edge really did a convincing job of giving players a body within a game world. Metro: Last Light made me really, really want to bathe it.

Those bits, however, didn’t hold a candle to a down-with-the-ship last stand against a goddamn army of ape rats. After a truly unsettling supernatural vision in which Artyom witnessed – with his own eyes – an intensely gruesome flashback to a downed plane’s final moments (the crew got shredded to bits by glass as they went down over a mushroom-cloud-covered Moscow), he and Pavel stumbled back outside for a breather. Instead, they got 50 or so ape rats. Eventually, the pair ended up cornered at the bottom of a metro stairwell, and the disease-infested creatures started pouring in. Artyom and Pavel unloaded every round of ammo they had. Whirs of teeth, claw, and bristly fur, meanwhile, lunged through the air. It was total madness.

Eventually, I lost track of whose blood was even on Artyom’s mask. Was it his? A mutant’s? Pavel’s? All of the above? And all the while, Artyom had to choose between wasting precious seconds to wipe it off or essentially being blinded. It struck a perfect balance between overwhelming intensity and survival-horror vulnerability mid-combat. Battle, of course, isn’t a pretty thing. There’s copious amounts of blood, sweat, and tears. Last Light’s the first game I can think of to really take that literally.

Happily, at the last possible second, a hatch opened behind Artyom and Pavel to reveal two heavily armored soldiers with flamethrowers. With the day saved, the demo then drew to a close. Unfortunately, it failed to answer lingering questions about the bustling, senses-overwhelming underground towns that earned Metro 2033 so much praise – and, as a result, trading, crafting, and morality also stayed out of the spotlight.

4A Games, however, assures that those things feature just as prominently as ever in Last Light, and – in the meantime – we got to see a different kind of world-building altogether. Metro’s Moscow is coming back to life after mankind nearly wiped it off the face of the earth, but these things take time, and they sure as hell aren’t pretty. So be prepared to get very, very dirty.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go stuff a bunch of sanitation wipes into my Official Metro-Branded Gas Mask Bag. You know, just in case.

Stay tuned to this particular frequency of the internet for an interview in the near future.

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87 Comments »

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  1. f1x says:

    This might turn to be a really really good game

    Perhaps I’m positively influenced by the fact that I love the novels (2033 and 2034)
    and that the first game was pretty good aswell, maybe even underrated

    • adonf says:

      Underrated? It was one of RPS’s games of the year for whatever year it came out in.

      • f1x says:

        well, underrated by most of the press / players

        of course, not RPS, RPS has taste, but then thats why I read RPS, to see if I can educate myself ;)

    • ExecutionersBong says:

      Do you know if 2034 was ever translated to English in the end??

      • f1x says:

        Someone mentioned that there isnt,
        at least oficial, but maybe there is some fan translation somewhere

        myself I’ve read the spanish version

  2. Nallen says:

    Sounds very interesting. Should I be playing the first one?

    • Maritz says:

      Yes, it’s great.

    • Maldomel says:

      Probably. There’s no wiping involved, but there are plenty of gas masks already.
      Beisdes, it’s probably one of the best shooters we got these past years. So yes, if you can, you should play Metro 2033.

    • Donjo says:

      IF you like winding up hand held generators for light, pumping cylinders so there’s enough pressure for your ball bearing sniper rifle, sneaking around killing nazi’s and encountering an awesome apocalyptic above world then yes.

  3. Premium User Badge

    jezcentral says:

    “Shined”? “Shone”, you colonial! ;)

    • rustybroomhandle says:

      I vote for “shinied” being the new correctest word.

    • tossrStu says:

      It’s a perfectly cromulent word.

      • Faxmachinen says:

        It may be a perfectly cromulent word, but I’m not sure how a gas mask could polish anything. Perhaps Mr. Grayson was making a pun though?

  4. Alexander Norris says:

    I hope they’ve changed the laboured breathing from the first one when your filter starts running out – that sound was the creepiest thing in the game.

    • Mr. Mister says:

      Why change it then?

      • diestormlie says:

        I agree with Mr*2. In surface sections I got so creeped out by my the labored breathing I changed my Gas mask filters early simply so my breathing would stop breaking the silence.

  5. Premium User Badge

    Petethegoat says:

    Did you ask them if the incidental dialogue will have subtitles? I played the first one with Russian voices, but a lot of dialogue in the station areas didn’t have subtitles.

    And there’d better not be any of those shitty blob things from the first game.

  6. MistyMike says:

    A lot of people say that all those freebies and gadgets given to game journalists at conventions or mailed to them are an insidious way of colouring their opinion about a product. That they might be part of the problem of why triple AAA titles often get undeserved eights/nines in the mainstream press. I’m not saying it amounts to bribery of any sort, it’s just a psychological method of producing gratefullnes and creating a positive association.

    A way of adressing the problem: may the editors of websites and magazines organise competitions by the end of each year and give away all these collectibles to the readership.

    • Maldomel says:

      I don’t know, surely getting side products specially crafted for conventions must be nice, but I don’t think journalists are looking at goodies and how much they got as part of their reviews/ratings.

      • misterT0AST says:

        Well, it’s a psychological thing: You look at your E3 bag, and you find (for example) a crappy pen with the Resident Evil logo, a Shogun: Total War keyholder, and a beautiful Gas Mask from Metro 2033.
        Guess which one you’ll put on your shelf right behind the computer, and guess which game you’ll be reminded of every time you raise your head.
        Maybe you even saw a nice little Paradox game, that you don’t care about, but your readers might like.
        Though you don’t immediately remember it because the first thing you do after coming back home is emptying your bag and you got no mementos from them.
        It might happen.

        • sneetch says:

          It might also happen that your bags get searched in the airport and they ask a lot of questions about why you’re trying to bring a gas-mask onto a commercial flight. Unsympathetic security personnel start looking very carefully at your 100ml containers of shampoo, shower gel and deodorant, the contents of your duty free, and then tearing the lining of your carry-on luggage, searching for other suspicious substances and devices. You miss your flight while they contact the British embassy* and check if you have any known terrorist associations. Then they find out that you like computer games just like all those lunatic psychopaths they heard about on Fox and you get detained over night while they run background checks on you.
          It might happen.

          Not likely though.

          More than likely the gas-mask will be left in its bag with the rest of the junk you got from E3, thrown in a corner and forgotten as you sit down with the notes about the games you saw (including the ones you took during that Paradox presentation about that game that was interesting even if it wasn’t your cup of tea).

          * Or the FBI and Department of Homeland Security in Nathan’s case.

          • diestormlie says:

            But does the Gas mask actually work? That is the question.

    • Nallen says:

      Frankly if I made a AAAAAAAAA game I’d expect good review scores too.

      • Stromko says:

        What is that, an A for every 10 million dollars in the budget? I think that’s how it works.

        • Andrew says:

          No, that’s the noise you make when it reaches out through the screen and starts throttling you.

  7. DazedByTheHaze says:

    Imaginary Email to RPS:

    “Hey this is 4A Games, we cut the 6 digit-dollar E3 show. But we wanted to show you guy’s what new game mechanic we try out in our new Metro rehash anyway.

    It’s called “WIPEFACE!” and it’s very simple. War is dirty which means that WARFACE! is dirty too. So we made a mechanic to clean it, WIPEFACE! WASH THE DIRRTY WARRR OFF YOUR FACE!

    And here is a ingame video for ya good fellas!

    Video storyline: “WAR! DIRT! FACE! DIRTYWARFACE! WIPEDIRT! FACEWIPE! FACE! DIRT! WAR! DUBSTEP!”

    u STILL MAD @ e3 RPS?

  8. Matt-R says:

    Yes!

    Bought the original awhile ago but only recently got around to playing it and I was very pleasently suprised, personally wouldn’t have minded Artyom speaking but I like voices and his Russian voice that voices the openings to the levels is pretty good. I hope the atmosphere and ambience continues, also I need to be throwing them knives at people in the dark again, Metro taught me that nothing is deadlier than a throwing knife to the thigh.

    Also them ape rats, are called Nosalis, just to pedant this post up a bit.

    Looking forward to this so much and I’m not even much of a shooter fan.

    • Eukatheude says:

      I hope they change the knife launching mechanic a bit. As is, a way to aim them, since i play with the crosshair off and they’re impossible to aim.

  9. wodin says:

    Enjoyed the first will buy the second aswell.

  10. Qwentle says:

    Republic Commando had something similar, though it was a laser auto clean/repair thingy that cleaned your mask rather than you doing it manually. It certainly added to the atmosphere of the game, and it sounds like it does here too. Come to think of it I never completed the original Metro as my machine could barely hold on at the time. Sounds like I should go back.

    • internisus says:

      Republic Commando has a lot of strong physicality, from the view through the visor and interference with the HUD to the consistent hand gestures used to command squadmates. It’s such an outstanding and unique game in so many ways and really overlooked, I think.

    • Kollega says:

      I played Republic Commando, but i was too young to appreciate teh awesomes, especially in such subtleties as the automatic laser wiper installed in the mask.

      What i did manage to appreciate is that when i saved a bunch of clone soldiers in the bowels of the Ghost Ship, and was rewarded with additional dialogue about being a “deluxe model”. Did anyone else here manage that?

      • TsunamiWombat says:

        Yes. Oh, Republic Commando. I weep for what could’ve been. You were such a great game, Republic Commando.

    • Ostymandias says:

      Republic Command is one of the best Star Wars games ever and a damn fine FPS. A shame it was so short and there seems to be no sequel in sight (and if there was, it would probably be a watered down explosionfest anyway).

      • Fumarole says:

        Agreed, though I’d say it only comes after TIE Fighter. If an Imperial Commando ever sees the light of day I will squee so hard.

        Perhaps I just like playing the bad guys.

    • Stromko says:

      My machine has troubles with it as well. It runs it fine, but I can’t seem to stop the GPU from climbing up past 70 degrees celsius. Makes me nervous. Also I couldn’t pick up or buy any more gas mask filters after the first few chapters, despite finding plenty of them in scavenging and stores, and all the ones I had were terribly worn out.

    • KDR_11k says:

      The Wii’s first downloadable FPS, Onslaught, had visor wiping as well (triggered by shaking the nunchuk). The game had aliens with acid blood and if you didn’t wipe it off within a few seconds it would start hurting you. It was also combo score based so you had to make sure you could afford the break in shooting that was caused by wiping without having your combo end.

  11. internisus says:

    Clearing one’s vision as a central gameplay mechanic would be simply brilliant because its phenomenology lends itself to certain psychological effects, mainly frantic claustrophobia. Remember how DooM 3 used to make you choose between light and a weapon (now nerfed, of course)? This is that, but with making sense, compounded by the opportunity to implement various materials (fogging, blood, dirt, and water) that each carry their own thematic implications as well as involve functionally different leftover smearing.

    Anyway, specifics aside, I am all for more interactivity that is basically about embodying a character rather than killing things in different ways. Metro certainly strived for such immersive features with its air filter meter, gas mask damage, bullet counting, and so forth, and I would love to see The Last Light press onwards with ambition.

    • Moonracer says:

      I also thought about the Doom 3 flashlight mechanic. It made me not play the game until someone released the “duct tape” mod. It wasn’t scary or moody, just frustrating.

  12. AJ_Wings says:

    I’m still disappointed that there still isn’t full first-person body modeling and animations ala games like Mirror’s Edge, Dark Messiah and Thief: Deadly Shadows. Say what you want about Thief 3 but if there is one thing I absolutely loved about it especially for its time was clearly seeing Garret’s limbs from the first person perspective. It’s a small touch that truly enhances a first person game for me.

  13. Shooop says:

    It’s the little things that make a good game great.

    But this could easily turn into more a nuisance than an immersion feature. Especially if combat is frantic.

    • Ichi_1 says:

      The first game balanced this perfectly so I have high hopes for it.

      In the first game you had to find and change filters in your gas mask, it would mist up causing you visibility issues that were only fixed by removing it. You also had to be careful about using ammunition and you needed to remember to manually charge your flash light and NV goggles. All this sounds like a pain but it made the experience so real.

      Metro 2033 actually made you feel like you were in a desperate situation.

      Also, this isn’t CoD. You are not running and gunning like lunatic. You will come under heavy fire at times or even be mobbed by almost endless streams of creatures but you are expected to pick your moments and use your brain to survive, rather than spray bullets everywhere.

      Don’t get me wrong their are times when you do spray bullets wildly but only because you are really struggling to survive. Also, at times the best option is just to run like hell.

      • Shooop says:

        That is exactly what I’m hoping for. I really don’t want another “kill 5 waves of mutants to advance” in a game that’s focusing on survival like Metro. I’d really enjoy something slow and methodical. You should see the way I’ve been playing Sniper Elite – I almost hit myself every time an enemy notices me.

        And manually charging electrical equipment? That sounds great, a perfect compromise between magically unlimited and the Metal Gear Solid “better search everywhere to get batteries or you’ll be sorry!” thing.

  14. Kollega says:

    Metro’s developers are on the right track here (pun wasn’t originally intended). If you’re going to be spending a lot of time in the game wearing a mask or glasses of some sort, it should only be natural that stuff gets splattered onto them. Same with actually seeing your body and having equipment on it. A lot of shooters overlook that physical aspect.

    • MistyMike says:

      I’m hoping for an in-game upgrade – automatic gasmark visor wipers. Upgrade mark II: with splatter-sensor!

  15. Premium User Badge

    Steed says:

    Come on now! Where’s the English translation for metro 2034!

    • f1x says:

      There isnt one? weird considering there is a spanish one

    • Zorganist says:

      Amazon has it in virtually every language but English, which is strange. I’m sure I’ve seen an English version in a book shop once, though.

      Also, Nathan, I think the ape-rats were called Nosales, or something similar, in 2033.

  16. Premium User Badge

    Harlander says:

    Like most truly revolutionary innovations in gaming, wiping your face can already be found in roguelikes.

    #wipe in Nethack, and it’s in ADOM as well I’m pretty sure.

  17. hjd_uk says:

    Being a biker, I cam empaphise with visor-wiping… do I brake or wipe the rain off?

  18. Ichi_1 says:

    I cannot wait for this. The first game is the most immersive and atmospheric game I have ever played.

  19. Runs With Foxes says:

    This mechanic already exists in most shooters. It’s called reloading.

    • makute says:

      Not even close.

    • Toberoth says:

      I believe reloading is called reloading.

      • Runs With Foxes says:

        You’re thinking fictionally, not mechanically. Break down what reloading does, in gameplay terms (hint: it’s not just ‘relodez ur wepon hurhurr’), and then do the same with this mechanic.

        Wiping your mask might add some extra tension to the combat, but mechanically it’s nothing new.

        • Toberoth says:

          I see what you’re saying, but it actually is different because it obscures your vision. Needing to reload doesn’t do anything like that. So while the method of dealing with the problem is the same (you need to press a button to reload, just as you need to press a button to wipe your mask) the effect of having a dirty mask is different to the effect of having an empty gun.

  20. FrankTheCat says:

    Artyom needs some RainX.

  21. Torgen says:

    too bad you can’t shake your head violently in an attempt to throw at least some of the gore off your visor while in one of those “event” combat sequences.

  22. JerreyRough says:

    Was it one of those Russian mass-produced masks? Man, there’s way too many of those things. I much prefer the Canadian C3 & C4 masks, aside from custom ones.

  23. MonolithicTentacledAbomination says:

    The giant ape rat things are called Nosalises.

    I don’t remember everything about Metro 2033, but I do remember that weird name.

  24. bit.bat says:

    I have been thinking for a while that in the gaming world generally, where all actions are associated with some kind of mechanic of gain or loss, the mundane action is really sorely lacking.

    I mean, in PC games we have so many keys to our disposal why not have a key for wiping your face, one for scratching your nose, one for sighing, one for nodding, one for lighting a cigarette etc. Maybe the more pointless (and very human) actions you can perform the more engaging a game can become?

    • fitzroy_doll says:

      I liked that you could sit down in Fallout 3. No reason or purpose, but you could.

      • Toberoth says:

        You could smoke in one of the mods too, and your character would actually smoke it properly like the NPCs do. I forget what the mod was called but it added a whole bunch of stuff like that.

      • shizamon says:

        Like Postal 2, you could urinate, although it served absolutely no gameplay mechanic, just shock value. Funny how he could urinate for hours, like he had just drank 3 big gulps in a sitting.

    • Shooop says:

      Like I said before, it’s the little things that push a good game into great territory. As long as the eye-wiping doesn’t become an interference it will add a lot to the game by making it feel like it’s happening in actual world instead of just another series of large indoor and outdoor rooms.

      Developers are taking risks again. This bodes well.

  25. timmyvos says:

    Is it me or is the second screenshot basically the cover of Call of Pripyat?

  26. Arglebargle says:

    Suspicious of this one, as I got the first Metro cheap, and deleted it shortly thereafter. Great ambience, great atmosphere, but it was a rails shooter with despicable quick timey BS. Loads of scenery I wanted to look at, but scripted action took precedence.

    I guess I really just wanted a slightly different take on Stalker, which Metro did not deliver.

    Not convinced this new stuff won’t be just another impediment to gameplay under the guise of cleverness. If the offset of the irritating game parts rankles more the cool of the good stuff, out it goes. Reminds me of the split of opinion on Far Cry 2.

  27. Turkey says:

    Gross! Don’t wipe with your hand.

    • diestormlie says:

      Wipe with what else, then? Cloth is at a premium in the metro 2033 world, as the only animals I ever saw in that game that weren’t trying to kill me were pigs.