Tunnel Vision: Eyes-On With Metro: Last Light

By Alec Meer on December 21st, 2012 at 8:00 pm.

Er, I suppose there’s some uncertainty that Metro: Last Light might actually be released, but for now let’s proceed on the basis that THQ have managed to save themselves from the moneyan apocalypse.

Last Light, from an hour or so I spent watching real-time play recently, appears to be almost a do-over of the ambitious but awkward Metro 2033 rather than a traditional sequel. It’s rescuing and remixing the stuff that worked but, as far as I can tell, without devolving into a shiny Call of Dudebro affair. That critical switching between indoor and outdoor action and gun-free survivor settlements remains, as does the strange bullets-as-currency system. It’s much more like 2033 than I’d presumed, I’m relived to find, glossier though it may be.

The world-building stuff I’ll get to in a minute, but first let’s talk about the action as that’s perhaps where the bulk of the alterations are focused. The devs seem almost pathological in their fondness for weapon design – I’m shown reloading animations slowed down to paint-drying speeds, and the sheer level of detail in there, all those moving parts and flashes of light and flexes of finger, is scary. I’m not entirely sure what purpose it serves as we’ll just see it all go by in a flash, but I suppose it speaks to the diligence and passion of the folk involved.

Such painstaking visual and animation work is perhaps more apparent and satisfying is the dynamic destruction of environments as those impeccably-rendered bullets fly. Walls erode and rain debris when shot, windows shatter, lights are extinguished – never mind the apocalypse that devastated the surface world, an automatic weapon seems like enough to bring about the end of the world down here in the subway tunnels underneath Moscow.

Returning protagonist Artyom has, apparently, become a more proficient fighter since the last game, which is an explanation of sorts for why the gunplay is less fraught and taxing than before. He can, for instance, now reload both barrels of his shotgun at once, and there’s now an FPS-standard melee attack rather than the need to switch to a melee-specific weapon.

Most levels offer a stealth path as well as the inevitable shoot everyone deaddeadddead choice. Snuffing out lights and turning off generators helps to create distractions, while Artyom’s fancy new digital watch includes a light meter with which to guage his visiblity. While apparently a planned body-hiding mechanic was ditched because it wasn’t serving much purpose, guards will freak out and go into high alert if they stumble across the body of a throat-slit or knocked-out comrade on their patrols. A neat new trick is turning off downed enemies’ headlamps so that their allies don’t come to investigate. These human foess are easily downed while in stealth, as opposed to bullet-soaks they become once in high alert mode, and apparently there may be some sort of consequence to either killing or stunning/avoiding your opponents. Even open conflict seems to involve a lot of taking shelter, waiting for enemies to reload, and flanking – it’s not COD even though Artyom has a little more of the super-soldier about him.

On occasion, once again, we get a semi-guided tour of the raddled society making do underground. The game’s setpiece moments aren’t so much big explosions, scary monsters and super-creeps as slices of jerry-rigged life. Odd ad-hoc machinery and fishing apparatus abounds, idlers tell stories or play cards at a bar decorated in what look like Christmas lights, and a group of kids has gathered to watch an old man’s shadow puppet show. We can stop to watch it too, as he forms the silhouettes of farmyard animals that these tunnel-born children have never clapped eyes on in the flesh.

While, apparently, the level of civilization down here hasn’t moved on between games, there will be more variety between the ‘stations’ that house these civilian communities. For instance, one known as ‘Venice’ is more bright and decadent than the others, and generally there’s a bit less grey and brown dominance. There’s not much in the way of interaction to be had in these sections – they’re most about mood-building and tension-breaking, although apparently many overheard conversations offer foreshadowing of events and enemies, or oblique hints about how to deal with later situations.

There’s also a strip club, and a lurid one at that. I don’t know, from this brief glimpse, if the, uh, glamour of it supposed to sound a note of discordancy with the tatty, subdued world it’s set in or if it’s just tawdriness for tawdriness’ sake. An overheard comment from one of the heaving-bosomed girls states that they have no bosses and are very much in charge of their own situation and business, so while the sudden blazing sexualisation is uncomfortable perhaps its purpose here is more carefully-crafted than it might appear. Perhaps. Inevitably, there is an option to have a ‘dance’ from one of the girls, though somewhat mercifully I am not shown this. I don’t know – this stuff may well provoke a reaction but I don’t want to judge it without having more context.

Also down here in the stations is shopping, with a significantly cleaned-up and slicker system for that odd bullets-as-money concept. Your three weapon slots are no longer restricted to certain classes either – now, any weapon can go in any slot, so there’s more scope to head out there with your preferred arsenal. That said, you’re far less likely to find, say, sniper rifle ammo randomly lying around, so it pays to keep a more generic automatic weapon around even if it’s not your preferred killing tool, purely because you’ll stumble across more bullets for it.

There are weapon upgrades to be bought too, which allow some pretty heavy customisation – for instance, an AK47 can wind up with a scope, silencer and stock to become something of a stealth weapon. The limited currency means buying an upgrade is a big deal, and if you swap out an upgraded weapon for something else you’ll lose the new bits and bobs until you buy them again.

Now for the third arm of Metro, the outdoor sections in which we explore the ravaged, mutated overworld which, once upon a time, was Moscow. While in 2033 these areas were strictly linear, most of Last Light’s are, I’m told, much more exploration-based with no set route. There are set objectives, in this instance a ferry point on the other side of the map and the requirement to find boat fuel before we can use it, but we’re free to roam as we like on the way over there. Shattered buildings might hold fuel tanks, but they might well be empty, requiring Artyom to go search somewhere else. As he does, darkness falls – there is a day/night cycle outdoors, as well as changing weather conditions such as rain, cloud and electrical storms.

The landscape, a little greener than 2033′s frozen climes, with flooding, sunshine and vegetation suggesting it’s not the hopeless place it once was even though Artyom still must wear a breather at all times, is dramatic and mesmerising. It puts me in mind of an enormous matte painting that I can wander into and around. Imagine if Fallout 3 had looked like this! I found myself wishing for an entire game set here, but at least this section does seem significantly more STALKER-like than trad. manshooter-like.

Assorted mutants roam the overworld, unscripted and in most cases going about their own business rather than attacking on sight. They’re unpredictable in both movement and attitude. Certain types, especially the flying ‘demons’, will go for you, while loud noises or getting too close may inspire even the more peaceable types to have a bit of a face-chew.

There are also all manner of outdoor-specific animations and features to enjoy/manage up here. Artyom needs to use his torch carefully, to wipe mist from his gasmask, to change its filter regularly, while exploring a sheltered area sees flies swarm over his vision. A string of red flags indicates a safe passage across a patch of swamp, something we happen to know about because we heard it mentioned by rangers socalising in one of the stations.

As the sun dips, more beasties appear, and at the same time become harder to spot. Horrible things move through the water, and a creature apparently made of mossy bark comes crashing through the reeds as Artyom struggles to fuel his makeshift ferry. In a setpiece fight, an enormous, mantis-like foe appears, and proves very hard to kill because it can shelter its face and body with its four massive, armoured arms. It can lob poison spit at Artyom too, requiring him to wipe his mask in order to see as well as suffering damage. This all makes for a frenetic, sinister Alamo moment as we wait for the raft to be ready, as the light dims further and more and more enemies head towards the action. I’d gone into this demo hoping Metro 2033′s slightly silly mutant aspect had been dropped, but I leave it feeling that these open, stressful, dramatic outdoor monster battles are Last Light’s most tantalising element. Let’s just hope ‘last light’ doesn’t prove too accurate a name, eh?

Metro: Last Light is in theory out in March.

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47 Comments »

  1. Haxavier says:

    So it’s a digital watch now? I thought it was one of those Nixie watches: http://farm3.staticflickr.com/2623/3724282324_e390c43604_z.jpg

    Man, Nixie watches are so awesome.

    • 1Life0Continues says:

      Ack! Focal length on your photos, people!
      Apparently, the photographer was less interested in the watch than the room they were in, judging by the focus. I can barely see the watch, but can almost read the Nook perfectly.

      Still, that watch does seem pretty interesting, although I can’t tell. :P

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      darkChozo says:

      Dunno what they’re using in the game, but nixie watches are still digital; they just use vacuum tube-based displays instead of LCD-based displays. Hope they are nixie, though, because they’re much cooler.

      • grundus says:

        This indeed. Digital circuitry, old-fashioned (but still digital) display.

    • Sic says:

      Can one get one of those watches relatively cheaply?

  2. SuperNashwanPower says:

    Hoping the outdoor sections aren’t time limited by the most ineffectual gas mask cartridges in the world this time. Open world metro. Would love if this picked up more than a few influences from STALKER

    • 1Life0Continues says:

      I actually preferred the time limiting nature of the gas-mask. It meant you had to be quick and purposeful in the overworld, and you had to get your filter change timing down right. I wouldn’t mind an extension of the time the filters gave, but making it a truly open experience would take away from the story IMO. It’s meant to be tough out there.

      • KevinLew says:

        To me, the gas mask thing is the worst part of Metro. It’s basically putting the player on a stopwatch and having the developer yell in your ear: Get To The Next Checkpoint Or Die! This is no different than FPS games having RETURN TO THE BATTLEFIELD messages. In the end, both are basically funneling players and telling them to stop exploring and get to the next set piece battle.

        • wireless says:

          I don’t feel like the gas mask mechanic was like that at all. The vision limiting was always the worst part for me. I always let the mask run to it’s limit, but I had a fairly easy time finding more.

          I never felt like it was a timer telling me to run to the next checkpoint, more the inevitability of my resources running out. And the urge to go find more. Weighing the risk vs. reward of staying outside to try to find more resources versus getting to safety quickly felt like it was the point of 2033. Each environment had secrets, but they were also all very unsafe. Aside from the outposts.

          • Ruffian says:

            They did get annoying sometimes, but for me it was mostly just because whenever I got low, I’d have to listen to artyom’s labored breathing super loud. lol. I like the mechanic though, and never had any trouble with running out of them, even on ranger hardcore. Which, while I’m on the subject, has the made the game feel alot better, IMO (the ranger mode) in that it makes the smaller monsters a) more deadly and b) less bullet-spongy. (like a shotgun blast directly to the face will actually kill a nosales in RM)

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          PikaBot says:

          It’s no different except that it’s nothing like that and serves a completely different function and is a reasonable in-world restriction on Artyom rather than a completely artificial restriction on the player?

    • woodsey says:

      I didn’t mind the gas masks in concept, but I’m 95% sure they were completely bugged. I’ve seen pages’ worth of forum threads debating about whether they do actually work or not, and how you’re supposed to use them.

      • fitzroy_doll says:

        Not to re-open the whole debate, but: filters were not bugged. The designers meant for the player to have an optimum number of filters in every situation in which they were needed. If the player had too few, then more would become available in the map. If the player was well-stocked, then fewer could be picked up. The confusion arose when filters that could picked up in a previous game could not be picked up on subsequent game due to the player having a larger reserve of filters.

        The designers meant for the player to be constantly on edge when filters were required, and adjusted what was available the world compared to what was in the player inventory to make this happen.

        • SuperNashwanPower says:

          I like exploring every last bit of the map for pickups, and never seemed to have enough cartridges to do so. That said I got really bored and couldn’t be bothered anymore, but I actually ended up in a save game death lock, having run out of gasmask

  3. McDan says:

    So hope it comes out, I was really wanting a sequel that was just the base game (obviously entirely new plot and locations) but everything else could have stayed the same and I would have been happy. But this sounds even better, the weapons being not bound to a specific spot and bullets as money staying are great. Please don’t die before this game comes out THQ.

  4. 1Life0Continues says:

    Not entirely sure how I feel about the ‘advancement’ of Artyom. Sure, he’s likely to be more proficient in fighting, he went through the original game and survived. But no dedicated melee weapon just irks me. I preferred the ability to take out a knife and stealthily kill opponents. It just feels like ‘generic man shooter’ mechanics than anything else to me.

    • Ruffian says:

      I can see what you’re saying, but it’s logical enough. I mean if you were using your gun all the time (like a soldier or survivor would be) you’d probably have it on a strap or something, and as such wouldn’t necessarily need to put it all the way away just to cut something real quick. I really do see what you’re saying though, and it would definitely be nice if they did something like make a punch or shove melee attack for when your gun’s out, so that they could keep the knife and stealthy stuff relatively the same.

    • Eukatheude says:

      By the way, how did you do that? I never could kill stealthily with the regular knife, i had to use the throwing ones.

    • Cytrom says:

      This might sound like heresy coming from a pc gamer, but in my opinion, one of the few good inventions of Halo for the first person shooter genre (even if they were probably invented because of console limitations) was the quick melee and grenade buttons. They seem to be perfectly in line with the oldschool fps design, where you quickly have to switch to the appropriate weapon in the appropriate situation, and you never really have to switch to those specific weapons unless you actually want to use them, and this simple design change made people use much more often those weapons.

      And unlike cod and the rest of the games that took the concept, in halo you didn’t just pull a knife out of your ass, while puttin away your main weapon in its place, then quickly switching back, instead, with elegant simplicity you just used the weapon itself in your hand to smash your enemy, which added a nice variety to melee attacks since every weapon had a different melee animation… and I believe they even had different statistics based on the weight of the weapon. For example you had to do more slashes with the puny crystal gun than a big ass rocket launcher.

      And I never believed that clunky controls are a smart or even intentional parts of oldschool survival games… clunky controls were purely due to a lack of ability to make proper control mechanics on the developer’s behalf, and the later justification by fanboys were just a good excuse for lazy devs to stay lazy and keep implementing poor controls. Survival should be a part of the gameplay, not the user interface.

      • Sparkasaurusmex says:

        I’m not calling your post heresy, but I was hitting quick ‘nade buttons way before Halo.

        • Cytrom says:

          I was a 100% sure of that.. but its halo that made it a widespread design, along with regenerating health (which I hate in 90% of the games its used in), and the ‘carry only 2 main weapons’ design which also is pure trash.

      • SuicideKing says:

        Yup, Halo melee attacks varied on the weight of the weapon, unless you’d hit the neck/spine, in which case it was a one-hit-KO.
        Rather, one-hit-K(ill).

  5. caddyB says:

    I don’t know, it’s obvious no matter what happens to us, prostitution and giving ladies cash to look at their bits will survive, so I suppose it’s realistic.

    I don’t really want that sort of reality in my games though, I’m completely fine without rape too, implied or otherwise ( but that’s another discussion entirely )

  6. The V Man says:

    ‘Moneyan apocalypse’? Bit of a cheap joke, that.

  7. wodin says:

    I loved the first game..so looking forward to this..probably THE AAA game I’m waiting on next year.

    I must buy the book at some point aswell but I here the translation suffers a tad..

  8. FrostySprite says:

    I hope the mutants have a sense of self-preservation. I really enjoyed those moments in STALKER where you hear barking behind you and a mutant dog thinks he’s got his dinner, but changes his mind after getting shot in the leg and limps away.

    Perhaps its just me, but I’m a bit tired of enemies who care nothing about their lives. Most immersion-breaking thing in a game, I believe.

    • Cytrom says:

      One of the coolest part of stalker’s eco system was that the world didn’t revolve around you. The monsters and animals were merrily chasing each other, or accidentally got trapped in anomalies and only really bothered with you if you got in their way. Many games have replicated this since then though.

      • F3ck says:

        …fucking Stalker

        I (to this day) will often look for a safe, dry (I know – why bother, right? that’s immersion I guess) spot to just sit and watch the world go by…that game is the cat’s pajamas…

        2033′s linearity was only tolerable for me because of its parallels (and it’s a decent game in its own right) but if not for the setting and mood it would’ve felt very blopsy (mash __ to survive).

  9. woodsey says:

    “Inevitably, there is an option to have a ‘dance’ from one of the girls, though somewhat mercifully I am not shown this.”

    Well, following a prostitute in 2033 only got you mugged. (Which of course I read online and I absolutely did not ever follow her myself, no sir.) Perhaps this is equally as playful.

    • Ruffian says:

      This, is why I didn’t cringe when I read that above.

    • Jeroen D Stout says:

      No apocalyptic morally dubious sex please, gamers are watching. Kindly just stick to exploding heads and disembowelments.

      (This is more aimed at Alec’s reaction than you, woodsey)

  10. Motorheadache says:

    Thanks for the read.

    I just love the first game. So many people bash certain aspects of it,
    but when they released that last patch with ‘ranger hardcore’ mode, I believe it was called,
    90% of the complaints should have become mute.

    I think some folks hate on it simply because it kicks their butt.
    The game ain’t easy.
    ( ‘cry some more’, lol )
    That’s half the fun.

    Looking forward to this next one.
    Cheers.

    • Cytrom says:

      The part with the exploding gooballs was a total (unfair) chore though. But other than that the game was amazing.

  11. MerceAR says:

    For God’s sake, add a LEAN button.

    I can’t describe the frustration when playing in Ranger Hardcore, and trying to shoot those leaning/peeking enemies only to get insta headshot’d and killed.

    Also, enemy sentries wouldn’t see you while you were on “green” or in the dark, but as soon as they spotted you, they had thermal vision… I mean, if you can’t see a guy in the dark, you can’t see him, period. Make the enemy throw chemlights or something like that.

    PS: The mask only serves in places without vegetation. I believe, as per deduction, that those glowing green “mushrooms” or plants are recycling oxygen. There was this anime with something alike, in which there was a ever-growing toxic jungle, that after a while, it absorbed all the chemicals in the air and left behind a clean normal biosphere.

    • Ruffian says:

      Playing through Ranger Hardcore right now, and I definitely am with you on the lean button and taking away the enemy’s magical infrared-shoot-you-directly-in-the-face-as-soon-as-you-move-from-behind-a-crate-even-though-you’re-in-total-darkness-o vision.

    • aepervius says:

      “There was this anime with something alike, in which there was a ever-growing toxic jungle, that after a while, it absorbed all the chemicals in the air and left behind a clean normal biosphere.”

      Kaze no Tani no Naushika ? If it had fifantic insect with red eye in it that was it.

  12. goettel says:

    Looks greats, pledging !

    Oh no, wait..

  13. dormin says:

    You keep calling the bullets-as-currency system “odd”, but ANY game where bullets are priced the same at all merchants is “bullets-as-currency”. In fallout 3, standard bullets are ALWAYS 1 cap each, so why not convert all your caps to bullets and just spend them instead?

  14. Roz says:

    Shattered buildings might hold fuel tanks, but they might well be empty, requiring Artyom to go search somewhere else.
    ~~~
    This is what I loved about several fallout 3 mods, where stealthy exploration is needed to perhaps find something, but perhaps find something you didn’t want to find..
    The non-linear gameplay is a change I very much welcome, exploring a dead wasteland has always intrigued me.