The Lighthouse Customer: Metrocide

Can't believe I was gunned down just because I gunned someone down.

Each Monday, Chris Livingston visits an early access game and reports back with stories about whatever he finds inside. This week, inept murder-for-hire with top-down assassination game Metrocide.

In a game where some people are victims and others are killers-for-hire, it’s a little odd to complain about being the one with the gun. But this assassin is having one hell of a rotten day. Pesky eyewitnesses and annoying security cameras keep reporting me to the fuzz. Flying police drones gun me down or, even worse, issue me fines. Potential victims refuse to walk down secluded alleyways to be quietly dispatched. Can’t a cold-blooded killer catch a break?

Metrocide provides us with a convincingly gloomy futuristic city. Rubbish-strewn lots, shadowy alleyways, steaming sewer vents, and pedestrians slouching their way down dark, rain-slicked streets. Muffled beats thump from all-night techno-clubs, industrial vehicles sputter through the air overhead, and police drones glide across the cityscape, issuing commands and warnings in robotic voices. It’s like Los Angeles in Blade Runner, but pixelated.

Man I could so go for a trip to the off-world colonies.

Me, I’m an assassin named Tammy Jane Trench. I want out of this crummy city, and I’m going to earn my fare the only way I know how: through assassination contracts. I talk to my contact through a chainlink fence, and he gives me the name of my first target, who appears on my proximity radar thanks to his microchip implant. I find him, then start tailing him through the streets.

I follow my mark for… quite some time, actually. This isn’t just a matter walking up to someone and blasting them in the face. There are civilians strolling around, everywhere, just waiting for their chance to be helpful eyewitnesses. There are security cameras sweeping the streets with pencil-thin detection beams. There are hovering police drones patrolling the skies. And, there’s my mark, who unfortunately has no intention of making things easier for me by cutting through an alleyway or pausing on a secluded street corner.

After several long minutes of tailing, I finally find what looks like a clear shot. I take out my pistol. It’s a crummy laser gun, requiring a a charging-up period, just long enough to make things tricky, as my mark wanders away and other citizens wander closer. I fire. My target goes down. Mission complete, except that while my gun was charging my target stepped in front of a security camera. The murder is reported, the cops are alerted, a drone arrives, it fires, and I’m just another puddle in the gutter.

I have the right to remain silent. Forever.

Okay, beginner’s bad luck. I restart and pick up a new contract. Things go roughly the same, except after an extensive tailing period, I blast my target just as someone walks around the corner. We both run to the body: me to collect my victim’s wallet, the citizen to identify my face and squeal to the cops. Another drone arrives, and once again I wind up a wet stain on the street.

Using the crosswalks won't keep you safe. My lack of assassin skills will, though.

On my third try, my victim walks out of range while my crappy gun is charging and my shot falls short. He spins to look at me, then runs. I chase him through the streets and he vanishes inside a building to safety. My fourth try: another eyewitness calls another drone and I’m dead. My fifth time: I gun down my mark, and a citizen predictably runs out into the street towards me. I’m ready this time, though, already charging my pistol to eliminate him before he can squeal. Turns out, the citizen has no intention of squealing. He pulls out a gun and shoots me in the face. A vigilante. A vigilante? A vigilante. Jeeeezus. This game.

Man, they'll let anyone carry a gun in this city.

The next time, I try to get ahead of my mark. The best way to follow someone, after all, is to figure out where they’re going and get there first. I wait in an alleyway with my gun drawn as my mark strolls down the street. He stops just before he gets there, to read a newspaper while standing in the rain. A future where people read newspapers? This is science-fiction. Finally, he continues down the sidewalk. As he appears in front of me I pull the trigger. Oh, right, my gun needs to charge. By the time it does, he’s walked past the mouth of the alley and I wind up shooting the corner of the building. He flees and hides. Sigh.

Scanned for weapons? What is this, an airport?

On my next try, I’ve finally managed a clean kill. I make no attempt to hide the body (you can drag bodies into the sewer, but it takes time), I just run. I head to a weapon vending machine, but I can’t afford even a simple upgrade as my hit only netted me 150 bucks. Sheesh. As I’m tracking my next mark, a police drone hovers over me and stops. A robotic voice tells me to hold still, and I’m scanned for long, tense moments as my mark walks safely away. The cops detect my unlicensed gun, but rather than confiscate it they just charge me a fine, eating into my meager profits. Then, after killing my target, another vigilante dispatches me. Start again.

Hacking isn't a minigame, refreshingly. But it is expensive.

I do, eventually, get a little better at this. I manage a clean kill: though the body is discovered, no one saw me and soon a coroner drone cleans up the mess, leaving just a chalk outline. I grease another mark, and even manage to collect a wallet and dump the body in the sewer. Someone sees me, but I hack into a police terminal and scramble the ID system, which lets me slip away at a price of 400 bucks, which is unfortunately just about all the money I’ve earned. I just can’t seem to get ahead! There are all sorts of better weapons to buy, but I don’t feel like I’ll ever be able to afford them.

The game contains noir comics. Lovely.

Finally, my winning streak ends. I cap a mark, then shoot down an eyewitness just in case he’s a vigilante. He’s not, but an eyewitness to my killing of the eyewitness is a vigilante, and he shoots me. I hate this city. No wonder I want to get out. A gal can’t even do a simple job without getting killed.

I played version 0.9.4. dated October 26th, 2014. I found it enjoyable though uh… a bit hard? A bit. Metrocide is available on Steam for £5/$7.

8 Comments

  1. epeternally says:

    Sounds too difficult for my tastes, which is a shame because I’m a sucker for early GTA style top down, Blade Runner, and female protagonists. This has been on my wishlist, but I think I’ll hold off on it until we see if it goes further in the direction of actually giving the player a balanced chance later in development.

  2. Hex says:

    Hey Chris?

    You’re awesome.

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    JiminyJickers says:

    Hmm, it does seem good, thought a bit hard. Your account definitely made me laugh. Must not buy, have spent too much money on games recently.

    Edit: Well, I have now bought it and am dying a lot, haha. I am enjoying it though, cheers for the write up.

    Edit 2: Now not dying much at all, if you are careful, then it is fairly easy to avoid getting spotted. Hiding the bodies is a bit difficult though, if you don’t hide them, more police start patrolling.

  4. Jakkar says:

    It’s got the looks, the GTA/Syndicate Wars/Teleglitch/Gunpoint style, but the gameplay is just so… Bland, yet irritating. Slowly, slowly following characters down the same streets, time and again, not enjoying a chaotic simulation but doing your very best to not invoke it at all, because once things go wrong you enter a gameplay time-sink of simply waiting, or throwing all the cash you’ve earned away – or be killed by an immortal drone that moves faster than you.

    When death comes, it’s generally bad luck rather than a failure of technique – or at best, it’s simply that the game won’t tell you how to unlock any of the slightly more interesting weapons or equipment.

    Coders and artists without designers is a sad but familiar story – this feels like an attempt to copy features that worked well in other games into a new configuration without playtesting it with an honest audience. Either no-one has told them how dull the primary gameplay loop is, or they’ve gone into denial to push it to 1.0.

    A Watchdogs/Gunpoint style environmental hacking system, perhaps – or combat with health/armour/energy management – or a Syndicate Wars style ability to turn the civilians against one-another – or the ability to enter buildings/bins/manholes and other hiding places? The use of ‘johnnycab’ automatic taxis to get from place to place? The ability to lay a variety of traps? The ability to talk to civilians, bribe gangsters into working with you, or play the gangs off against each other at territorial borders like in GTA2?

    Anything, really, would be better than very *very* slowly following the man from Teleglitch in circles for five minutes waiting to kill him with a short-range version of the Team Fortress Classic sniper rifle.

    … Some ethical grounding would be nice, too – I’d like to know why I’m killing these people, or at least have some way to distinguish between targets. I’d like consequences – survivors coming back for revenge ala Shadow of Mordor? Family vengeance? Rival assassins competing for the same target?

    … Gods damnit, anything. I paid for this. More fool me.

    • DavishBliff says:

      Argh, this comment is upsetting for me, more than the article itself, because it doesn’t necessarily sound like the type of thing that can be easily remedied. I was really looking forward to this, too. Stealth, cyberpunk, sandbox, minimal graphics? It should be right up my alley but I guess maybe not. :/

      • Jakkar says:

        Y’know how Demon’s/Dark Souls was lauded for being ‘frustrating, but never infuriating’ or for it always being perfectly your fault when you fail, in a way that could be learned and overcome?

        Metrocide presently lacks that.

        And how some games can simply be *fun* by their very nature, by their kinetics, the way they move – people say this about Vlambeer’s work, that it all simply comes together for a perfect sense of motion, consequence, impact, power and challenge?

        Metrocide doesn’t feel satisfying in its combinations of visuals/audio. Shotguns go ‘pop’, other guns go ‘pip’, battle are usually a two-shot exchange at most leading to little dead bodies. You carry them very very slowly to generic manholes to hide them, to increase your cash reward for the kill, but whether or not you’re spotted doing so is far more luck than skill.

        How about a sense of ecosystem, of a living city? No, just a small set of civilian pixel-blobs bobbing along uninspired street layouts (always the same, no randomly generated environments – and very small), serving solely as a very slow-moving security camera you need to wait for before you can make your move on a target.

        It feels either like a game made cynically, through copying features for profit – or a game made by someone who has completely neglected the idea of ‘fun’ as design goal – but hasn’t replaced it with story, atmosphere, meaning, or anything except a very time-consuming yet mundane luck+repetition challenge.

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    DelrueOfDetroit says:

    It’s the guy from Gunpoint as a lady.

  6. P.Funk says:

    Reading this account I feel like you’re Ender trapped in the Adventure Game.