Metro: Last Light – E3 Preview
My first appointment at E3 saw me meeting with THQ and 4A games to witness a behind-closed-doors demo of Metro: Last Light. As a fan of its predecessor, Metro 2033, I was very excited to take a look at this sequel and, while the first didn’t achieve the success that we’ve seen some first person shooters blessed with, it boasted an incredible story and the best atmosphere I’ve experienced in a game since System Shock 2. Before starting, the developers commented that they were aiming for a ‘master class game’ that would be designed to ‘combat shooter fatigue’. This is a company that realises that the market is saturated with shooters and that we need a change of pace. I’m already very excited.
Last Light takes place in post-apocalyptic Russia, where people live underground, away from the poisonous radiation and mutant atrocities that roam the surface. The remnants of the human race have taken permanent shelter inside the various metro stations, giving the game its title. As the underground slowly collapses or is lost to mutants and bandits, the Rangers, bands of elite soldiers who protect the population, have to head to the surface to travel between the last remaining stations.
Metro: Last Light sees you reprise your role as Artyom, the protagonist of the first game. The demo started with you emerging from a drain into a ruined building, supported by a colleague who sounded like a familiar friend from the first game. Although the underground has some breathable air, on the surface you’ll need protection. Thankfully, the dead have little need for gas masks or their filters. Watching Artyom put on the gas mask and screw in the filter is a welcome reminder of how dangerous this world is. That mask will crack, the filters will run out, and it will need clearing should you get blood, guts and debris on it. Having your vision obscured while fighting is never helpful and induces a mild panic as you frantically smash the key to wipe your mask.
We make our way outside, and you appreciate just how beautiful this game is. 4A games have worked to develop a game that not only has an excellent story and gameplay but is stunningly beautiful too. Crysis may boast outstanding graphics but the story is pretty paper thin. Call of Duty may have enjoyable gameplay but it’s not blowing your socks off graphically. Last Light is ticking all the boxes, and more.
As Artyom explores the overground, finding corpses and relieving them of their ammo and guns, a certain atmosphere begins to settle. While I wouldn’t describe it as being scared or worried, a real sense of unease and nervousness descends as you explore areas teeming with untamed fauna and littered with corpses of former comrades. Shadows dance in the background and unseen mutants make ungodly noises. This whole world is real and alive; every object, every level is fully created. Nothing is fake or stuck on, created in a vain attempt to fool the player.
Moving forward and gaining a shotgun from the skeleton of a man behind a desk, we are ambushed by a mutant. Lurking in the shadows is something that looks like a wildebeest crossed with a rat. This sequence, while scripted, sees Artyom thrown to the ground and attacked; he pulls out his newly-found shotgun and grabs hold of the animal, forcing the weapon to its neck and pulling the trigger. Panting and injured, Artyom rises from the floor and wipes away the blood that has coated his mask. It may be scripted but it’s excellently handled and executed.
Rejoining his friend outside allows us a first glimpse at the dynamic weather system they’ve created. A clap of thunder indicates a storm and the clouds roll in almost instantly, drenching Artyom and requiring rain to be cleared from the mask. Seeking shelter inside a downed plane provides some respite but ultimately proves to be more dangerous.
Metro 2033 was memorable, partly, for its use of un-nerving flashbacks and disturbing psychotic episodes that seemed to plague Artyom. This continues in Metro: Last Light as players explore the ruins of the plane and are treated to several flashes of the people that once inhabited the seats where the skeletons now rest. Screams fill the air, the sound of despair and desperation eclipsing the roar of the thunder and lightning. You reach the cockpit and get to see the final moments of its crew as they prepare to land as the nuclear war begins. The pilots curse and swear, trying and then failing, to steer the aircraft to safety.
Finally, you snap back to reality to find your friend in the same sorry state you were. He’s having a full blown hallucination and needs his mask putting back on, lest he die from the poisonous atmosphere. Quickly we leave the aircraft, only to be ambushed by a flying mutant who, with claws and a large wingspan, looked to be a formidable foe. Despite landing several decent shots, the creature manages to scoop up Artyom and throw him to the ground from at least twenty feet up. We’ve been rumbled and the mutants are out for blood. What was a casual, if not intense, trip to another station is now a timed fight for survival.
Packs of those wildebeest fuckers are back and they’ve brought friends. We break out into a sprint heading for the station, banging on the massive steel vault upon arrival. Backs to the wall, guns blazing, corpses begin filling the room. Ammo, a scarce commodity at the best of times, is running low but finally the door opens and two men burst out with flame-throwers, coating the immediate area in burning death. The demo comes to a close.
I’m left with a feeling of excitement and intrigue. All the things that made the original Metro great are still here. While the first didn’t achieve the acclaim it deserved, it certainly lacked an overall polish which it desperately needed. With Last Light, 4A games have got something with real potential. It looks utterly incredible, sounds amazing and has gameplay elements that make it stand out. No HUD, a watch to monitor oxygen levels, a light that needs to be manually charged, all of which never detract from the experience and focus on making this one of the most atmospheric and promising games I’ve seen in quite some time. Therefore, as it stands, Metro: Last Light is my personal Game of Show for this year’s E3.
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