It feels like a sordid confession to have to say that, while I loved the idea of everything about Metro 2033 – ammunition as currency, post-apocalyptic society built around metro stations in Russia – I just never really got into the game. All I heard about it prepared me for a wonderful open world RPG type game, and what I felt like I got was an FPS of linear levels with some stuff built around it. I’d make a similar criticism of RAGE. But it was a new franchise, it was trying new things and it looked very, very cool. So I went into the preview for Metro: Last Light a little nervous. I wanted to like it, but would it be exactly the same?
The preview started with the now-released live action short film trailer, setting up the end of days and the protagonist’s origin story. Live action stuff seems to be quite in vogue at the moment – Ghost Recon, Skyrim, Sleeping Dogs and now Metro have all been making great use of it to build a world around the player, to tell little side stories, or perhaps even just because it’s something different to a run-of-the-mill CG trailer. Last Light’s is no exception. It looks fantastic, was filmed on location in Kiev, and it did a great job of setting the scene for the gameplay demo that followed.
THQ was quick to highlight the narrative focus of Metro. They talked about the death of FPS gameplay, pointing out that too many FPS games are just slaughter porn, with players never given a why, or a reason to behave as a character in a unique world. In Metro: Last Light, they’re looking to change this, and really, I think it’s a process they started on in 2033. Both games seem to be moving towards an RPG-lite style of gameplay, incorporating persistent mechanics and development across the game – even things as simple as having to collect and maintain filters, using currency and developing and discovering new technology as you progress.
We were shown a section of gameplay where the Player moves from one station to another, but does so above the ground. Putting on a gas mask, we stepped into the post apocalyptic world, and were greeted by some absolutely stunning art. Then it started to rain, and the player wiped the raindrops off his facemask. Everyone in the audience let out a little gasp. The attention to detail here is fantastic. But it is possible to have too much of a good thing. Over the course of the demo, our hero wiped rain, blood, flies and spiders off his facemask.
The player character continued to move through the level, avoiding or interacting with intricately scripted events that looked amazing, and played wonderfully. From perfectly choreographed fights to stampedes of mutated rats, to burning spider webs with a cigarette lighter. The game looks polished within an inch of its life. It really looks amazing.
But I couldn’t shake one little nagging doubt. This is Metro played perfectly. Will a player ever sit quietly and watch a stampede of mega-rats? Will they enjoy hitting X to open a plane door, then hitting X again to try with help from their AI colleague? The demo did not feel like natural gameplay, and while what they showed looked amazing, I would much rather see it in the wild before trying to judge it as a game.
If I was to be really picky, I would also express my confusion at a post-apocalyptic game where the Player finds stashes of ammunition and gas mask filters carefully placed around the level. In a world where ammunition is currency, where everything should be used, why am I finding twenty shotgun shells just walking down a corridor? This isn’t a criticism unique to Metro, by any means, but I just can’t hold it in any more.
Just as I was getting really angry, the Player found a skeleton still wearing a gas mask. He tilted the head back, and took the filter. He found some ammunition on his rotting belt, and took that, too. Perfect! More of that, less of the conveniently ammunition-filled world. Perhaps I just need to be playing on a higher difficulty…
[img_big]center,8018,2011-09-15/metro_ll_tgs11_4.jpg,Metro: Last Light[/img_big]
As the player explored a crashed plane, he started experiencing strange flashbacks. We flashed in and out of the horrible last moments of the people who met their end in the crash, caught in the air when the world went nuclear. It was an eerie experience, pushing the sci-fi elements Metro’s world includes. The final full-on cutscene of the plane crash was stunning, but I was left wondering what it was all in aid of.
I think it would be unfair to read too much into my experience here, or of my criticisms. Press demos must be perfect, polished experiences and this early the developers won’t be showing pure gameplay. Instead, they must try to convince people of the amazing things on offer in the world they’ve created. And it was a stunning, exciting world. I look forward to seeing more, and getting a chance to play on that harder difficulty. Then watch me complain that life in the post-apocalyptic Russian Metro system is just too damn hard.