Yesterday, we here at Capsule Computers were given the opportunity to preview the latest build of one of THQ’s biggest projects, Metro: Last Light. This “hands-off” demo was commentated and played by Creative Manager Jeremy Greiner, who took us through a number of different elements of the game as well as three very different levels to demonstrate the variety in environments. And I have to say, it’s all looking very impressive.
Our demo begins with hero and protagonist of the first game, Artyom, crawling through a vent (a very detailed vent full of cobwebs and rust I’ll give it that), and into our very first level of the game, an old run-down Metro maintenance facility. Anyone familiar with the original Metro 2033 game will instantly be able to recognise the minimalist HUD, the atmospheric apocalypse vibe and of course the attention to detail present in the game. Environments looked absolutely gorgeous throughout our entire hour long presentation and sound design is no miss either.
Jeremy decided upon an attempt at stealth play, showing off the various improvements to the entire system since the previous game. As he entered a room full of Communist goons, he eloquently pointed out the several different ways a player could traverse the combat environment. Go directly up the middle for a full frontal assault or slide into the sewers and take your enemies out one by one so they’ll never know you were there. Various alternatives also dotted the garage with paths running along either side of the room and many opportunities for bloody mischief on each and every one. Players can now flip switch boards in these areas to turn off all the lights not powered by a generator or operated by human hand. Even those gave little trouble however, as Jeremy demonstrated after killing a lone guard that the flashlight mounted to his helmet could also be shot out. Individuals lights can be turned on and off at will, so if you don’t want to attract any attention whatsoever this tactic can come in pretty handy if your enemies manage to run the power back on.
You may also recall the level of frustration you would feel as you attempted to knife someone in the back, only to have them turn around and somehow make every single enemy in the level aware of your presence, despite how quickly you finished him off. Both those faults have disappeared from Last Light altogether and it is with great style that they are fixed. Enemies can now be stealth killed by Artyom with the push of a button (as long as they haven’t detected you that is) and lone enemies will no longer bring down the masses just because you mistimed a head shot. Demonstrated in game, Artyom simply tapped a soldier on the shoulder and when he turned around in surprise a quick strike to the neck took him out for good. While bodies cannot be moved, players can loot them for ammo and grenades, while taking out their personal lights to prevent drawing undue attention.
The AI in the game has seen an enormous improvement as well, with enemies now reacting in several different ways to disturbances, rather than simply peaceful and hostile. If you make a noise or turn off the lights in a part of the level experiencing technical malfunctions for example, enemies will usually either ignore it or simply attempt to fix it. Other ways include how they will radio in to check on soldiers periodically, meaning that if four out of seven of their comrades are lying face down in the mud, they’ll always eventually know about it. Soldiers once alerted to your presence will never stop being suspicious even if you hide out in a dumpster for a while. As Creative Manager Jeremy Greiner put it, “If someone tried to kill me I don’t think I’d ever forget about it,” which of course rings true with the realistic feel that THQ is going for in this game.
Enemies will also use cover effectively and sometimes even use it against you in a fire fight. At one point in the demo, a Communist soldier pushed over a book case in an attempt to land it on top of Artyom and injure him. Enemies themselves are affected in more ways than one when it comes to stealth and real full force combat. Initiate a shoot-out and your foes will take more bullets than when they were unaware of you, utilising a kind of ‘adrenaline’ system, encouraging you to stealth it up every now and again as heroes must. Turn the tide of battle against them however, and some soldiers will attempt to surrender to you, allowing you to take all their gear and do what you want with them. Jeremy opted to stab them stating, “he said don’t shoot me,” which I guess is quite true.
Gamers may be wondering about the unique moral system of the first game, in that certain actions you performed during Metro 2033 would result in one of two different endings. Last Light looks to continue this system in a more unique way. With the developers saying that they wanted people to play more “in the moment” rather than worry about what sort of karma they might want to achieve by the end game. But by doing things “in the moment” players might look back on a past action and think they could have handled the situation far differently.
Showing off the in-depth detail and time the developers put into each weapon, time was slowed as Artyom reloaded a familiar pump-action bolt gun from the first game. With this slower speed we could see tiny individual moving parts you just didn’t even notice when reloading the gun normally and it was explained that each piece of the gun is actually a real moving part, spring and all. Okay well not real, (it is a video game after all) but to the point where they all move in sync and create the necessary actions needed to propel a proper, loaded bolt on its way. This is instead of the regular FPS fashion that we see now days, blocks of plastic painted by textures with added in spark effects for drama. Noise in the game is also particularly impressive, with the infamous Bastard making a very loud and dare I say it ‘authentic’ return to the sequel. It sounds like it has real kick and proper impact, slightly different to the weak sounding original. There’s cursing, muttering, explosions and howls all recorded with what must be some pretty impressive equipment. This noise compliments the absolutely gorgeous visuals of Metro: Last Light which were apparently only running on “modest PC specs”. The lighting in particular is beautiful, with faint lines of sunlight cascading through trees and both artificial and natural light reflecting in puddles above and below ground. If you’re a visual buff you really need to see this game for yourself to believe it. Running on the ‘Aurora’ Engine, really not enough good can be said about the level of detail seemingly capable with the software, all with no noticeable drops in frame-rate.
In the second level, we visited a hub town, levels in the game where you can restock, buy more equipment or attachments and participate in mini-games, all whilst being lost in the heavy, dripping atmosphere the game does so well. NPCs will sometimes speak in Russian or other times in English, depending on their personal preference (with some swapping fluently between the two) and all cycling through a range of different conversations or going about their daily business. The unique bullet currency returns in full force, with pre-war bullets being traded as money when buying new weapons or attachments and ammo for your current gun. These bullets can actually be used in your regular gun for a significant boost in damage but of course that means that you are literally shooting your money away.
One very funny and surprisingly detailed facet of this town was the bar where you could purchase some form of alcohol shots called “Bullets”. As you drunk more and more of these, the lady to your right who was originally an old, grey haired women, slowly turned into a pretty young red-head who of course drunken Artyom took much interest in to the amusement of all watching. As his vision fades out and then back in at a later time, our (I imagine) somewhat dejected hero with the splitting headache looks upon the old lady laying next to him with fresh eyes. A hilarious jab at drinking mechanics in games if there ever were one.
Getting on to the third and final level now and my personal favourite, Artyom heads top-side to seek out a base on the other side of a swamp. To do so he has to grab some petrol on the way to power a ferry, the only way across the treacherous waters. It is here that we really see the passion and dedication that go into the game by its developers. The above ground Moscow has been totally ruined by the War and broken buildings and crashed planes dot the surrounding landscapes, with the air to toxic to even breathe. This is where Gas Masks come in to the game, which the player must wear at all times if he wishes to last more than ten seconds in this poisonous and incredibly hostile environment. When wearing a gas mask, players have five minutes to explore and collect all the things they need before their filter goes bad in the radiation, to counter this intriguing aspect of play, one must always be on the look out for more filters to take and use. Filters can be kept in your inventory so you there’s little need to worry about getting a lot more to live outside, the game makes sure that this element really reinforces the hostility of the land while still keeping it fair to the player. You won’t ever feel like you’re under a time limit to do your mission in, with filters and spare gas masks scattered strategically throughout the entire area. Why more gas masks I hear you ask? Well, when you are wearing a gas mask it can become cracked and damaged, so much so that it no longer functions properly and you’re forced to ditch it. Remember those ten seconds I told you about before? Well it’s now time to scramble for another gas mask, which cannot (to my knowledge in the demo) be carried around. This is in line with Metro 2033’s system so it is still quite reasonable. Players can now wipe their gas mask whenever they wish, which is incredibly useful when it gets coated in water, blood or mutant brains.
The air isn’t the only thing that will kill you topside. Unique mutated creatures known by the locals as “Shrimp” make their homes amongst the swampy waters and let me tell you something, they’re definitely not shrimp sized. These mutants can attack with both their many claws as a close attack and with their poison acid stuff for longer range. They seemed to emerge from the waters and reeds at random times and even Jeremy admitted that he had no idea where they were going to come from. Whether this means that he hadn’t played the level much (highly unlikely), that they spawn in at random places (slightly more likely) or that they work as a team and hunt you across the map before exposing themselves at an opportune moment (what I’m really hoping for) remains to be seen.
This above ground section really showed what I believe is the game at its best, being stalked by unknown creatures, having to deal with the deadly lack of oxygen and really taking on the full survival horror aspect that the game deserves is definitely where it shines. A surprise attack by a massive mutant when searching for petrol and a successful stand-off against hordes of “shrimp” signified the end to the demo and our time with the game.
Over the entire time I had my “hands-off” demo with the game I grew more and more impressed with the direction 4A Games is going with Metro: Last Light. They acknowledged themselves that the previous game lacked any survival horror and they are now working to add that in, a theme that so compliments the world they’ve already created (with the help of author Dmitry of course). Apparently while no supernatural elements were present in our demo (present in Metro 2033), they will supposedly be implemented in the game before release. I know I’ve said it countless times in this article already but the amount of detail in the game really is incredible. With lights and noise attracting enemies, a dynamic weather and day/night system (newly implemented for this release, spend a long time underground and it will be a different time to someone who spent a short time there), clouds that move across the sky with actual particles rather than just a skybox and the ever impressive minimalist HUD really show how atmospheric the game is trying to be.
Metro: Last Light works off the assumption that you got the bad ending in the original (that is blew up all the Dark Ones) and goes from there. While they don’t follow the story of Metro 2034, by getting the original author to help and construct a story purely for the game the developers show how much they care about the world. And such an awesome world it is too.
Metro: Last Light will release in March 2013 for PC, Playstation 3 and Xbox 360. With the incredible detail, overwhelming atmosphere and tight gameplay we’ve seen so far this surely looks like a title not to miss.