Metro: Last Light will be hitting Australian store shelves on May 16th after two delays – the latter one caused by original publisher THQ’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy. We were invited to play the title just yesterday (the opening 2.5 hours in fact), which fans of author Dmitry Glukhovsky‘s source novels and Ukranian developer 4A Games‘ phenomenal skills in adapting his world/stories/characters into a great video game have Deep Silver to thank for the anticipated sequel’s release. Now to preface our impressions, I must say the following…
SPOILER ALERT: Story details – especially of Metro 2033‘s ending – will be mentioned in this preview. So be warned. Now, let’s continue on to the desolate wastelands of Moscow.
As briefly referenced in the opening paragraph, Metro 2033 was based on the novel of the same name by author Dmitry Glukhovski. And though Last Light is technically a sequel, it does not carry on the continuation of the books, even though it was initially referred to as Metro 2034 – this would be inaccurate to say the least as Last Light‘s storyline is original, written in-house at 4A Games, but still guided by Gulkhovski. Whereas Metro 2034 dealt with the aftermath of the total annihilation of the “Dark Ones”, Last Light picks up not too long after the events of Metro 2033, with the “threat” of the Dark Ones not completely vanquished after all…
After a narrated cut-scene talking about the state of the Metro and Moscow at large after the events of the first game, we begin gameplay with Artyom in the tunnels, camped out with three comrades. All of a sudden, after hearing noises, a Dark One seemingly phases through one of the comrades before all 3 instantaneously show themselves to be Dark Ones. Artyom kills them, with the final blow being a knife to the head. But, with his victim’s head in his hand, the visage disappears and he realises that he just murdered everyone in cold blood. He then wakes up…Khan greets him in his quarters, assuming he was having a vivid nightmare.
After gaining control, I look around the room to find a Metro 2033 novel peeking out of a box of personal artifacts. There is also a Metro 2033 poster on the wall. Walking out through the halls of D6, the inhabitants immediately help establish the atmosphere and tone. Catching glimpses through ajar doors, you can see a man playing guitar, another writing a letter - presumably to loved ones, or maybe even a diary entry – and another listening to blaring, heavy metal music on cassette tapes, which are littered around his room. I continue on to meet with Miller – colonel and head ranger – alongside Khan as a Dark One had reportedly survived the missile attack on the Botanical Gardens.
Before this however, you get the opportunity to stock up on weapons at the armory and partake in an extremely basic shooting range tutorial. You may carry 3 weapons at once, each with their own customisation options. I chose the trusty Revolver as part of my arsenal, but rejected the Bastard machine gun…aptly named for its frequent overheating/jamming. Call me crazy, but I wouldn’t want an unreliable gun when facing a pack of Watchmen (used to be called Watchers). And this is exactly what happens soon enough. Miller orders Artyom to find the Dark One in the remains of the Botanical Gardens and kill it, to which Khan is vocal in his disagreement, preferring Artyom try to communicate with it.
But you have no say in the matter; accompanied by a sniper named Anna, you must head up to the surface and find the target. This is the player’s first taste of combat and also the required use of the gas mask, which is either equipped as an interact-able at times or from the equipment wheel, which can be brought up by holding ‘LB’ or its equivalent (demo was on the Xbox 360). The aforementioned Watchmen rear their ugly heads here, and in dispatching them, the smoothness and accuracy of Artyom’s movement and shooting is instantly obvious, especially when compared to Metro 2033. I guess the process of becoming a Ranger has honed his skills.
Anna has your back throughout the gunfight from her vantage point. Once you locate the swift and evasive baby Dark One (awwww, how…cute?), the duo are successful in wounding it. Artyom, supposedly immune to their influence however, is knocked unconscious by the baby’s power to enter his consciousness. Upon waking up, Artyom finds himself tied up and on his knees – along with three other unrecognised faces – and at the mercy of two soldiers from the Fourth Reich. As the Nazi’s receive what they deem as insufficient answers to their questions, they off the first two captives. We overhear them mentioning that they apparently sold the baby Dark One and have discovered the location of D6, hoping to ransack the “treasure trove” of its ammo and medical supplies. When our turn comes, the third covertly signals to Artyom and the two work together to kill their captors and cut themselves loose.
The man’s name is Pavel – and no, he is not the same Pavel from the first game (as reported elsewhere), who if I remember correctly had died – and he is a communist Red Line soldier. Though not exactly friends, the two understand the need to co-operative in order to escape the compound. The whole following sequence, or level, is interesting because parts of it were shown during the E3 2011 demo, though Khan has been displaced by Pavel (the “hiding in plain sight” and subsequent chase) and the railcar shoot-out has been excised (or perhaps moved to a later point in the game). The game gives you the option to play stealthily here, as you acquire throwing knifes to silently execute enemies with (click-in right thumbstick for melee/finisher, ‘RB’ to throw from a distance) and sneak through the shadows and around patrols, all the while keeping a watchful eye on the detection indicator on your wrist watch – a light that comes on, letting you know when you are visible.
Unfortunately, Pavel enters a vent and is greeted by opposition on the other side. Hearing the commotion, I then had to find my way alone and rescue him, shooting out/unscrewing/blowing out lights and flipping breaker switches along the way. Eventually, I discover two soldiers carrying out his hanging, but reach him in time. It’s at this point that we make out way through the tunnels underneath the station, which is crawling with scorpion like creatures (see below…not familiar with their name – I believe they are new). Fire comes into play here as Pavel lights a torch and hammers home the importance of utilising your lighter to burn away cobwebs, light your surroundings and ward off the creatures.
But, that doesn’t exactly work 100% of the time, especially with such a small flame. The scorpions creep up at the most inopportune time (naturally), with their weakness being their soft underside, or belly…which they guard quite well, so they can become somewhat of a tough nuisance in packs. This is especially true in a classic FPS/Horror segment where an elevator is un-powered and Pavel asks Artyom to find the breaker box. This is also the sole instance in my play-through where the universal charger becomes necessary. Artyom hooks up its wires to the breaker’s circuitry, cranks it and powers it up. This, along with all previous equipment found in Metro 2033, is accessible in the equipment wheel.
Speaking of sub-menus, there is also a weapon wheel that can be accessed by holding ‘Y’. Here, you can choose which type of throwing weapon to equip and if you would like to use your military-grade ammo (which is also your currency) for any of your guns. They may do damage, but you also don’t want to be broke. I opted to save them and never really ran out of ammo myself, especially as I scavenged the dead bodies I left in my wake for more than enough resources. We finally make it to the surface are facing some winged Nosalis in the elevator shaft and acquiring a sweet shotgun, the act of which almost cost me my life when I was attacked by a shadow-lurking Watchmen.
The gas-mask goes on and we surface, momentarily blinded by the bright light of the sun. That sunshine doesn’t last long though, as a storm spontaneously rolls in and heavy rain hits. Pavel promptly quips “when was the last time you saw rain?!”. By the way, it was recommended to me to play the game with the Russian voice-track - which I did – and it makes the game feel that much more synergistic with the spirit of the series. Now, you have to read subtitles of course, which may be off-putting and distracting for some (way more than during a film for obvious reasons), and with voice talent like Nolan North and comedian Patton Oswalt, you may prefer the English track anyway, but it feels much more authentic.
One of the things I appreciate most in Metro: Last Light are the little details; the air reserve timer on your wrist watch (usually 10 mins worth of air a filter), the dying out of your headlight and the ability to wipe your mask from a myriad of gore, viscera and weather effects. Travelling towards the close-yet-far Teatr (Theatre) Station, I had to clean my visor from the torrential downpour often and change my filter a couple of times. First, we entered what was left of the plane that crashed during the missile strike in the ending of Metro 2033 (of which we see a flashback). This hallucinogenic sequence, along with the following encounter with the Watchmen around the bend from the theatre can be seen in the “Welcome to Moscow” gameplay video released at E3 2012. The content has not been largely altered since.
The one difference between the video and when I played it is that I got picked up off the ground by a demon, needing Pavel to save me from its clutches…yeah, I suck. I actually think it may have been a scripted event, or at least that’s how I justify it. Back on point, after shaking off the hallucinations and rampaging through Theatre Square, we run down the dead escalators to the doors of Theatre Station, desperately calling for the blast doors to be opened. And thankfully they do, with flame-thrower wielding brutes burning any remaining beasts to a crisp. And at last, I am truly safe for the first time since awakening in D6. The Red Line-controlled theatre is bustling with hope – it would seem they have little idea of the real “nightmare” outside their solid, protected walls.
Strolling through, there are merchants, men performing juggling acts and shadow puppetry for the kids and as expected, a theatre show at the Bolshoy. Tonight, it would seem, was cabaret night. I sat down in the front row as the girls danced for the audience – one of them being humorously clumsy and out of time. And that was where the demo ended – or more accurately, where we were requested to cease our play-through as this was the full game on disc. Upon reflection, and considering all the prior footage I have seen of the game – it is evident that we only scratched the surface of Metro: Last Light with this demo, as lengthy as it may seem at almost 2.5 hours long.
Graphically, the game is sure to look stunning on PC. It looks good on the Xbox 360, but with the lack of proper anti-aliasing, there were many jagged lines on objects, most noticeable in the backgrounds or landscape shots. It just wasn’t as smooth (graphics-wise) or detailed as it could be. I found that I couldn’t change the language track mid-game (although that’s somewhat understandable – not the easiest thing to allow) and there was a weird visual artifact during the equipping of the lighter; sort of like a pixel/masking box that would appear for the briefest of moments. Also, there are notes to collect in each level, which are listed in your diary in the pause menu so you know exactly how many there are in each chapter. All up, Metro: Last Light looks to be living up to its promise of being a marked improvement over the last, particularly in the movement and shooting mechanics, which I think you’ll agree is most important. We will have our full review up in the coming weeks, prior to release on May 16th.