It's scripted when necessary, not by default
Having been heartened by all of this talk of emergent,
player-driven gameplay, I was doubly perturbed by the actions a rather
robotic-looking winged beastie during a particular street-level battle. It
wasn’t the general flapping of leathery wings and overall aura of hellspawn misadventure
that bothered me. It was the fact that towards the end of the encounter said
creature started behaving less like a venomous airborne agent of Hell’s dark
bowels and more like a plastic pterodactyl being puppeteered on a string.
After the designated amount of damage had been soaked up, it
conspicuously flew over to a a long-range vantage point, hovered there until
Artyom moved himself into the designated prey zone, and then swooped in for a
very designated, very scripted grab, lift and drop manoeuvre. Before buggering
away off into the sky, trying desperately hard to act all natural, like a cheap
soap actor awkwardly trying to fudge their way through a hidden camera show.
Naturally I felt compelled to ask about this. Was it a sign
of the kind of oft-seen heavy scripting supposedly at odds with all that Metro
seems to stand for? Was there to be a helicopter fireball rain shower chapter
later on, consisting mainly of 20 minutes spent watching Artyom shield his face
as a barrage of inexplicable choppers tumble from the sky? No, as it turns out.
You see what I’d witnessed, while par for the course of many AAA shooters, was
apparently an early version of what will be a much more organic-feeling
incident in the final game.
While Metro follows a linear narrative, the emphasis is very
much on player-driven exploration, discovery and combat. This isn’t a funnelled
tunnel-shooter experience, regardless of the presence of a great deal of
literal tunnels and quite a bit of shooting. Metro is a game in which you make
your own decisions, come up with your own solutions, and live with the
consequences. Softening that hardcore freedom with casual-friendly
hand-holding? There will be none of it. Just an initial introduction to the way
Metro works, and then away you go. Metro’s devs are proud, almost defiant about
the game’s lack of safety nets and baby-sitting procedures, and frankly that
makes me want to hug each and every one of them individually until it gets a
And as for the tools you’ll have at your disposal for
creating those solutions…
Different weapons actually make for different gameplay
You know the dullest thing about a lot of modern shooters?
The actual things you shoot with. You’d think that by now devs would have
realised that including 20 different machine guns with no meaningful functional
differences between them is a bit of a waste of the weapon modellers’ time. Throw
as many firing-rate and recoil stats around as you like. Compare CoD and
Battlefield’s ‘realistic’ military line-ups to Quake’s plasma rifle, railgun
and rocket launcher and you’ll soon see what I mean by ‘meaningful’. Seriously,
if there’s going to be so little shift in the gameplay with each new weapon
pick-up, the artists might as well save some time, stick a default banana model
in the right-hand corner at all times and be done with it.
In Metro though, there are only going to be about four
standard, real-world guns. The rest of its arsenal will comprise of a weird and
eclectic array of home-made, bodged-together creations, covering a wide and
heady mix of death-implementation abilities. And the best bit? The intention is
to make them so alien that you’ll have to work out what to do with them for
yourself. As we were told, in terms of the kind of experience Metro is trying
to evoke, “it’s quite important that you pick up this contraption and aren’t
quite sure how to use it”.
And as for the using of those weapons…
You play it your way, not the developers'
Push forward. Kill dudes. Push forward again. More dudes
appear. Kill dudes and push forward. Await more dudes. That’s your standard
Call of Duty gameplay loop right there, give or take a few spiralling helicopters
and (more so) on-rails (than usual) bits. Not the case in Metro. You see while
CoD is the simplest, most literal distillation of the phrase “first-person
shooter”, Metro isn’t even always an FPS half the time. “First-person
Adventure” is the phrase being bandied about by 4A, and they’re right to do so.
While combat inevitably comprises the shooting of guns from
a first-person perspective, an hour of Metro is just as likely to play out
through stealth, trading, exploration or flat-out, back-to-the-wall survival
horror. And as with the first Metro, I’m talking proper
“OhmigodhowthehellamIgoingtosurvivethis?” horror, not simply the shooting of
monsters instead of men.
As for that shooting, it looks like Metro is very much in
the emergent, player-driven combat camp. With much-improved enemy AI promised
this time around to properly compliment the bounteous room for adaptation provided
by the game’s wide, open, explorable combat arenas (not to mention the host of
options served up by the game’s eclectic weaponry and stealth possibilities),
when Metro offers up a fight, it should be very much your fight, not one that the developers have choreographed.
In fact that element is a decent allegory for the whole
game’s philosophy really. With one, long, unbroken journey, a lack of developer
dictation, and a raft of decisions to make at every step of the way with both
short-and long-term consequences abound, Metro looks like it’s going to be your
adventure through and through. And ye gods, is that a refreshing prospect.