E3 2011: Metro: Last Light preview – bleak, melancholy, and erupting with gunfire

Metro 2033 is one of the most beloved games that many gamers have never heard of, an unsettling and unique take on the first-person shooter which often emphasized the oppressive atmosphere, gloom, and fiction of its irradiated universe over the more standard elements of the FPS genre. Metro: Last Light feels more like a standardized big budget sequel. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does feel like a different and more accessible take on the Metro universe.

The sequel picks up with you once again assuming the role of Artyom, trying to survive even as war continues to rage amongst the remaining factions surviving in the post-nuclear wasteland that is the metro. The demo begins with an aerial shot panning over the ruined remains of Moscow as Artyom narrates. The demo begins with Artyom and his partner, Khan, infiltrating a Nazi-controlled station where a valued prisoner is being held.

“He is the key to ending this madness,” Khan tells Artyom as they descend into the darkness of the metro.

Compared to the already lush 2033, Last Light is a huge graphical improvement, with arresting lighting (flame from Artyom’s lighter produces a neat effect when he burns through a cobweb) and improved detail. 2033’s oppressive atmosphere seems to be intact, but the demo was action packed, so we can’t be sure how deeply that atmosphere permeates.

Back to the demo, after shooting out a couple of lights and taking out a handful of Reich guards, Artyom is soon spotted. The guns start blazing. Here the improvements to Last Light’s combat are obvious: gunplay looks tighter and easier to use, and the environments sport dynamic destruction. At one point Artyom ducks into cover behind a small concrete barrier – within several moments, the material is torn to bits by enemy machine gun fire, rendering it effectively useless.

As Artyom makes his way further into the Reich compound, he soon comes across a chaingun, mowing down more enemies. He then meets up with Khan again, who suggests they hide in “plain sight” – fortunately enough for them, there is a massive Reich rally taking place upstairs from their location. It may not have the same vibe as 2033’s survival horror feel, but the scene is still affecting. The chanting crowd and propagandistic Russian blaring over the loudspeaker gives the rally an eerie effect as Artyom and Khan brush past people. A few long moments later the two men are spotted and in the ensuing chase through a run-down underground neighborhood crowded with civilians, Artyom is wounded.

The last segment of the demo has Khan carrying his partner to a railcar, where an ensuing on-rails battle takes place with enemies riding a train that barrels along beside, and sometimes ahead of, the player’s railcar. This is easily the most action-packed part of the demo, and the intensity and faster pacing of the scene places it closer to Call of Duty than the few railcar sequences seen in 2033. The demo ends with Artyom jumping to an adjacent railcar, followed by an explosion.

As amazing as all this was, we’d be lying if we didn’t admit the demo left us a bit uneasy as well. The 4A rep told us that this particular scene of Last Light was designed to showcase some of the action and changes to combat, but with its action-oriented pacing, we can’t help but wonder if the full game will feel more upbeat and adrenalized than the slower and more suspenseful pacing of 2033. It’s also notable to point out there were no monsters in the sequence – we saw only a flying mutant in the opening scene and later a brief video of gameplay against a massive mutant boss creature called the Rhino. Despite Last Light’s significant improvements, we do think it would be a shame if the devs chose to ditch the psychological horror that made 2033 such an unyielding exercise in dread.

But again, this was just a tiny first taste of the game. The developers have plenty of time to find the right balance to strike (assuming they haven’t already) before the game’s 2012 release. Either way, we’ll be watching closely.

Jun 16, 2011