A gloomy, yet very Melbourne evening set the perfect tone to sample Metro: Last Light at the recent THQ preview gala with the post-apocalyptic shooter setting its sights on carving up the generic first-person shooter mantra. Re-defining what an FPS experience could be, the arguments presented by 4A Games are convincing and the presentation paints a world of possibility, despite Metro: Last Light bleak prospect of struggling to survive in a ravaged world.
Sequel to Metro 2033, Metro: Last Light is a continuation of the series and has been developed with the assistance of original author Dmitry Glukhovsky. Protagonist Artyom returns, thrown back into the underground metro system where the last remnants of humanity dwell in an attempt to escape the inhospitable world devastated by nuclear fallout. Knowledge of the first title isn’t necessary as the plot is simple enough to follow, however THQ provide a summary presented in a live-action short film that captures the moment when the world descends into its toxic wasteland state.
Returning to the surface for intermittent periods to savage for resources is pivotal to the storyline, gameplay and overall scope where story telling and tightly scripted moments take center stage over simple, mindless shooting. It’s in these single-player scenarios that Metro: Last Light developer 4A Games shines its torch, battling against what they define as “shooter fatigue”. Piecing together an adventure with strong emphasis on narrative and immersive characteristics, focused on delivering a memorable experience, more often than not lacking in the current vanilla FPS landscape governed by strong military presence. The almost Frankenstein-like approach of implanting plot heavy survival horror, role-playing and traditional FPS combat elements together and the thoughtful execution provides a gleaming way forward for the genre.
Hunting for supplies is where the feature gameplay demo takes place as Artyom must venture out into the toxic wilderness to forage the decimated Moscow city in search of anything to sustain life or provide a glimmer of hope. Artyom’s chatty companion presents the basics in a tutorial of sorts, outlining the do’s and don’t delivered in an off-beat russian accent making the expedition through the many near fatal encounters feel more akin to a typical Sunday stroll, only more likelihood of suffocation.
Threats are prevelant from the outset, not just from the mutants and ghastly premonitions that roam the tainted earth but also in the form of the hostile environment itself where gas masks, hazmat level gear and ammunition are in constant high demand to fend off the urban scourge out to swallow up the remaining pocket of survivors. In a climate on the brink of collapse, outbreaks are inevitable as less savoury outlaws fight to stake claim for the limited resources available. Pry from the hands of the long deceased and cast aside all sense of what is normal where the descent to madness is ever-looming. Post Soviet realism is portrayed in convincing fashion as every asset is as precious as the next and must be fought to gain, and just as hard to retain.
Firearms are the weapons of choice and the arsenal available is deadly from your explosive round shot gun, quick-fire rifles, military staple hand grenades to the face-melting flamethrowers on show for devastating results. Ammunition isn’t a luxury afforded to Artyom, where tactical management on an encounter-by-encounter based situation and quick wit is needed to preserve the often limited armaments found along your way. If all that wasn’t enough to heighten the sense of tension, oxygen steadily depletes with the demonstration revealing a five-minute window of air supply that needs to be replenished at regular intervals. Constantly reminding you of just how close Artyom is to choking to death is a countdown timer display on his wrist. Fleet feet and general sense of your surrounds is imperative for surviving from one key junction point to the next. Not an easy proposition navigation between the darkened tunnels and many leaky rooms where dangers lurk in the shadowy corners.
One of those lurking dangers comes in the form of a mutated creature that lunges at our not-so-outspoken hero. Not content to become the creatures next meal, Artyom squeezes the shotgun trigger point-blank at the ungodly monstrosity with its flurry of razor-sharp teeth, resulting is a burst of gore and bloody rain on Artyom’s visor mask. The furious onslaught a second ago is quickly forgotten with a quick wipe as Artyom re-joins his unaware buddy in the adjoining room. Moving on, we find ourselves in an airplane crash site where the passenger bodies of the demised victims are still morbidly strapped in their seats. Approaching one of the deceased, Artyom is struck down with a psychic flashback to the moment the aircraft goes out of control and plummets to Earth following a nuclear attack on Russian soil. Recounting the events of the past drives Metro: Last Light strong narrative forward, providing a deeper, more engaged re-telling delivered in an almost cryptic form where the player can dissect the backstory leading to the widespread disaster for themselves.
Visuals are powered by the 4A Engine, presenting the world of Metro: Last Light in rich detail, the air thick with the stench of disaster. The once bustling metropolis full of life is nothing more than rumble, fallen skyscrapers scattered amongst the city streets. Environments are rendered to capture the full hostile weather effects completely uncompromised, epitomising the dire state in which Artyom finds himself. Through the nuclear holocaust is a casting sunlight, like a ray of hope metaphorically speaking, peering through the overhanging storm clouds masking the scarred, hollowed out landscape detached of civilization. Rain begins to fall on the barren ground with the climate dynamically changing to simulate real world weather conditions as a palette of luminescent colour melds together.
Out in the open, Metro: Last Light returns to its gameplay roots as a battle with a winged-demon demonstrates more of the shooting mechanics and the intense gun-fights. Fluid frame-rates translates the action over to smooth motion whereby tracking the demonic creature relies moreso on the player’s marksmanship skills that any drawbacks represented in the processing power. Once dispatched, we find ourselves amongst a rampaging hoarde of mutant animal thundering across the Russian city like wilderbeests migrating along an African savannah. Inadvertently drawing one of the mutated behemoths attention, Artyom and his travelling compatriot descend back down to the tunnel system for safer ground. Overwhelmed and outmatched, guards equipped with flamethrowers come to their rescue, clutching the two out of harms way just by the thinnest of margins which draws an end to our Metro: Last Light viewing.
The presentation demonstrates the potential and ideology of Metro: Last Light, offering an insight into what the developers are trying to achieve. Story is often secondary, forsaken in first-person shooters for action sequences which 4A Games bravely switches up to create what could be one of the most unforgettable, hauntingly beautiful examples of the FPS genre when the boundaries of what is possible are pushed beyond the players expectations.
Metro: Last Light is scheduled to launch in 2013 for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC. Although earlier reveals pointed to a possible Wii U release, in recent days the developers have indicated Metro: Last Light on the Wii U may no longer be on the agenda. A lot can happen between now and launch but we’ll keep you posted should any revelations come to our attention.