Metro: Last Light Preview: Adding Atmosphere and Realism to a Stale Genre

This year at PAX East I had the opportunity to play a short demo of the upcoming title Metro: Last Light. Originally called Metro 2034, the sequel to 4A Games’ Metro 2033, the game is a continuation from the last title’s conclusion. Although the original game was based off of Dmitry Glukhovsky’s book of the same name, 4A Games is taking a different approach than the author for the sequel.

Metro 2033 is based in a Russian subway and underground world after a nuclear war makes the surface unlivable. Weapons are pieced together from metallic scrap, gas masks are necessary to progress through toxic areas, and the world has a gritty and dark atmosphere about it. After demoing Last Light, I can say that it keeps the same look and feel Metro 2033 is known for.

Right away, the game gets you in the right mood with its innovative menu. The main menu is viewed from a first-person perspective as if you’re on a moving cart in an abandoned mineshaft. After starting the demo, a short cutscene began explaining the events of the last game. An enemy known as the Dark Ones—the humans left mutated from radiation on the surface—invaded the underground passages the remaining humans live in. The humans took out the deformed creatures, securing the underground metro for at least a little while. However, in Last Light, a new threat is active, forcing players to take up arms again in a fight in the dark and dank tunnels of Moscow’s underground metro.

The first thing I notice as I crawl out of a vent to begin my hands-on playtime is Last Light’s attention to detail. As my feet hit the floor of an abandoned office, the file cabinet behind me begins to tip over. Automatically my hands reach out to steady it before it topples. Why would the developer add such a short and insignificant addition to their game? The scene had a lot more power than one might think. It characterized and solidified the game as realistic. Whereas most developers would never add such an arguably pointless addition to their game, Last Light featured plenty of moments like this that give the title a subtle sense of eerie realism. Even the idle animations in which the protagonist checks over his guns add something to the atmosphere.

Examining my weapons before progressing, I notice I have a silenced revolver and a double-barreled shotgun at my disposal. Satisfied, I sneak out of the office into the hall and see a few armed thugs discussing a trivial matter before me. I immediately duck down and approach the secluded one from behind. As I get into reaching distance, I see that I can either knock him out or silently assassinate him. Perhaps the game will feature alternate endings or different rewards depending on how many enemies I kill or knock unconscious. I decide to stab him to view the brutal killing animation and continue on.

After going through progressively larger areas, I find a control panel that I interact with. My hands slide across the row of buttons, switching them all to turn the lights in the surrounding rooms off. Again I notice the attention to detail 4A Games puts into simple first-person animations. Where most games would just have the lights turn off after the press of a controller button in front of a switch, Last Light shows your character actually completing the action, a mechanic I thoroughly enjoyed. After silently taking down enemies in the darkness, I notice that it’s just as hard for you to see enemies as it is for them to see you. The lighting effects are fair; you really have to pay attention or have a flashlight or night vision goggles at your disposal to spot an enemy in the darkness. Eventually, after literally bumping into an enemy, I’m spotted and chaos breaks out.

Wave after wave of enemies descend upon me, shooting at me mercilessly. I take cover to regain my composure. I see by an slain enemy’s feet that he has the same shotgun as I, only the silhouette of his weapon has a green stock, indicating it has an additional part mine doesn’t. Obviously the game will feature customizable weapons. I trade my boomstick for his, hoping for some extra accuracy between shots with the weapon’s add-on. As I begin blasting enemies, I use both triggers to shoot the corresponding side of the double-barreled shotgun; by pulling both triggers, I shoot two shells at once, turning enemies into meat powder in an instant.

I finally make it to a room with leaking gas, forcing me to throw on my gas mask. A timer on my wrist watch lets me know how many minutes of fresh air I have remaining. The game goes out of its way to remove the HUD from the player, forcing me to rely on external stimuli such as blood splatters and breathing rates to know how damaged I am. Decisions like this further add to the game’s realism.

After getting hit while scrambling through the gas, my vision goes shaky, making it even harder to defend myself. I throw a couple grenades that only go a few feet from some reason, which doesn’t help matters much. After being trapped by the enemy and running out of oxygen, I finally succumb to the lethal gas and perish, just another body in the darkness.

Even on easy, the setting I played on, the game is difficult, and you’re punished for breaking stealth. I have a feeling that the game will be much easier to complete the longer you stay undetected. As soon as you’re discovered, there’s no simple way to go incognito again, meaning you’ll have plenty of baddies to fight before you can breathe easy.

Last Light is shaping up to be a great, unique first-person shooter. The controls are tight, the stealth is fun, and the atmosphere is just right. We’ll have to wait and see how well the game does with it releases in May of this year.

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