It was one fateful Sydney morning when the staff of Digital Gaudium had to hop, skip and jump there way to check out the latest build of Metro: Last Light. Unfortunately we took a wrong turn (reminder for next time: Check your emails and Google Maps before you leave) and ended up in hipster central. The clock continued to tick, so we ran like maniacs down the streets of Sydney. We ran up and down the hills, through a few thin alleyways and past countless artsy coffee shops.
We had Jeremy Greiner (THQ’s Global Communications Manager) take us through three different levels of the game. Each level exposed a separate aspect of the game; Camp displayed the improved gunplay and stealth mechanics, Venice showcased a less hostile Station area and Swamp gave us the opportunity to see the outside world of Metro: Last Light.
New story plot points were sparse ahead of the March release date, however we still got an insight in to what to expect in Last Light. As the title suggests Metro: Last Light tells a story of redemption, Artyom is now a member of the rangers.
4A Games have picked the destruction of the Dark Ones to be the canon ending of Metro 2033. Interestingly we found out that around 90% of players picked that ending. The Communist and the Nazi forces are still actively fighting each other which I was pleased to hear, as it adds an extra level of depth to the post-apocalyptic environment with the ideological war being fought between the survivors. The station cities are still present and operational, if only by a thread. The station power grid is highly unstable and prone to failure; this has combat ramifications that will be explored later in this preview.
Metro 2033 while a game that had a fantastic atmosphere was also known as a benchmarking tool for PC enthusiasts. After having seen the game first hand I can say that I wouldn’t be surprised if the sequel continues the trend. The physics engine that Last Light employs is nothing short of amazing. The developers have really gone to the additional effort to make sure that the game stands head and shoulders above of its competitors. Rather than just creating a set reload animation, 4A have given the guns and bullets their own weight used for the physics calculations. When you reload your gun, each of the springs bounce as the rebound off the rifle barrel. As you discharge the bullets from a weapon they fall and hit each other and then change course as they have impacted with another object. It is really impressive to see the amount of simulation involved in something as simple as a reload animation, without hindering the game’s performance.
Firing at a stone pillar will now cause it to break and splinter as bullets and other projectiles hit it. Another impressive feature is the ability to change the speed of which the game plays at (similar to how Flight Simulator allows you to alter you speed). You can change the speed at the touch of a button; this feature should be a great boon to any person looking to create walkthroughs or gameplay videos. Unfortunately this feature is only PC at the moment although that may be subject to change. One of the best pieces of news to come from the demo play through was the fact that the shipped game will have native Russian for all of the NPC’s should the player select it from the game options. This was something that I felt elevated the first game a great deal. Listening to the people of your home station talk in Russian was incredibly immersive; it is something I wish more games would adopt.
Managing the amount of Military-Grade Bullets continues to play a major role in how you will play Metro: Last Light. To help keep players from entering bankruptcy, Metro Stations will now allow the players way to earn money by performing favors for people around the station or through gambling. In addition to the money-making activities, the metro stations also have interactive events that you can seek out. We were shown a sequence where Artyom visited the local tavern, where he was prompted for a drink. If you decide to have a single shot of hard liquor, the consequences would be minimal. However, we saw Artyom take around 7 shots of this hardened liquor, which sparked a drunken rage as Artyom trashed the underground tavern and woke up with the pigs on the hard, cold floor. These little flourishes really build on the already great sense of place in the game.
The combat system has received a significant upgrade over Metro 2033, many of the niggling issues have been addressed and several features have been built upon. The stealth mechanic has been given a total rebuild; it now works as it should have in the first game and then some. I have noticed a recent trend with games that allow you to stealth through most of the map only to find that you have to resort to more forceful methods in order to complete the level. This is not the case in Metro, you are able to cover yourself in the shadows and sneak your way through an entire level or you can light up the entire room with your guns blazing.
The AI has also been an additional amount of grey matter, the hostile enemies in the first game had two states: alerted or completely oblivious to your actions. In Last Light they have given the AI a range of attitudes that can range from interested to a complete panic attack. If an enemy is scared they will have adrenaline pumping through their veins. This in turn means that they will be able to sustain more damage before succumbing to death. There is no drag mechanic so there is definitely a strategic element to when and how you dispatch your foes. The controller mapping has also had a revamp, this was due to the widespread complaints surfaced by players of Metro 2033. The controller set up is now the same as most other shooters, this should allow for people to slide right in to the game without getting confused. 4A Games has also made extensive use of the radial wheel system. This was done to provide a far simpler solution to equipment management and to allow for the screen to be clear of any UI elements unless they are needed.
Metro The Last Light is shaping up to be a great game with many improvements over its predecessor. What really struck me as impressive is the level of polish the game has this far out from launch and how well it is running on what we were told to be fairly modest hardware. If it went on sale tomorrow I would happily buy it without complaints of quality control. In saying that we only saw one platform being used, however given how good the game was looking at this point I have faith in the developer that they will deliver a solid experience on all platforms. Metro looks to be an easy proposition; if you want a highly atmospheric single player campaign with an interesting setting look out for Metro. This is a game that while linear, acknowledges the benefits of giving a player freedom in a virtual environment. Everyone should be keeping an eye Metro: Last Light as it barrels towards its release.
Metro: Last Light is set for release in March 2013 on the Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and PC.