Metro: Last Light Hands-On Preview - Living Up to its Promise
Written Thursday, March 21, 2013 By Lee BradleyView author's profile
It’s been almost two years since Metro: Last Light was first announced. Since then the Metro 2033 sequel has been on quite a journey. Subject to numerous delays and faced with possible limbo following the dramatic collapse of publisher THQ, you could be forgiven for thinking the 4A-developed shooter might display the odd war wound.
In fact, when we saw Last Light in action late last year, we were concerned. Despite 4A claiming that all was well, the press still hadn’t been allowed to actually play the game. It looked great, but with release just around the corner we were keen to go hands-on. When the press is prevented from playing a game, there’s usually a problem.
It was a relief then to sit down for an extended session with the game recently and see that our worries were unfounded. Metro: Last Light looks set to fulfil its promise; offering substantially improved stealth and combat while retaining the grim, dark atmosphere that made the original so unique and compelling.
A recap for the uninitiated: Metro: Last Light takes place in a world where an atomic blast has decimated Moscow and forced its survivors into the city’s underground network of rail stations. With food, warmth and comfort at a premium and grotesque monsters prowling through the darkness, life in the metro is nightmarish.
Within this world, two factions dominate: the far right Nazis and the far left Communists. Present in the first game, tensions between these groups have escalated to the degree that civil war threatens to wipe the last vestiges of humanity from the earth.
Caught between these two factions is Artyom, a Russian citizen born just a few days before the atomic blast. Haunted by his actions at the climax of the first game, Artyom is seeking redemption. There’s hope - the last light referred to in the title - and only Artyom can deliver it.
Our demo began proper with Artyom attempting to escape a station crawling with Nazis, with the bulk of the action taking place in a cavernous engineering station. We played through the section twice, making sure to take different approaches and test out Metro: Last Light’s revised stealth and combat. From previous demo sessions we already knew that the game drips with atmosphere, finally we got to feel how it plays.
Stealth is ultra-forgiving. A click of a button and you duck down, your low-profile indicated by a light on your watch. From this position you can skulk around, slipping behind walls and breaking lines of sight. The most important factor in remaining undetected, however, is creating shadows and sticking to them.
Broadly speaking each area of this type has a central fuse box. Flick the switches and the area drops into near darkness, making it almost impossible to be spotted. Even when approaching enemies from a fairly direct angle, they won’t see you unless you wander into their light source (most have torches) or you do something silly like open fire noisily.
On paper it may seem far too easy to sneak around a level and perhaps it is. But in practice, it’s great fun. Combined with some properly gruesome, knife-based finishing moves; stalking around the darkness, downing Nazis methodically is a huge improvement over the last game’s muddled and dodgy AI-riddled stealth.
This works particularly well with the level design, which when it opens up offers plenty of choice. The level in question had ladders, raised platforms and vents to crawl around in, in addition to the nooks and crannies of the floor itself. It’s no Deus Ex, it’s not trying to be, but you’ve still got a pleasing amount of freedom.
The other approach is just to go in blasting. In Metro 2033 this would have been a slightly more arduous task but thankfully this time out the guns feels more responsive and satisfying. There’s a shotgun, for example, a short-barrelled bastard that pukes out death in the most wonderful way. It feels great and when you pull the left trigger it spits out both barrels at once, emulsifying anything in its path. Present in the first game, its implementation in Last Light is a big improvement.
Another of the things Metro 2033 got wrong was weapon degradation and the dual ammo system. The guns were supposed to be shitty, liable to break down without much notice. Meanwhile, the only way to make your weapons more potent was to equip military grade ammo, but it doubled as currency so you usually stuck to the crappy stuff. These factors fit the game thematically, but as a result combat wasn’t much fun.
In Last Light these factors remain, but 4A promises that the balance has been more delicately handled. Weapons will still degrade and the dual ammo system in still in place, but not at the expense of the gameplay. However, for the purposes of our demo we were deliberately stocked up with military grade ammunition by the devs, and we swapped out weapons often enough to avoid any breakages. So the legitimacy of these claims are yet to be tested.
Away from the Nazi ranks and we ventured into the connecting tunnels of the metro, in an attempt to reach the next station. These tunnels are crawling with nasties and we were forced to fight through spider-infested catacombs. Again light plays a part as your only real protection against these scuttling monsters. Point your torch at them and they skulk away, eventually flipping onto their back and dying. We only worked this out after wasting a bunch of ammo, mind.
At one point a spider pounced with such supreme timing that we jumped out of our chairs, swallowing down a girly yelp. Far less sophisticated than the more open levels against human enemies, these sections dial up the horror.
We’ve been shown about five demos of Metro: Last Light since it was announced. During those sessions we’ve seen tight, scripted action, tense stealth, overground shoot-outs and underground horror. We’ve seen brilliantly realised, populated hubs, eerily quiet tunnels and terrifying flashbacks. We’ve seen all the evidence of a great game, but in this latest demo, we finally got to play it. Based on our session, Metro: Last Light is everything we hoped it would be.
Metro: Last Light is out in North America on May 14th and Europe on May 17th, 2013.