Metro: Last Light Impressions - Running Scared
Written Tuesday, May 29, 2012 By Lee BradleyView author's profile
Nobody makes games quite like the Eastern Europeans. Whether it be the post-Chernobyl wasteland of STALKER, the earthy grit of The Witcher or the mind-bending frostiness of Cryostasis, games from that region have their own uncompromising feel.
What this cultural perspective provides is a refreshing new take on familiar concepts. So in Metro 2033 we had a post-nuclear Moscow that felt nothing like Fallout 3, Gears of War, Crysis 3 or any of the other several million games that dealt in crumbled cityscapes. It was quite unlike anything else.
Of course, much of this is to do with the game’s underground setting. Forced to flee the post-nuclear ravages of the city, the residents of Moscow cower in the tunnels of the Metro, attempting to fight off the mutated beasts roaming the tunnels. Even tensions between the residents ran rife.
Metro 2033 was a suffocating, claustrophobic and grim experience in which you felt constantly outnumbered, poorly armed and vulnerable. Metro: Last Light aims to build on that, perfecting the raw promise of the first game, while layering swathes of psychological horror on what was already an unsettling experience.
After a year in the darkness, 4A Games is stepping into the light to ramp up promotion for the game. And while it’s only at the “pre-alpha” stage, and strictly hands-off, Metro: Last Light is already shaping up to be quite the adventure; a toxic mix of survival horror, light RPG elements, big set pieces, gorgeous graphics and murderous beasties.
Our demo started with Artyom and a companion venturing above ground to be greeted, by Metro standards, with a relatively idyllic view of the city. The brutal winter is coming to an end, the sun is shining and the ice is thawing on the ravaged city. “Maybe we'll live to see summer after all,” says Artyom's friend.
Of course, it doesn't last long. Within seconds the clouds close in, rain pelts down on Artyom's gas mask and the sky flicks and roars with thunder and lightning. Terrifying beasts start skittering across the wreckage.
Diving into shelter, Artyom and his companion find themselves in a building overgrown with moss and roots. But this isn't the sun-dappled beauty of Enslaved. Instead it's a gloomy nightmare filled with spider-infested corpses, flies, disease and death, the ceiling dripping with the city's melting ice. Metro: Last Light has lost none of its predecessor's atmosphere.
After rifling through corpses for ammo and a fresh filter for his gas mask, Artyom moves into another room; the drip, drip, drip of liquid still pattering down on his head. Looking up he notices that it's not melting ice but blood. The entire ceiling is heavy with it, thick sticky globules raining over the entire room.
Before Artyom has time for the putrid scene to sink in, a beast is on him, pouncing out of the darkness. His ragged gasps amplified by the gas mask, he manages to fight it off with a few blasts from his rifle, before escaping back out into the city alive but shaken. These moments are the payoff for all that tension. 4A knows exactly how to get a reaction out of the player.
Continuing through the wreckage of the city, Artyom and his companion come across a downed passenger jet, the wings ripped from its fuselage. Sensing the opportunity to scavenge from the wreckage, they venture inside. This was probably the most interesting and terrifying part of the demo.
The plane was scattered with bodies and overgrown with spider webs. As the pair pushed deeper, Artyom’s vision is overtaken by a hallucination, reliving the last moments of the plane and its pilots before the crash. Heading into Moscow the jet witnessed both the launch of Russia’s nuclear defences and the impact that ripped through the city.
In a genuinely terrifying scene we see the plane come crashing to the ground, with guttural, horrifying screams filling the air. Dizzied by the vision and slowly coming to his senses, Artyom realises that some of those screams are coming from his companion. He too was in the grip of some kind of mental breakdown.
Grabbing up his friend, Artyom then made his way out of the plane, noticing that other scavengers had fallen into a similar state, their lifeless bodies twisted into screams of terror. The city and its inhabitants are haunted by the very real events that almost wiped out the entirety of Moscow’s humanity. Their ghosts are everywhere.
Based on the demo we were shown, Metro: Last Light isn’t all about quiet bunkers and atmospheric shocks however. It knows how to do action too. A little later in the demo, we were shown a fight with a winged beast that grabbed Artyom and soared up into the air over over the city and a battle in which our hero and his companion were overrun by rabbid mutant dogs, just barely making it into the safety of the Metro.
Although, if the previous game is anything to go by, we know that the Metro is anything but safe.
What’s encouraging about all of this is that despite ramping up the set-piece, guns blazing drama, Metro: Last Light never lost its sense of tension. Ammo remains low, that sense of vulnerability remains present and the entire experience felt like a desperate battle to survive. In this world you are not a badass killer taking on all comers, you are at the mercy of the elements, facing death at every turn.
If 4A can manage to balance this mixture of action, survival, tension and psychological horror we could be in store for something very special indeed. Nobody makes games quite like the Eastern Europeans.
Metro: Last Light is out in 2013.