E3 2011 Preview: Metro: Last Light
One of the more surprising releases last year was came from publisher THQ and developer 4A Games. Coming seemingly out of nowhere, Metro 2033 brought us an intense, dimly lit FPS environment with a foreboding atmosphere, pulse-pounding action, and a very well-grounded sense of humanity. It was also mostly free of bugs and issues, something that you don't always get from the game studios of Eastern Europe.
Now, they're working on a follow-up. Metro: Last Light intensifies the action and brings 2033's protagonist, Artyom, back as a freedom fighter and savior of humanity once again. (The books on which this series was based told a new story in Metro 2034, but 4A is going in a different direction with this direct sequel.) The post-apocalyptic Moscow environment is starting to show signs of clearing up after the nuclear holocaust, as the sun is now sometimes visible, but mutants still rule the surface. You'll make excursions back out there once again in what we presume will be the same excellent changes in pace that they served as in 2033, and now you'll also have other human factions to deal with. Yep, humanity is starting to flourish in Moscow's extensive bomb-proof underground subway and tunnel systems, and that means power is consolidating and the well-off are starting to take advantage of the poor and hungry.
As Artyom, you're going to have to work against evil in both human and mutant forms, and that means more intense shooter action, this time with a tad more polish and variety than before. What surprised me most about the E3 demo that THQ showed us was that the physics and lighting are vastly improved over previous games; in some ways, Metro 2033 improved on the atmosphere, study of light and shadow, and overall technical brilliance of DOOM 3, and Last Light is taking all of that into new territory with even better visuals.
Stealth mechanics have been improved, as you'll have the opportunity to take on large underground complexes of enemies by first taking out a few lights, slitting a few throats, and then opening up with your jury-rigged weapons against the relative few that can't be taken out from behind. Bigger guns like a hand-held chaingun make mincemeat out of your enemies, but then the game purposely will slow down the pace a bit by allowing the player to infiltrate a rally of the new Reich by simply walking through the crowd of people that have come to listen to its leader. That little assassination plan fails, and the player along with his NPC buddy must make a daring escape by underground train, complete with thrilling chase sequences and lots of hard-hitting rifle fire.
One thing I want to point out is that Metro 2033 stuck to its FPS roots pretty strictly, refusing to add RPG elements, branching storylines, conversation trees, or many of the genre-crossing things we now see in action games. Last Light seems to be doing the same, and it's kind of weird to be saying this, but I'm looking forward to it as a bit of a breath of fresh air. As someone who enjoys nearly every game genre and appreciates the ones that cross over, sometimes I just want a good, solid single-genre game, and that's exactly what Last Light seems to intend on doing. If you're looking for the same, then keep this one on your list.
While Metro: Last Light doesn't look to be vastly different from its predecessor, the small changes and tweaks to the visuals and action - along with the entirely new single player campaign, of course - should add up to a pretty big difference. The weapons look to be more powerful and satisfying to use, the tactics players can employ look sharper, and mutants are back, even if 4A Games didn't have much of them to show as of yet. Metro: Last Light might have split off of the book series on which the original game was based - as this is a direct sequel, where as the Metro 2034 novel was not - but all I'm seeing is good stuff here. The team has a while still to work, too, as the release date is set for 2012 on consoles and PC.