I never got around to playing its predecessor Metro 2033 when it came out, but the book it's based on, a Russian novel written by author Dmitry Glukhovsky, was described to me as being right up my alley by a few of my friends. And after sitting through a 15 minute demo this afternoon, I came out of the darkened theater a believer. Not only is Metro 2033 going to be a game (and book) I tear through when time allows it this summer, but Metro: Last Light was instantly mentally marked as one of my most anticipated games of 2012.
The book Metro 2033 has a sequel aptly named Metro 2034. But, unlike the original game, Metro: Last Light has nothing to do with the books. Instead, Ukrainian developer 4A Games has been able to explore a bit of this fictional setting's storyline for itself. Gamers are again brought back to an utterly-destroyed Moscow, where humanity has managed to survive in limited numbers by dwelling in the subway system underneath the city. And gamers are again placed in the role of Artyom, the hero from the original title.
That's one hell of a traffic jam.
As the camera panned over Moscow during the beginning of the demo, it was clear that 4A Games understands how to create a convincing post-apocalyptic setting. I especially loved when the camera caught a glimpse of a wall of what was once a church, still covered in holy art, only to work its way further rightward. It was there that a row of cars sat in a state of perpetual traffic, blasted to hell when nuclear war broke out years ago. Mysterious monsters mutated by fallout fly around the surface while your character works his way into the city's metro system, where society's survivors are (somewhat) safely located.
Here, the first-person shooter action erupted, and didn't stop until the demo concluded. What I immediately dug was the stealth element that's clearly present in Metro: Last Light. As Artyom stalks a couple of enemy soldiers from the Reich, a fascist movement amongst the underground's survivors, he is able to shoot out light bulbs to make himself less visible. But unfortunately, after brutally killing both of these unsuspecting soldiers, the one single -- yet glaring -- flaw of this stealth system came to the fore. And that glaring flaw is what appears to be unaware AI.
Shooting out one or two lightbulbs while your foes are far ahead of you is one thing. But as Artyom worked his way closer to a Reich stronghold, the developer playing through the demo began to do things that should have easily alerted the soldiers to his presence. He began shooting a kettle hanging over a fire while several enemies stood nearby. Wouldn't anyone hear this? Even if the gun is silenced (and it wasn't clear that it was), wouldn't bullets careening off of a metal kettle make noise enough to alert someone nearby? Wouldn't its mysterious movement over the fire let at least one soldier know something is amiss? And if light bulbs are being shot out emitting light that's clearly within sight of nearby enemies, shouldn't there be some sort of reaction? This is something that I hope is fixed before Metro: Last Light emerges next year, because for a game so thick with ambiance and mood, it drew me out of the experience a bit.
Nonetheless, everything else I saw impressed me. Artyom couldn't sneak around forever, and eventually a firefight erupted. There are clearly a plethora of weapons available to the remains of society, and it showed as Artyom switched from conventional machineguns to heavier chain guns and other weapons. The AI of the soldiers seemed to pick up considerably once the fray began as well, cleansing my pallet a bit from what I perceived to a lax AI when Artyom's presence was yet unknown to his enemies.
As this initial firefight concluded within the dark environs of the metro, Artyom eventually penetrated a meeting of the Reich, a fascist group that controls part of the underground system.Thereafter, he runs off to a nearby train track with his enemies in pursuit. It was here that another impressive firefight erupted on the rails. I was especially impressed with this sequence not only because of the fluid action, but because of the fact that you were fighting on one of the Reich's trains, rife with supplies. This suggested that there's an economy in the metro, something that's obvious if you were to believe that this was an actual society, but something that 4A Games could have easily ignored. Yet, they didn't. There's attention to detail here, an attention to the minutiae of what makes scenarios like this believable, even if you won't be partaking in the economy yourself. And I really appreciated that.
Metro: Last Light doesn't come out until 2012. But unlike Metro 2033, Last Light will come not only to Xbox 360 and PC, but PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Wii U as well. In passing, I asked if Metro 2033 would ever come to PlayStation 3 in particular, so that gamers who wanted to play the second game could catch up with the first. Unfortunately, the representative from THQ that I spoke to didn't know. In the meantime, I highly recommend everyone keep this game on their radars. If the final product comes out as well as the demo did, there's cause for excitement for gaming fans like me that love a dark, moody atmosphere.