Metro: Last Light preview

By Garnett Lee, May 31, 2011 1:30pm PDT

Metro 2033, from developer 4A Games, was a surprise cult-hit from publisher THQ when it arrived in early 2010. The shooter based on Russian author Dmitry Glukhovsky's novel of the same name combined the unapologetic mechanics found in many Eastern European PC-centric shooters that made it difficult to crack the mainstream shooter market. Though the game suffered a handful of bugs, its success on PC and Xbox 360 paved the way for THQ to "green light" a continuation of the adapted story.

Metro: Last Light continues the franchise with the same creative vision as its predecessor but also features a strong commitment to bring the game's core systems up to the same standards as its artistic aspirations. From what I have seen, the game still features the same Eastern European gameplay design popularized by games of the same ilk, stifling fears that Metro: Last Light would attempt to "Westernize" the series going forward. The game universe returns to the bleak, post-apocalyptic world where humanity survives underground. Slowly, though, the world is becoming more hospitable, and as humanity gets back on its feet, factions form and the struggle for power leads to new civil wars.

I saw a demo of a very early version of the game being played on PC. Like the original, Metro: Last Light hits that combination of art style and visual fidelity that stops anyone in their tracks. Details abound in every environment both below and above ground. The developer's attention to detail makes it easy to get sucked into the game world. And it's punctuated by the fictional elements such as a pneumatic sniper rifle that comes of as completely believable as something hand-made a gunsmith in this bleak, industrial world might fashion.

Metro: Last Light's demo also highlighted the game's use of dramatic lighting. The contrast between the gloomy dark of the underground and the stark, glaring ruin of the surface goes a long way in setting the tone of the game. Much of what I saw was underground, where the only light is artificial. In a stealthy section of the demo, the sense of tension was quite strong watching the light beams of a patrol come through a tunnel. But it looked like it also helped make it easier to tell where you would and wouldn't be seen, allowing you to sneak behind unsuspecting enemies for a stealth kill.

Anytime stealth comes up in a game I get a little wary. It requires sophisticated AI to create a believable set of enemy behaviors to try and overcome. Too rigid and it feels like a machine; too aware and difficulty can spike making it hard to play. On that count, AI is another of the developer's core elements expressly targeted for improvement.

Even when not sneaking, Metro: Last Light promises to retain its feeling of a shooter that plays at a more measured pace. It does not seek to be an over-the-top run-and-gun experience. The world it takes place in is still very inhospitable and there's an underlying theme to the game of needing to be conscientious about every resource used. Again, light, ammo, and air are precious resources, and must be treated as such to ensure survival.

This demo, though, set out to prove that Metro: Last Light deserves mention in any discussion of the most impressive shooters currently in development. It did so rather emphatically. Watching it will certainly elicit a lot of "wows" from the crowd. For example, the demo's concluding chase sequence--featuring a tense running escape through an underground military rally followed by a rail car pursuit--demanded the attention of all who witnessed it. It's up to Metro: Last Light to deliver on that promise with a glitch-free, smooth gaming experience when it arrives. One thing it shouldn't be, though, is a surprise.

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