"The flawed masterpiece" is a term that THQ has used on more than one occasion when referring to 2010's Metro 2033. Loved by fans of the gritty postapocalyptic genre, the title's critical reception was hampered by a handful of design quirks and technical foibles, such as inconsistent AI.
Determined to improve on some of the shortcomings of the original, European developer A4 Games is trying its hand once more with Metro: Last Light, a direct sequel to Metro 2033. We recently got a second look at the demo shown during E3, and while the content hasn't evolved beyond the tightly scripted sequence that wowed show goers in June, we took the time to slow down the pace and smell the decaying roses. Our first lap was at full pace, verbosely butchering anything stupid enough to stand between our bullets and our objective. The second was much stealthier, focusing on using shadows to our advantage and drawing targets to secluded locations before putting them to sleep forever. Our third and final pass was much more free-form, stopping the action and examining the gameworld, and the intricacies of its objects, and giving us our first glimpse at the game running in stereoscopic 3D.
The scene opened with a long panning shot over the barren wastelands that form the backdrop to the game. The world was littered with aeroplane debris, framed by a slightly healthier-looking sky than we had seen previously and sparsely occupied by mutants roaming freely. The snow was beginning to melt, but we were headed underground, entering the darkened subterranean place via giant cement ducting. Light isn't your friend when you want to remain inconspicuous, so we quickly approached and untwisted light globes dotting the walls so that they no longer glowed, plunging the area into darkness. It was a theme continued throughout our demo, with our guide either carefully removing them by hand or shooting them out at distance with our silenced rifle. Downed soldiers wearing headlamps were just as likely to give away our position, so we quickly turned them off so as not to raise the suspicions of patrolling guardsmen.
With silence on our mind, machetes replaced bullets as we watched the paths of enemy soldiers and sidled up behind them before plunging our blade into their skulls. It was when the gunfire died down and the rooms were quiet and bloody that the attention to detail present in Last Light made itself clear. Accuracy permeates the gameworld, and where corners could have feasibly been cut, like using flat images for noninteractive objects such as pipes and switchboards, the team has gone the extra mile by creating fully 3D objects in excruciating replica. This is a salvaged future, and as a result, the cobbled-together technology is rooted in reality. Cogs grip and spin and cables spool in real time, whilst digging a layer below the destructible environments exposes the materials underneath that are providing structural integrity, such as mesh and rebar.
Although the demo that we saw was a fraction of a level and is still very much in the pre-alpha stage of development, we were most struck by its complete lack of HUD. No final decisions have been made, but the design team is working hard on the possibility of taking essential elements off the screen, or using replacement indicators, such as visible ammunition clips, as round counters, or audio cues, such as the difference between metal pings on armour and thuds of bullets colliding with flesh, to indicate what you're hitting. It's ambitious, and a natural follow-on to Metro 2033's oxygen supply indicator watch system, but it will require significantly less hand-holding than exists in other shooters available. We welcome the change, and it's a brave step that we're hoping does make it to market.
Currently, there are only plans for the PC version of Last Light to support stereoscopic 3D, courtesy of a partnership with Nvidia, but THQ reps did allude to the fact that if the community wants it, there is a possibility of the mode being brought to the game's console versions. 3D looked stunning, and with the scene moving slowly, each weapon showed distinct personalities in the gouges and scratches on the metal, while the subtle depth-of-field change when the iron sights were brought up were anything but gimmicky. Unfortunately, as tends to be the case with the technology, when the scene got frantic, and speedy actions like weapon reloads or fast-paced action sequences occurred, the fine detail showcased in 3D that made the game so beautiful and immersive was lost, turning it into more of a blur. 3D visuals are an inherently personal experience, so your mileage may vary, but from what we saw, we're hoping to see it tightened up before it ships.
The game is not due to ship until sometime in 2012 on the PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Wii U, but from our latest taste, we're hoping to see more on Metro: Last Light soon.