Interview: Metro Last Light's Eastern promise
10th Dec 2012 | 13:14
Metro Last Light is the sequel to one of this generation's hidden gems. The original
Our Metro 2033 review called it "a brilliantly atmospheric shooter with forgivably imperfect gunplay" and despite a few flaws, it drew favourable comparisons as a kind of Russian Half Life.
Now, work on the sequel
How has the Metro universe progressed with Last Light? How have things evolved since 2033?
So the game takes place fairly soon after the events of 2033 around a year later. We're following the canon ending of the books so Artyom has destroyed the dark ones, believing them to be a threat to the Metro and living with the consequences of that decision which he has an inkling may have been a mistake.
He's been indoctrinated into the order of rangers who are coveting D6, the missile facility they used to destroy the dark ones and have kind of unwittingly opened Pandora's box and telegraphed to the various warring factions of the Metro that there's this glittering prize, a bunker buried with who knows what technology and weapons, supplies etc. So that's kind of our starting point for Last Light.
How has Artyom evolved as a character and how will he continue to evolve throughout this game?
Well 2033 is a very formative experience for Artyom it's a combination of road trip and coming of age movie. He starts the game as this naïve young man who's never travelled more than 200 yards from his station city really. He's put into this mission and trusted with this situation by Hunter which is going to send him on this epic trek through the Metro, the likes of which only a handful of people have ever attempted. He's driven by these two very conflicting philosophies, the initial mission that he's given by Hunter, that 'if it's hostile you kill it' an absolutely singular purpose and strength of will, that's the way we deal with our problems.
Then he encounters the philosopher-poet Khan who has a very different view that encourages him to be maybe a little bit more thoughtful, perceptive and not take things entirely at face value. The war and conflict between the two of them are the things that drive Artyom throughout the first game and hopefully gives the player plenty to think about as well.
Dmitri [Glukhovsky - author of Metro 2033] described Artyom from the first game as being like a young American conscript sent to Afghanistan or Vietnam as an 18 or 19 year old with not a huge amount of training and thrown into a horrific situation who comes back scarred and emotionally traumatised by the experience.
His [Artyom's] starting position in Last Light is as a very interesting and complex character.
He has this huge burden of guilt upon him as he considers the ramifications of his actions, at the same time as being feted as a hero by the people of the Metro. His experiences have certainly coloured his outlook and that's a theme that we'll be exploring through Metro Last Light.
The Metro itself is almost like a character in the first game, a very atmospheric setting. What new parts of it will players get to explore?
One of the things we're really proud of about 2033 was that for a game that was supposed to be post-apocalyptic and set in tunnels, we managed to escape a lot of the grey brown traps and we introduced lots of colour and variety. That's really been a goal this time around as well.
Some of the key differences are, we take you back to the station-city environments you saw from the first game but we've really gone to town creatively in terms of showing you very unique and distinct environments that many people might not be expecting including the one we've shown today which is this flooded subterranean station known affectionately as Venice.
The biggest changes we've made have been to the outdoor environments, part of that is for narrative purposes, part of it for art direction, part of it is to stretch the technology that we've had at our disposal.
So in 2033 I think about 20% of the game was set outdoors and our environments were very consistent, they were grey, lots of snow and ice, they had this bleak charm about them but they felt quite uniform when you were out on the surface. By moving the storyline along we've hinted that the first signs of spring are there, we've introduced running water, vegetation, we see the sunlight breaking through from the clouds, we have day night cycles in the outdoor environments some really exciting dynamic weather effects whether its the clouds rolling across the sky, or mist or fog coming through or lightning or the rain lashing down.
It's just given a much broader range of colours, textures and environments to play around with. So we now introduce even more outdoor environments to the player and I think you'll see a much greater variety as well but at the same time, keeping the underlying sense of desolation and dread that you've come to expect from a Metro game.
The original game had a great variety of creatures from demons to nosalises and the highly memorable Librarians. What new creatures will we encounter in Last Light?
So a lot of the creatures from the first game make a return and we've remodelled absolutely everything about them, redesigned them physically, given them a much more complex behavioural patterns and attack patterns, completely overhauled the animation systems behind them. So we're pretty proud of the progress we've made with the mutants.
We've obviously showed you in the swamp area some of the mutant types that have evolved to that watery environment including the amphibian with the clawed arms and he'll use those as kind of armour or shielding that you either have to aim through or if you chip away at it and you can break things off.
There's also a smaller amphibian which is more of a scavenger, on its own it's not a huge threat but it will spit acid at your mask which not only damages you but can obscure your vision, meaning you have to use our new mask wiping mechanic. That normally happens in the heat of battle when things are trying to kill you at the same time.
You've obviously built on the core gameplay mechanics. What new ones have you introduced and improved in Last Light?
Obviously the mask mechanic is something we showed at E3. It might seem like a small thing, but it's another player-controlled action that adds another layer to the whole survival experience outside. We've really overhauled our weapon handling and weapon management system in a variety of ways and part of that is to support Artyom's evolution as a character.
He's obviously been amongst the troop of rangers now and he's a little more competent as a protagonist. At the same time we really want to keep that vulnerability and that sense of threat that's so important for the game. So I don't think in any sense he's going to feel overpowered but he's just a little bit more competent in what he can do. So we've expanded his range of actions and the intuitiveness of the controls.
So your secondaries are now immediately available, so rather than having to bring them up and hold them in your hand. You'll see him throw his gun to the other hand and then either draw the throwing knife or the grenade, so there's no instant grenade spamming. He has a knife attack which is accessible at any moment and then as you saw in the playthrough a non-lethal as well as a lethal execution. He's got a much more rounded skillset in that sense.
We've also changed the way that weapon handling works so that rather than restrict you to a single pistol class, a single automatic class and one of our custom or esoteric weapons, you can now have any weapon of any type in any slot. It's perfectly possible to have a Helsing, T-har and a shotgun, but you'll probably find it extremely difficult to maintain all three of them because ammo for the first two in particular are very rare. But that option is available to the player so there is a bit more choice in how you equip yourself which means you can tailor your inventory to the kind of playing style you like.
We also allow you to independently customise each individual weapon rather than in the first one where you would swap a weapon for a pre-built one. You can now adjust and modify the ones which you have, whether it's adding a silencer, a stock to increase accuracy or a barrel to increase range or any number of combinations. It's just added a lot more layers of depth to the combat experience.
What improvements have you made to the core game engine?
Well it's across the board really, the lighting obviously continues to be a huge focus. We've introduced a lot more destruction and interactivity into the environments. Huge improvements in animation across the board. AI improvements have been perhaps the single biggest focus.
It's kind of been everywhere, not just one single thing and the advantage of having the tech and game engine in house means we can add the features that we want as we need them to support the gameplay rather than trying to figure out a system and fudge what they've built for a completely different purpose. I really don't think there's anything else out there that would be able to create the world of Metro, the way the 4A engine does.
Last Light is for PC, Xbox and for the first time there'll be a Metro game on PS3 - has that proved a challenge?
Olez, our genius programmer was asked this very same question - he was asked if it was difficult and he said, "not difficult ...boring." Yeah I think PS3 and 360 owners are going to be very, very pleased with the level of fidelity we can hit on those platforms given how far ahead the PC hardware is now versus those fixed platforms.
Metro 2033 was a fantastic learning process for us on the 360 platform and for most of the developers it was their very first console game. I still think 2033 stacks up as one of the better looking games on 360, certainly in the interior environments - all of the dynamic lighting translates perfectly to those formats.