Going Quietly Into the Night......
Somewhere in the distance, beyond the light of your headlamp, water drips and echos in almost rhythmic pace with your footfalls. Well worn boots thump against broken concrete slabs as you follow the twin metro rails to your destination. With only a half functional compass attached to your wrist as your guide, the tunnel feels enclosed, claustrophobic, as if it was pressing down upon you like deadweight. Your vision is limited to a few feet ahead of you, the dark hiding the myriad unknowns that could end your too brief existence. Being this deep in the Metro, the air seems cloying and stale, carrying with it a heavy scent of motor grease and rusted iron. You recheck your compass, the headlamp suddenly sputtering once before flickering out. Reaching into your pocket you pop open your lighter, flicking it once as the flint tries to catch upon the wick. In that brief flash your eyes seem to catch movement ahead. You freeze. Your senses suddenly heightened, eyes, ears, smell. You hear nothing but that predictable drip-dripping of condensation spilling off the ceiling in the distance. You wait a few more moments before flicking on your lighter once more. The wick catches the fire and soft yellowed light spills out, melting away the dark. It dawns on you that during that time, your free hand instinctively gripped upon the handle of your pistol, having drawn it with trembling stiff fingers.
You take a moment to recharge your battery, spinning the coil slowly as your headlamp flutters back to life. Re-holstering your pistol, you proceed down the tunnel towards your destination, keeping an ear to the ground more so now as you go. To be left in the deep, by yourself with no light to keep away the many things that make this place home now, would be the last death you ever hoped to meet. Ever since the war, when the bombs stripped away the life of the overworld, nature below has adapted and changed to become nightmare stuff. The radiation is the least of your worries. Simple animals, rats, dogs, and some other mutated creatures you've been told about but have luckily never seen, now bring death to the unwary and unprepared. It is by sheer determination alone that small pockets of humanity still remain, but they lie splintered and broken by beliefs, or by racist intolerance, or even by the simple belief of might makes right by power over the weak. When they should be standing together as one people, old world thinking still rears its ugly head even here. And as you travel down the Metro towards your destination, these thoughts haunt you.
In fact the future of humanity seems about as bright as the dying light of your headlamp......
Based upon the bestselling book series, Metro: Last Light is the upcoming sequel to the 2010 cult hit Metro: 2033, set in a post-apocalyptic Russia, or more appropriately underneath the cities in the Metro tunnels where small pockets of humanity live miserable, isolated existences protected by the radiation that now covers the world's surface. Originally announced as Metro: 2034, developer 4A Games decided to eschew plans to base the sequel on the book's storyline, instead opting to build a completely new story with nods to the original. When asked if the book's author, Dmitry Glukhovsky, would be on hand to oversee the sequel's production, Last Light's executive producer, Dean Sharpe, answered with both a yes and a no. "He’s not so much involved with Metro: Last Light as he was with the last one," Sharpe says. "He helped create the story, but after that his involvement pretty much ended. We still have a friendly relationship with him though, so he’s still there if we get stuck, or if we need ideas we’ll talk to him. But for the most part, it’s the 4A team coming up with the story on this one."
What is known of the story so far is that the sequel follows the original game's "bad" ending, something that many games seem to shy away from as being in-game canon. When asked WHY 4A Games decided to take this route, Sharpe was quick to answer."But which one is [considered] the "bad" ending, and which one is the "good" ending?" he teases. To offer a more robust answer to that question, Communications Lead Huw Beynon steps in. "It’s the canon of the book," he explains, "with a lot of the best science fiction, there are plenty of different layers to Dimitry’s original novel. The whole idea of the factions warring against each other is his kind-of pseudo critique of what he saw as the state of contemporary Russian politics. Lots of science fiction has something to say about our present time, and the ending of the book – in which Artyom destroys the Dark One, and he’s not actually aware that they represent the last line of hope for humanity – is obviously a very pessimistic ending."
Beynon goes on to explain that the original "good" ending didn't actually really leave a lot of openings for a sequel, and that by taking this route, 4A Games could really flesh out the message Glukhosky was trying to relay. "I think as the basis for a follow-on story, it’s a lot more interesting to follow the canon, than to follow that happy, ‘Oh, Artyom realized just in time, and actually saved everyone’ ending. It gives us a much more interesting starting point for Metro: Last Light. Again, it’s kind of continuing this theme of Dimitry’s from the first game, in that you have 40,000 people left, surviving from the holocaust. You kind of hope that they would just band together, and work together, but instead they’ve just split off into these antagonistic factions who are fighting against each other. We’re not really going to talk too much about the story beyond that, because I think that’s something we'd rather let players find out for themselves as they play it. It’s particularly interesting, because there isn’t a Metro book for people to follow this time, like there was with Metro 2033. This is going to be their own discovery of the story as they play through it."
Going along with a (semi) original story, 4A Games will be retooling or completely overhauling some of the original game's snags that left many gamers more than a little frustrated. Case in point, the original game's "Ammo Currency" is being refined and streamlined to make more sense and user-friendly. "Without a doubt," Sharpe says "I think that in the first game the system was really confusing. Whichever way the new system goes, it will be much more understandable, because we know that some gamers had problems with it. Hell, even I was confused by it at some points."
Another point they want to address is the somewhat drab and lifeless environmental elements in the first game and give it more of a visual impact in the sequel. More emphasis is being placed on destructible elements, interactive items and so forth. "See, the funny thing is that all of that tech was in the last engine," Sharpe says, "but we just didn’t utilize it enough. When we came to do Metro: Last Light, we really souped it up a lot further along with the physics, and put an emphasis on building it into the gameplay." For example, camping in a specific cover point may be a bad idea, since continued gunfire may eventually wear it away, leaving you vulnerable to enemy fire. Running and gunning is your best option, 4A Games explains, and doing a check of better defensive positions (i.e. hiding behind a concrete pillar versus a wooden crate for example) can make all the difference between winning a shoot out or reloading your last save game.
Another element Last Light is looking to improve upon is the game's stealth elements, something Sharpe was adamant about fixing and improving on for the sequel. "It was just broken in the first game," he jokes, "but you know, I think what is very indicative of the team here is that they always err on the side of over-realistic. That sounds good in theory, but in reality; there’s nothing realistic about a video game. If you make a single noise, then that shouldn’t break stealth. Just like if you’re in a warehouse with 50 other people, and you make too loud a noise, then you’re probably going to be dead." By layering it, meaning that by making it so a player can get away (a little) with making some noise, then the enemy won't immediately "know" where you are and gun you down, but they may have sort of a heightened sense of "something out there" and act accordingly. "We’re all about pushing the stealth mechanic so that it remains fun, and helping players learn the mechanic so that when they fail they aren’t punished brutally for it," Sharpe says. "Compared with Metro 2033, the stealth mechanic is now ‘night and day’ better. There are multiple levels of alertness now, and so much more in it now to make it feel more realistic. It’s just a lot more fun, and fixes all of the problems from the last game."
With more than a few heavy hitters already out there tackling the post-apocalyptic landscape (namely the Fallout series and, more recently, id's Rage), the question remains to be asked if Metro: Last Light will be that one 'stand-out' title when compared to other developers already exploring that specific niche. The answer is a definitive "Yes" according to Beynon. "We really think that our vision of a post apocalyptic world is very different from the western cultural references we’re familiar with," he says "whether it’s in movies such as Terminator or Mad Max, or with games it’s Fallout or Rage. We see a lot of very similar themes, cyberpunk, tribes in the desert, that kind of thing. I think that the ukranian viewpoint, partly just because of their location and the fact that they’re literally living under the shadow of Chernobyl, where the developers are based, you have the legacy of decades of soviet rule, you have these layers of russian and eastern european mysticism and folklore. It creates a very different version of the post-apocalyptic landscape. I think if you compare the two, the western apocalypse fable is couched in sci-fi. So if you take something like the terminator, everything is scientific lore, the enemy is a robot, a computer program. There is no magical mystery-it’s something that can be killed and destroyed, whereas in the world of Metro, there is inexplicable phenomenon, there are ghosts and spirits, as well as this [sort of] gritty soviet realism."
Even though Last Light is being designed around a completely new storyline, Beynon wants to reassure original Metro fans that they're thinking of them, and it's because of them that Last Light is being 'fixed' to make it a better overall experience for vets and rookies alike. "I think what we’re trying to do with last light is talk to the fans of the original more than anything, because fans of the original know what the game is about; they remember the atmosphere and the immersion, the survival horror, the exploration elements, we want to make it really clear that we’re going to follow a very similar path with this title as well. We also took on board a lot of the very valid criticism for the first game that some of our gameplay systems were not as polished as they could have been, and we really want to show how our focus on addressing these pays off."
Metro: Last Light is on track for a Q1 2013 release. Plenty of time for players to ready themselves to venture back into the creeping dark.
At a Glance: Metro: Last Light
Blog entry posted by wastelander75, Aug 8, 2012.