Metro Last Light: a trip through Moscow’s underground

metro-last-light-light_105423-1600x1200Metro 2033 was something of a surprise for publisher THQ.

A survival horror game based on the novel of the same name by Russian author Dmitry Glukhovsky, it told the story of a post-holocaust Moscow and a young man called Artyom, born in the city’s underground Metro system, where survivors of a nuclear attack now live. On the surface roam unspeakable horrors called the Dark Ones.

The game was played from the perspective of Artyom, and the action took place mostly in dark tunnels of the metro and in the radiation-laced streets of Moscow. The game’s global communications manager, Jeremy Greiner, told me over the phone from Sydney that he believes Metro 2033 was misunderstood by THQ when it was released.

”Metro 2033 turned out to be a cult hit. It flew under the radar. It wasn’t understood by THQ at the time and it didn’t get the marketing push that it should have. It was the gem that not everyone knew about.” Not surprisingly then, Metro Last Light, the sequel to Metro 2033, has THQ’s solid backing, complete with a big marketing drive that includes a live action series setting the story.

Metro 2033 had two possible endings: a ”good” one and a ”bad” one, depending on the player’s actions throughout the game, and Greiner says Last Light carries the narrative on after the events of the ”bad” ending.

Metro Last Light, like 2033, is a little different from most shooters in that it strips away some of the most common on-screen elements, most noticeably the mini-map and the health meter. In Metro 2033, players had to monitor the effectiveness of the filters in Artyom’s breathing mask by keeping an eye on Artyom’s wristwatch. Ammunition, too, was scarce throughout the game, forcing players to scavenge bodies and lockers. When Artyom was injured, blood would splatter the screen.

screenshot-12”By not having an on-screen mini-map telling you where you must go next and by stripping away the HUD [heads-up display] and user interface, it makes things more challenging for the player, says Greiner. ”Metro 2033 and Last Light are all about immersion in the game world and when there is a pop-up on-screen it makes you realise you’re in a video game. It pulls away from the experience.”

Greiner says developer 4A isn’t concerned about the other shooter games on the market but just making the game that they wanted to create with a strong narrative. ”Metro Last Light has lots of emotion and geopolitical themes. It’s a highly detailed world and the conversations, too, deliver a strong narrative experience.”

I asked him how much of the developers’ political leanings are in Last Light. ”A lot of the guys [on the development team] lived under the communist regime so I’m sure that will shape their political and cultural beliefs.”

Greiner believed gamers will be surprised with Metro Last Light and how it handles traditional first-person conventions.

”I think with Metro Last Light, gamers are going to have an ‘Aha’ moment, a revelation, and will question how they used to play shooters. Last Light will challenge how you play shooters in the way you do. You’ll ask why do you feel a certain emotion and it breaks out of the regular shooter mode. With the breathing masks, for example, you have to change air filters yourself – the game won’t do it for you. I feel that in other games you’re conditioned to do things in a certain way but in a game like Last Light, where you challenge yourself, it’s rewarding.”

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