E3 2011: Eyes-On with Metro: Last Light

Last year’s Metro 2033 is generally regarded, I think, as a missed opportunity. It had a great world with an interesting back story and all the makings of a memorable game, but like many games designed in the Eastern Bloc, it fell somewhat short in terms of gameplay. Critical reception was deeply divided, so I’m extremely pleased that publisher THQ decided to put some faith in 4A games and greenlight its sequel, Metro: Last Light.

So how does it look so far? I got a look at the game at THQ’s booth on the show floor, so hit the jump for my impressions.

If you’re unfamiliar with Metro, I’ll give you the quick rundown: There was some sort of freaky apocalypse that made it impossible to live on the surface of the earth due to monsters and poison, and you play Artyom, part of a small surviving bit of humanity that has managed to scrape out a living in the abandoned subway tunnels beneath Moscow. The situation has improved somewhat since the first game, but in general, not a lot has changed for Last Light. You’ll be playing the same protagonist a few years after the events of 2033, and the plot largely revolves around some kind of civil war happening in the Metro.

But as you might expect, the demo was very light on story. The live gameplay started up with Artyom doing some stealthing around, taking out a few (human) enemies with his knife and quietly unscrewing light bulbs in order to remain hidden. I noticed almost immediately that the demo build was 100% HUD-free, no sign of a health bar or ammo count. I’d be willing to guess that this was done simply so those in attendance would keep their attention on the jaw-dropping graphics on display, but I’d also expect that the final game will feature an extremely minimal HUD.

After acquiring a high-powered minigun-like weapon and using it to deflect a large ambush, the demo skipped ahead to a scene that had Artyom and some old guy infiltrating some manner of large rally. This is where the graphics really started to strut their stuff. As the player and his companion made their way through the huge crowd, I had serious trouble determining if what I was seeing was pre-rendered or running in real time. The textures, animation, and lighting seemed almost too good to believe. It should also be noted that I was sitting front row, about two feet away from a screen that had to be 80 inches wide if it was a foot. I should also note at about this time that the demo was running on a PC.

Anyway, Artyom and his buddy naturally cause some kind of ruckus in the rally, and are forced to escape via mine cart. This was mostly an on-rails shooting segment, and the actual gameplay seemed fun, though not particularly mind-blowing. However, it was impressive that the visuals held up in such a high-speed sequence. There was one point where the player climbed onto another cart and traveled along it, with various pieces of cloth whipping around in the wind, which looked, as you could probably guess, absolutely superb.

What I saw definitely proved to me that PC graphics have pulled considerably ahead of their console competition. I mean, I have no doubt that the PS3, Xbox 360, and Wii U versions of this game will look spectacular, but if you want the best experience from the game, you’re going to have to play it on the PC. And don’t worry, you’ll have plenty of time to get your rig in order for this one; it’s currently scheduled to hit shelves late 2012.

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Danl Haas

Danl is a home-grown Minnesotan gamer, artist, and programmer. He loves rhythm games, RTS, and platformers. He loves building computers, too. His favorite games include Phoenix Wright, Dance Dance Revolution, and Katamari Damacy.

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