The first thing I thought, while checking out Metro: Last Light during a demo presentation in a Manhattan hotel a few weeks ago, was "Another grey shooter? Seriously?"
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The second thing I thought was "Gee, this actually looks kind of neat."
The third thing I thought was "Okay, now I want to play the first one."
My demo consisted of three levels: a military compound, a sewer system under Venice, and a gorgeously gross swamp. The THQ rep wouldn't let me play any of these levels, so I had to just kind of sit there, watch, and imagine how it felt to play them. Which strikes me as kind of pointless. But hey. At least I can talk about what I saw. And based on that, here are some things you should know about Metro: Last Light.
- The first level I look at—called "Camp"—is really rather unimpressive. There's some first-person shooting, some sneaking, some stabbing, some weapon mapping, some electricity sabotaging, some sewer crawling, and all of the usual things we've come to expect from video games. Particularly strange: enemy soldiers can find bodies and suddenly go into alert mode, but you have no way of moving bodies around, so it's tough to cover your tracks.
- Game designers love to throw around the term "dynamic environment," which often means thousands of different things to thousands of different people. Metro: Last Light, the THQ rep assures me, will have dynamic environments. He shows me a pillar that breaks apart as he shoots it. Dynamic!
- The HUD is very simple and clean. THQ's rep tells me that one of the biggest gripes about Metro 2033 was that the controls were too complicated and unwieldy, so they put a lot of effort into smoothing things out for this one. I have no real way of knowing whether it worked until I actually get my hands on the game.
- So I'm sitting in this hotel, kind of bored and kind of wondering how much longer I'm going to have to watch someone else play Metro: Last Light. But then! Then we get to the second section—the sewers of Venice—and suddenly things are interesting. This is unusual. This is not like other games. It's this underground base where everyone lives in squalor and eats fish and drinks a lot of whiskey. They're all Russian and their accents are fantastic.
- Metro: Last Light, by the way, is set in a post-apocalyptic world where going outside is dangerous for your health because of the gas and mutated beasts and all that jazz. So that's why they live underground. Their form of currency is military-grade ammunition.
- There are thousands of subtle choices you can make in this game, the THQ rep promises me: "You're not just making decisions, you're playing the game." These little choices will have an impact on the game's ending. At one point, for example, toward the end of the first mission, we found an enemy soldier inside a locker. He begged us not to shoot him. We shot him. That's the sort of choice that the folks behind Last Light say will make all the difference.
- In the Venice base, you can go to a bar and get drunk. If you drink too much, you'll black out for a while and then wake up somewhere else. Go back to the bar and you'll find that you've accidentally destroyed everything. You can pay the bartender 100 bullets—a lot of money, in Last Light terms—for reparations. This is another one of those subtle choices.
- In the bar, your character can sit next to a homely, somewhat overweight woman. As you drink, she'll get skinnier and more attractive. Classy!
- You can also do some other interesting things in the underwater base: you can go upgrade your weapons at a shop, go wager money on a mini-game that tasks you with sniping as many rats as possible within a certain time limit, and go drink some more. There's a lot of alcohol.
- The third level I saw is called the swamp, an outdoor area that looks bloody fantastic. Crysis 3-like, almost. It's surreal and horrifying and full of mutants who want to rip off your face. During this level, you have to put on your gas mask and go through the wilderness and shoot down mutants and eventually even fight a boss.
- There used to be a multiplayer mode in Metro: Last Light, but it was cut over the summer. "Fans didn't want it," the THQ rep tells me.
- THQ loves Facebook. They love Facebook so much that they just announced they'll give you the PC version of Metro 2033—Last Light's predecessor—for absolutely nothing, so long as you like their Facebook page.
- Metro: Last Light, developed by the folks who worked on that first one (the acclaimed Metro 2033), is slated for release this March on PS3, Xbox 360, and PC. (No Wii U, quite infamously.)