Interview with THQ for Metro: Last Light

A fairly long train ride followed by a few stops through the underground and then I’m in an office sitting down with Huw Beynon, head of global communications for THQ. With E3 winding down it was nice to actually get up close and personal with 4a Games’ cult game sequel Metro: Last Light.

Dmitry Glukhovsky the original creator of Metro 2033, a novel published in 2005 online, returned to work with 4a Games and THQ to follow up the easily underestimated cult game of 2010. Having released a second novel, aptly titled Metro 2034, Glukhovsky approached THQ outlining how instead of taking this second story, he would work directly in creating a second tale for Artyom in the form of Metro: Last Light.

Even though the spirits and ghosts now play a more prominent role in the Metro universe, the game still leans towards the survival horror genre over a “haunted house” theme. Artyom has already shown more resilience to the ghostly encounters in comparison to his fellow human survivors, yet as we can see from the recently debuted game play, no one is impervious and thus Metro: Last Light will still force players to the edge of their seats in anticipation and fear.

Though many criticised the move to walk away the previous game’s ‘set weapon system’ for a more open planned ‘3 slots of any gun’, 4a Games will be rationing supplies and ammo to keep the survival aspect. Players will be immersed further as they simply won’t have the resources to fund a heavy weapon inventory. Metro: Last Light takes the players further into its immersive world as gamers plan out what they can and can’t take, scavenging any scraps they come across in the form of filters and ammunition and all of this backed by the eerily animated in depth actions you can perform.

From charging your torch and pneumatic weapons, to un-jamming the aptly named ‘bastard gun’ (which will now jam more frequently) to the simple attribute of manually wiping you mask, Metro: Last Light has made leaps and bounds from its predecessor. One of the biggest steps being visually, from the improved graphics to the more detailed animations, especially that of the facial expressions! Now while all of this is a large step forward, nothing is set in stone, from some of the small game play details to even the graphics, but don’t worry, Huw Beynon leant over at this stage, cool as a cucumber, to tell me how the graphics are not yet finalised and still will have some more touching up!

Watch the E3 gameplay below and then read on for some of the questions I put towards THQ’s head of global communications.

After watching this trailer here’s what Huw Beynon and I discussed:

Liam Martin: So having seen it in the flesh I really was shocked by the weather system, it seems like a big dynamic. So does this mean we’re going to see more surface activity now?

Huw Beynon: Yeah in the first one there’s probably a balance of 80/20 in favour of underground whereas now there’s more about 60/40. One of the things we wanted to do as an aesthetical as well as technical change, was that in Metro 2033 everything was in snowlock from the nuclear winter and all the outdoor environments were ashen grey and bleak. By advancing the storyline by about a year, as you hear Pavel say “the first signs of spring are here”, we can introduce rays of sunshine and the first signs of vegetation. By having the sun as a visible light source, the weather dynamic, running water and plant life, we’ve been given a much broader range of colours to bring more variety to the outdoor environment.

Liam: We’ve seen what the game can be like for immersion and with the aspects of the ghosts, seeing the phone taken off the hook and the whispers, this has been a large move to really induce player immersion, no?

Huw: The ideas behind a lot of the concepts are some of great classic horror aspects and they really develop throughout the game.

Liam: And will this see the return of quick time events throughout the game as immersion has become such a big thing?

Huw: Yep you see during the scene where the creature leaps and you fight it off with the shotgun, that would be a quick time event. What we’d really like to do is for the first time round explain to the player that they have entered this state and that an action input is required, but once they know that, we can let them take it on their own steam. We want there to be a stage where people will play without any HUD and we redesigned the visuals of the U.I. so even when it’s present it will melt away when not in use. It’s a very complex game especially for new players, so the goal with the U.I. is to have it as unobtrusive as possible and have both Metro 2033 veterans and people who have had their first play through then play again without any HUD or crosshairs at all.

Liam: Taking into account new audiences as well as how you have veterans returning, was there anything you thought “Right this has to change”?

Huw: We really tried to increase players’ connectivity to the game, from rather just a button press to seeing the unscrewing of a light bulb or using a circuit breaker and watching the hand come out to flick different switches, like the mask wipe mechanic and more similarly the compass and lighter. This time little things like being able to pull out the lighter and keep your gun out and of course use it to burn away webs.

Liam: So in saying that, was there anything that you felt absolutely had to stay?

Huw: Realistically everything has had a slight change; some things might end up the same but even if it’s from how weak the beam of light is or how quickly it charges and now the bastard gun will jam more often. It’s similar to how we’ve left that granular feel of the game and our big ambition is for immersion with the player for a more melancholy and cerebral experience. We don’t want to necessarily change too much as even though we refer to the first one as a cult hit it still has over one million sales on Steam and the Xbox Live reports show us one million players there as well and we are very confident that, especially when THQ admitted they hadn’t successfully marketed the first game well, there are smarter gamers out there who love the eastern European niche in which they can find Metro. Overall we think we have a better game and a lot of pressure comes from THQ to up the campaign. Which they have done really well when you look at how the live action trailer is now the most watched trailer they have ever created!

Liam: One question that has always intrigued me, will we hear Artyom speak more? Other than of course his narration, as it was always interesting to watch from the sidelines and see people on the sofa playing a game where characters on screen would have full conversations with someone who would not speak.

Huw: Err simply…no. (Laughs) We feel it’s possible to create characters through the way people react to them and their actions and allow players to piece an idea of the character you’re playing. When you introduce a voice onto the game world it can be quite obstructive to the immersion and most of the time it’s unnecessary. The idea of the narration between levels was always a concept of Artyom reminiscing when he’s older, telling his story. So if anything were likely to hear him less.

Liam: My final question then, and of course I’m not fishing for spoilers, are we likely to see a sequel after this? Or has an ending been set which could lead to more?

Huw: 4a Games is a small studio really so we don’t aim to have anything set on “If we make this many sales” for example. A lot of it boils down to what Dmitry wants to do, whether it’s more Metro or something else entirely. Who knows?

Liam: Well thank you very much, the game play looks fantastic and I can’t wait to have it on my shelf.

Huw: No worries I’m glad you enjoyed it and were looking forward to others enjoying it too.

With so much information already available and still so much more to come it’s easy to forget that players will even wage post-apocalyptic warfare online, as Last Light delivers an intense multiplayer experience amongst the dark Russian ruins. It’s easy to say the experience has not helped me in deciding how I intend to pass the next few months, for as I walked through London’s underground for my train home, I couldn’t help but look at it in a new light. Hopefully not the last light.

Set for release in next year’s first quarter, Metro Last Light will be available on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii U, PC and OnLive gaming.

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