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Most Anticipated: Metro: Last Light

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It’s no secret how much we here at OnlySP love Metro 2033.

Every member of the OnlySP stable has something different that they specifically love about the game, however most of it relates to the story.

Whether it’s the way the flow of the narrative, the way background story is told through environment, the characterisations, the desolate and hopeless atmosphere of the underground tunnels, the mysterious menagerie of otherness, or the immersive sense of belonging that results from the minimal HUD, there is no doubt that Metro 2033 was a high point in single player story telling.

I followed Metro 2033 from the very beginning, which would not be that unusual for a typical AAA studio production, however Metro 2033 and 4A were relatively unknown in the beginning. Hardly anyone had heard of it when those first tech trailers hit. I’d just come from the very first S.T.A.L.K.E.R – which I bought on release – having fallen thoroughly in love with the Eastern European approach to game design, and, specifically, atmosphere. I remember watching the first jaw-dropping gameplay videos, detailing all the technical bells and whistles, imagining the money it would cost me to upgrade from my old Radeon X1600 laptop into something that could look vaguely like what was being shown.

What I was seeing was the second step of my maturation in single player tastes. S.T.A.L.K.E.R is unparalleled in my mind as an open world, atmospheric story experience. Metro 2033 is its linear shooter equivalent.

When I first saw Metro 2033 I knew it would be something very special. I didn’t know how special it would turn out to be.

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Metro 2033 tells the tale of a city destroyed, and a people forced to endure. Artyom, born into a subterranean existence, is driven by a fascination for all things from the toxic surface. His friendship with the Ranger named Hunter leads him on a quest in defence of his home station, through the centre of the Metro and up onto the burnt nuclear winter of Moscow’s surface.

The narrative is rather straight forward, but the jewel of its story is in the setting. The believable recourse of living in the Metro system to escape nuclear fallout, the treasuring of pre-war artefacts that can no longer be manufactured, the jury-rigged nature of makeshift technology that Metro dwellers rely upon, the desperation in the faces of those trying to eke-out a living under constant threat from an overwhelming enemy. You can taste the oppressive, stale air from two decades living in tunnels.

The story is in all the tiny details that texture the world. Each station has its own rich history that is communicated through the small things – an old photo in a bunk, a discarded gas mask, a curious child. We see these things and instantly know this world – what has happened, and how the characters feel. We know how hard it is to live there, the difficulties they face, and the challenges that will lie ahead for Artyom.

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It isn’t just the setting that separates Metro 2033 from other shooters. Arguably, the two innovative gameplay features that make Metro unique are the implementation of the gas mask, and bullets as currency.

The gas mask was a big part of the game. Functionally, it imposed a time and damage limit restriction to some areas – notably on the surface. Narratively, it illustrated the danger and alien nature of the world above. Emotionally, it created tension, drama, and a sense of urgency, as well as a sense of disturbing disconnect from the familiar. It was a simple and elegant mechanic that served to enhance immersion and investment in the game.

Using military bullets for currency was also an innovation. Again, functionally, it served as currency, as well as an immediate damage upgrade for a measurable cost. Narratively, it showed the priorities of the Metro dwellers, who equated irreplaceable military grade ammunition with an inherently valuable trade item, and bullets with personal defence. And the emotional impact on the player was interesting – do you waste your precious money to get out of a difficult scrape, or do you persevere with your weaker dirty ammunition and keep those valuable bullets for buying weapons later on? Tension and decision making rapped elegantly into one simple game design decision.

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Metro: Last Light looks to be more of and better than Metro 2033. It extends the narrative of the original, providing a fresh gas mask filter to allow more time in the heavy atmosphere of the Metro.

It also looks like some of the issues that impacted on the first game are being smoothed out, with a better explained system of mechanics and improved gunplay. 4A are claiming improvements in stealth, a more comprehensive weapon customisation system, an opening up of levels and how they are approached, a tweaking of the in-game economy, and new weapons. Added to that are polishes to the engine and animation, and Last Light is looking wonderful.

The game still looks stunning, running on 4A’s proprietary engine. When the 2033 came out, the graphics blew everyone away. Despite a slight lack of engine optimisation that lead to even monstrous PCs being brought to their knees, it’s hard to deny the benchmark Metro 2033 set for visual fidelity. With the improvements and familiarity with the engine brought to Metro: Last Light by the team, we can expect even better visuals.

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The gameplay improvements are a bonus, though. The reason I am looking forward to Metro: Last Light is the rich fictional world Dmitry Glukhovsky created and 4A interpreted. I want to spend more time absorbing the poisonous fumes of the surface. I want to hide from Nazis and Communists, and their violent war of ideologies and lead. I want to fight for my life against rabid Nosalises with makeshift, slapped together weapons. I want to soak up the fear and misery and desperation and hope of those who remain in the dark, and I want to lead them into the light. I want to reclaim my city, my surface, and I want to take my people with me.

Lets hope that the disembowelling of THQ does not negatively impact on the development of Metro: Last Light. Considering the late stage of development, it should survive any negative effects of the bankruptcy and deliver an exceptional, narratively rich gameplay experience for dedicated single players. We will be raggedly holding the defensive line, protecting our loved ones in the Metro, waiting for Artyom to save us in March.

Official trailer.

2012 E3 gameplay demonstration.

(all images 4A)

Former Editor in Chief of OnlySP. A guy who writes things about stuff, apparently. Recovering linguist, blue pencil surgeon, and professional bishie sparkler. In between finding the latest news, reviewing PC games, and generally being a grumpy bossyboots, he likes to watch way too much Judge Judy. He perhaps has too much spare time on his hands. Based in Sydney, Australia. Follow him on twitter @lawksland.

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Co-op Gaming Shines at EGX Rezzed With We Were Here Together, Phogs!, and Cake Bash

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Co-op gaming

Over the years, jolly co-op gaming has been in decline, especially from AAA developers. Several recent games have been standouts, such as A Way Out, Strange Brigade, and the Far Cry series, though the latest pioneers of co-op gaming will likely come from the indie community.

While exploring EGX Rezzed, the atmosphere was filled with a sense of mutual enjoyment as gamers came together to play a plethora of team-building games. Among these games were some of my personal highlights including We Were Here Together, Cake Bash, and Phogs!

We Were Here Together

We Were Here Together is the latest co-op adventure puzzle game by independent studio Total Mayhem Games.

The title continues on from two previously released projects, We Were Here and We Were Here Too, with the former available on Steam for free. Set amidst a frozen landscape, the first two games centred on exploring a mysterious castle while solving puzzles as part of a two-person team. Players were separated throughout the playthrough until the final moments, which featured a touching scene where the puzzling pals would eventually meet to conquer the remaining conundrums.

We Were Here Together immediately shakes things up by starting the game with both players working together in the same environment. The EGX demo starts off outside of the castle grounds in an expedition outpost where two explorers suddenly receive a distress call from somewhere in the frozen wastes. Players must work together to decipher an incoming transmission and correctly pinpoint the distress beacon.

The location itself is the answer to a series of puzzles, requiring both people to work together. A great example of teamwork is one player adjusting an outside satellite while the other stays inside to alter the radio’s frequency until a voice can be heard. This is where the creative ingenuity from the developers comes into play as solutions are different for each playthrough. The puzzles themselves remain the same, but, by using the same example as before, the voice may only be heard on a different frequency. Similar situations where the outcome changes include changing co-ordinates and figuring out which key may fit a particular door.

Roughly one-third of the game will be set in a shared environment while latter parts will take place back inside the castle in a traditional, separated format. Two paths are laid out later for the players to choose between, providing avenues for replayability. The changing solutions also add to the replay value as it prevents veteran gamers from going back and telling their new partner the answers.

The moments where players are physically apart highlight one of the unique features of the game: the radios. Both characters are equipped with walkie-talkies so players can communicate with each other. Radios are a brilliant immersion tool as the mechanic works exactly as a two-way radio should, with the wielder having to hold down a button to speak and release to hear the other. The radio mechanic is optional, though, as players can simply use a third-party chat. However, the added difficulty and roleplaying add an extra element to an already rather tricky title.

We Were Here Together is a fun shared experience that proves a challenge for even the most seasoned puzzle solvers. The release date and price of the project are unknown at present, but the game will be available on Steam.

Cake Bash

During EGX Rezzed 2019, the Coatsink team had a glorious display full of plush animals, colourful scenery, and even a rather large and comfortable dog bed.

I was lucky enough to go hands-on with Phogs! and play a few rounds of Cake Bash with PR and Events Manager Jack Sanderson. Both games proved to be a real treat to participants, with Cake Bash serving a much-needed helping of raucous fun in a series of mini-games.

Not unlike many beloved party games—such as Mario PartyCake Bash is an up-to-four-player competitive game featuring several rounds of friendship-ending challenges. The design of the title instantly stands out with an adorable and vivid visual style that brings a certain charm to the characters and settings.

Before each round, players choose a character from a selection of delicious desserts as their combatant. During the demo, only two game modes were available, the first of which required players to gather falling pieces of fruit and throw them inside a giant meringue. A single point is awarded for successfully tossing a piece of fruit into the bowl. However, a rare golden fruit, worth ten points, will appear every so often. Competitors must be wary of descending fiery boulders that can briefly daze any dessert. These boulders can also be picked up and lobbed at rivals. Not only can enemies launch these rocks at one another, but they can also punch and beat each other to force someone to drop their fruit.

The second mode available was a race to gather the most jellies to become the tastiest treat. Player avatars run around an arena, gathering multi-coloured jelly beans to cover their chosen dessert, and the sweet with the most treats at the end wins. While the first game mode mainly had the individual focusing on their own points, this round directly pits people against each other as limited jellies can be found, and players can steal them by whacking opponents.

While the game looks stunning, gamers will have to wait until 2020 to get their hands on Cake Bash. The late release has allowed for an increase in scope and additional modes for players to sink their teeth into.

Phogs!

The other title playable at the event was an equally adorable project called Phogs! The game can be played solo or with a friend, as the player controls one or both halves of a two-headed dog. The two heads can be moved independently and are able to stretch, bark, and bite.

Phogs! is set in a dream-like environment where the ground is made up of soft duvet sets and pillows, while the skies are filled with tranquil clouds gently floating in the distance. The level designs are built in a way that eases the player into the various mechanics, offering something new or demonstrating different ways to solve puzzles. Early enigmas would require both sides of the dog to work in unison to pull an object or levers simultaneously. Later levels would add a glowing orb that can be used to remove dark shadowy walls or illuminate pathways to walk across. Even the orbs are based around the idea of working as a team as one side of the dog bites onto the light ball with the other opening their mouth to act as a torch.

The charming personality of the game really shines in the various character designs and their functions within the levels. One of the final missions of the demo featured a sleeping giant that dreamed of bridges in floating thought bubbles. Players could then use the camera perspective to align the dream bridge with a section of a missing platform to cross. Other cutesy critters include wailing alarm clocks that can disturb the giants, preventing them from dreaming up a way to progress. The clocks can be led to nearby beds where they will quickly start to drift off and stop ringing.

Despite the levels being fairly linear, additional tasks can be completed to gain collectable dog biscuits. These tasks often require the dog to present characters with a particular item, for example, bringing a storybook to an owl.

The whole experience with Coatsink was a delight, both games offering a mix of controller-clenching competition and jolly cooperation. Like Cake Bash, Phogs! will also be arriving in 2020 on PC, PlayStation 4, Switch, and Xbox One.


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