THQ’s global communications manager Jeremy Greiner is playing Metro: Last Light. He’s busy snuffing out light bulbs and loping unseen in the shadows, ultimately flipping a set of master switches and throwing everything into complete blackness. The rival Ruskis on patrol sigh, and come to check out what’s up with the power grid, accustomed as they are to the instability of post-apocalyptic indoor lighting. Some get stabbed in the dark for their trouble.
Later Jeremy takes Artyom out drinking and boozes so hard the crone slumped over the bar next to him starts to look pretty alright. Finally he pokes his masked head above ground and wanders nervously between lakes of poison ooze where unnamed things practice their backstroke. The entire world hisses with new and deadly life. Then day turns to night. “Heeelp” is the correct response.
GON: Jeremy, hey. What kind of involvement did Metro 2033’s original author have with Last Light?
Jeremy: Dimitri Glukhovsky wrote the sequel, 2034, but he and 4A decided it’d be better to write a different story to continue the video game of 2033. We had the two alternate endings and most people ended up having destroyed all the dark ones, so we continued that narrative thread and Dimitri worked with the team on writing the script. He was integral. When you’re talking about storyline and mapping out a game and how you’re gonna go through that journey, he was an integral partner in helping to deliver the unique flavour of Metro. Doing it without him would be pretty tough.
He was approached by a lot of studios to make Metro 2033, but ultimately he went with 4A because he saw in them that they could bring his vision to life. You think about recreating a post-apocalyptic Moscow from a novel into a video game, who better than engineers and guys from the Eastern Bloc who’ve lived that culture and that environment their entire lives? You can see that detail and understanding of that world. It bleeds right into the software.
GON: The minutiae of all the guns and things is amazing, like how if you reload your revolver before using all the bullets, the exact number of rounds you didn’t fire are still visibly loaded.
Jeremy: Yeah. As a former studio guy, for me, that’s normally a painted texture. That’s low cost. Here, there’s destruction everywhere that’s contextual, and if you go up to a lightbulb, if you actually look at it, the two spokes holding the filament have geometry to them. They’re actually physical properties. The filament has geometry to it! You go to a switchboard, all the switches are raised; it’s not just a picture. You go to a pipe… like, everything.
It’s not smack-in-the-face, but I think over time as you play the game, you start to appreciate all those little details. I’ve heard 4A saying they want this to be as “simulated” as possible; that’s why you don’t have the mini-map in the corner, or you don’t have something showing you exactly where to go, or a thing over a guy’s head telling you this is the guy you need to kill. You just know what your main objective is, and it’s up to you to find out how to do that.
GON: The outdoor areas are genuinely unnerving.
Jeremy: And the environment is modeled off of Moscow. They just interpreted it in a post-apocalyptic way. Life is still existing above ground, it’s just not human life anymore. It’s a bunch of mutants and creatures going about their business. I don’t think you can play jittery, and play to make it seem like it’s exciting. It’s the fact you are literally waiting to get popped in the head. You hear a noise and you’re just like, “F*ck.” It’s really cool when you get to feel that.
GON: What did 4A really feel like they needed to improve on over 2033?
Jeremy: The AI and the control-mapping. They put a lot of effort into that. In the first game, if the AI saw you and recognised you, then all the AI knew exactly where you were. That’s been completely bugged out. The AI never returns to “relaxed” state once they’re alerted, either.
I personally almost consider Metro: Last Light a new IP. For English-speaking countries like yours and mine, not many people knew about 2033 or played it because it really didn’t get the marketing support and love that it deserved from THQ. I think it was a misunderstood game at the time. It did phenomenally well across Europe where people kind of knew about Dimitri. Over the course of time in English-speaking countries, it kinda bled out as a cult thing. It was a flawed masterpiece at the end of the day.
GON: Have any steps been taken to “Westernise” it?
Jeremy: No. The only steps we took were to smooth out the experience for everyone. It’s the rough edges that make Metro the unique experience that it is. The fact that you have to pump the gun yourself, you have to wipe the mask, and then you have to do the filter and manage that and you have your lighter… all these things are typically, in most games, automated systems. Here, you do it all.
GON: Why so big on emphasising that?
Jeremy: It’s the game they want to make. They want it to be an immersive experience. At the end of the day, if it’s all those elements that make the experience unique and desirable, if you try to smooth it out too much, I think it’ll be desirable to no one. If you’re smoothing it all out and taking away all those unique things, you won’t be Metro: Last Light. You’ll be some me-too shooter.
GON: What about making an unoriginal environment original?
Jeremy: The differentiator is that it’s a bleak Russian vision, not a Western vision. Typically we get Western visions of post-apocalyptic worlds that kinda run the same narrative threads and have the same influences from cinema and from novels and from pop culture or whatever at the time. The essence of this difference is, Dimitri and his childhood and his growing up; learning about fascism and communism and all the different things that influenced that area of the world, especially in the early 1900s and ‘30s and ‘40s. I’ve been told he kind of formed an opinion on it all and he wanted to tell it. That’s why he wrote Metro 2033. It’s a retrospective on mankind and society and our predisposition for the opposite of self-preservation.
We’re like The Matrix; we’re the only organism in the world that does not live in a symbiotic relationship with our environment. We destroy our environment. We spread out, we destroy it more and more, and I think it’s all those different themes and undercurrents that really brought Dimitri to write his books, and choose 4A to bring them to life in video games. I don’t think the latter would be nearly as immersive and thought-provoking as it would be if one of the Western studios did it.