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Don’t fear the future: Metro 2033 and Darksiders revisited

Wednesday, 18th January 2012 08:35 GMT By Patrick Garratt

While THQ’s lofty goals may have proven too great a stretch, sequels to Metro 2033 and Darksiders are two of 2012′s most anticipated core titles. Patrick Garratt looks at the potential of the classic originals.

New IPs need to be sequelised to realise their potential, something Metro 2033 and Darksiders had in embarrassing abundance. While the vision of Danny Bilson’s THQ becomes a little misty after this year, there’s little doubt it will deliver two of 2012′s most important core games outside the traditional September-November silly season.

While THQ’s future is inarguably dim, its 2012 shines bright. The sequels to Metro 2033 and Darksiders won’t sell in the sort of numbers needed to cement its place in the hallowed top five publisher club, but THQ knows both games will beat seven figure units this year and are likely to be well-sought by the core community.

THQ is currently in the process of ramping up PR on Darksiders II – keep watching; we’re seeing Death’s take on Vigil’s greatest universe in San Francisco today – so I thought I’d get up to speed on the original over Christmas after revisiting Metro 2033.

Metro has to be one of this generation’s most undiscovered shooters. I tried to play it on 360 when it released in early 2010, but didn’t get beyond the first few hours; the shooting mechanics felt stodgy and the controls laboured. THQ gifted me a Steam code late last year, and it makes a world more sense on PC; a world in that it’s one of the most solid creations of physical fiction I’ve yet seen in a game.

Ukranian developer 4A’s shooter-adventure is part of the same school as GSC’s S.T.A.L.K.E.R., a lesson in nuclear pressure and gas mask chic. Artyom has grown up in Moscow’s underground system after the bomb, a world of mutants, Nazism and survival. In a plot which employs combat against flank-happy fascists and communists at its most realistic, and a set of terrifyingly hard librarians – tip: they’re not really librarians – at its most ludicrous, Metro sends Artyom on a journey of discovery to defend mankind’s remnants from a virulent strain of ET-alikes.

Metro’s success is in the believability of its rules. You cannot help but be immersed. Your weapons range from military grade to make-do, from sniper rifles to pneumatic contraptions fed by ball bearings which need to be pumped to work. The battery on your torch, too, needs to be manually charged with repeated mouse clicks on a crank handle. Gas masks necessary for overground sections get damaged in fights, forcing you to find repairs, and they use timed filters you need to switch when breathing becomes laboured and you visor freezes up with dirty breath. Your wrist watch tells you when you’re about to suffocate; you’re mindful of it, or you die. Metro play is a melange of tool management and claustrophobic combat, of night vision and idealism. It’s a rich, frightening place.

Metro: Last Light’s 12-minute E3 2011
gameplay promo. If you’re not excited by
this, there’s something wrong with you.

It’s not perfect by good way. There’s an infuriating trial-and-error section right at the end, and I finished it in around six hours – there’s no real reason to go back other than to play it on a harder setting – but it’s such a different experience to the general glut of military FPS that the sequel is now one of my most anticipated games. Last Light is being marketed in its highest form on PC, and that’s where I’ll be playing. Brenna saw the current demo at TGS last autumn and was knocked out. Improvements to AI, stealth, weapons and general tech are all promised. It’s down for a summer release, and this should definitely be on your watch list for the year.

And if you haven’t played the original, sort it out. It’s €10 on Steam and €11 for 360 on Play, the first place I looked. There’s no excuse.

War is here

THQ’s second main core sequel this year is Vigil’s Darksiders II. I brushed over the original thanks to it releasing in quite an odd early January slot in 2010, despite the fact I was excited for it, and only played the first two hours at launch. I went straight onto the PC version after completing Metro, and there I remain; I’m about halfway through at eight hours.

Again, Darksiders is an under-acknowledged gem, and, again, it’s a little raw. The Four Horsemen are charged with keeping balance between Heaven, Hell and earth. There’s a plot involving seven seals and a mystery rogue element, but it boils down to War, the horseman summoned erroneously to earth after an epic battle breaks out between angels and demons, on a mission to clear his name and restore celestial order.

The favourite Darksiders cliché is to dub it a prettified Zelda clone, but that doesn’t do it justice. Yes, it’s a (very) similar formula, but the dedication to its presentation, especially at top PC settings, is a true wonder. War’s world of bosses and puzzles is a linear procession which is at times “awesome” enough to draw squeals. War must collect the hearts of the Chosen for a demon ally, the first of which is a dragon named Tiamat. She’s hard. I nearly punched the screen when I killed her in an unforgettable rooftop encounter. You question her then pull her heart out: it sits throbbing in your gloved hand. That’s what third-person cartoon action should be about, clearly.

Darksiders II. Why would you not want it?

The controls and camera can frustrate at points, but the robustness of Darksiders as an overall work is substantial. That said, it never quite reaches the overall high it aspires to; it’s all too easy to buy certain moves from Vulgrim, the game’s demon vendor, and settle into near-indestructible mouse and button combinations with general enemies, with War’s vertically spinning sword move stunning and his scythe used as crowd control. It’s a shame Vigil couldn’t quite find proper balance in the combat; many of the available upgrades are rendered a little unnecessary as a result.

Whatever the niggles, though, Darksiders is as essential for its vision as it is for its spectacle. As with the Metro follow-on, Darksiders II could be a stand-out game this year if Vigil, as promised, has ironed out the creases. New IPs need to be sequelised to realise their potential, something Metro 2033 and Darksiders had in embarrassing abundance.

While the vision of Danny Bilson’s THQ becomes a little misty after this year, there’s little doubt it will deliver two of 2012′s most important core games outside the traditional September-November silly season. Missing them would be stupid. Go back to the originals in the meantime to remind yourself why.

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30 Comments

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  1. Edo

    Loved both of these games and the sequels can’t arrive soon enough!

    #1 2 years ago
  2. Patrick Garratt

    Yep. Excited to see what they come up with the second time around. I was supposed to see Darksiders II in Rome last week, but it all fell apart a bit. We should get some preview content from the US event very soon.

    #2 2 years ago
  3. YoungZer0

    Can not wait for Metro Last Light. That game looks like it’s going to deliver a better experience than the already fantastic Metro 2033.

    Wonder what they are going to do with the story though. It doesn’t follow the book.

    #3 2 years ago
  4. Big_Boss

    METRO 2033 is one of the games I’ve played in many years. My only complaint is that it’s short.

    #4 2 years ago
  5. Edo

    #2 The only 2 things that bothered me in Metro 2033 were (as you pointed out)that it was short and the part near the end when you have to go pass those jelly round things that explode near you was really frustrating.The Darksiders took me by surprise since I’m a PC gamer and never had a chance to play Zelda or God War.The combat felt good,the game had a robust campaign and the puzzles were mostly well balanced.The thing that kind of bothers me about the sequel is the fact that it takes place at the same time as the first one(especially after that awesome cliffhanger at the end of Darksiders),but I hope that the inclusion of more RPG elements(loot,skill tree,side quests…)will bring something new to this promising franchise.

    #5 2 years ago
  6. YoungZer0

    @5: Oh yes, those fucking Jelly things. Always forget about them.

    #6 2 years ago
  7. Patrick Garratt

    Yeah. The end was a bit shit. In the end I ran passed all the jelly things and up the ladder. I just sat there, and eventually the other chap turned up. It was pretty random.

    #7 2 years ago
  8. YoungZer0

    @7: Lucky you, he’d always die when i played it.

    #8 2 years ago
  9. Patrick Garratt

    He died loads of times for me as well. It was definitely one of the “what the fuck” bits.

    #9 2 years ago
  10. Bi50N

    For the record – there is no amoeba section in Metro: Last Light. We hear your pain.

    #10 2 years ago
  11. YoungZer0

    Glad to hear, Bi50N. Thank you very much.

    #11 2 years ago
  12. absolutezero

    Metro was my game of the year. The Ranger mode adds another facet to the entire thing making another run through alot of fun, theres alot to do in Metro’s areas so its not always best to just fly through it all.

    I would say its a PC game at heart and it does shince when played on one with alot of grunt, the level of atmospheric details just brings everything togethor into a more solid, real world. Theres also a couple of different endings depending on what you did through the game.

    Actually the game itself is slightly akin to a more limited Crysis in that its possible to make it through areas without killing anyone apart from some light bulbs, or its possible to just methodically kill everyone. Getting through the Nazi station without being spotted stands as one of my most rewarding moments in gaming.

    Special mention to the score, which is understated, melancholic and perfectly placed. It really helps to give the populated stations a completely different feel to the deserted ones and the tunnels.

    and the pacing! Such wonderful amounts of paniced fleeing and battling with beautiful moments of slow progress, with and without companions. The specific stage “Ghosts” is just a brilliant thing to go through.

    Remember and don’t stand too near the pipes.

    #12 2 years ago
  13. Patrick Garratt

    @10 – :-D

    #13 2 years ago
  14. Edo

    #10 Yay,thank you :) .

    #14 2 years ago
  15. YoungZer0

    @12: There’s actually only two endings. I really liked what you have to do in order to achieve a good ending. Just listening to an old man, talking about the past gives you good karma.

    Really liked the score. Quite different from your usual game and really hits this melancholic tone you’d only see in russian/ukranian culture.

    Also managed to sneak through the Nazi Station without being seen. Again, just listening to one of the Nazis complain about their situation gave me positive karma. Left them alive.

    And YES! The Pacing was outstanding. Goddamn, i need to reinstall it.

    #15 2 years ago
  16. Edo

    #15 Ha ha,I already played it 3 times,and now that you have mentioned those two endings I’m kind of sad that the sequel will start of with a presumption SPOILER that you have killed the dark ones.I think that it would have been much better if we could import our saved game from the first one(like in Mass Effect)and that way the decisions you made in Metro 2033 would have serious implications in the sequel(it would obviously give the game more replayability value as well).

    #16 2 years ago
  17. Patrick Garratt

    I honestly didn’t know there were two endings :-O

    #17 2 years ago
  18. Erthazus

    Fantastic stuff. I don’t know about Darksiders 2, because Darksiders 1 was a copycat from other games.

    But Metro: Last Light must be amazing. First game was a very good experience and second must be improved in every section there is.

    My only fear about this game is that it is not following the book because once developers start to look for the new ideas, story can seriously suck compared to the original.

    and i hope that this time we will explore much bigger metro stations and of course “MOAR Moscow” is not a bad thing. The Assumption Cathedral was in the trailer and parliament.
    Anyway, can’t wait.

    @Pat, yes, there are two endings. Good one and bad one. If you are doing specific stuff, you are going to get another ending.

    Metro 2033 is brilliant little gem. You can find a lot of interesting stuff and it’s also underrated game.

    #18 2 years ago
  19. viralshag

    @18, I agree Darksiders was an amalgamation of a number of other games but I still enjoyed it. Great art style and a good story. Loved the main character of War too. I definitely have an interest in getting the second game.

    As for Metro, I do have it but I haven’t played it yet. I will definitely get around to it soon though as I keep hearing so many good things about it.

    #19 2 years ago
  20. Bi50N

    @ #17 Pat, some of the best critical game writing of the past year has been in discussion of Metro’s endings and what they mean… The fact that we don’t advertise the choices you make behind an obvious dialogue tree catches a lot of people by surprise… some miss it all together.

    One thing I’m really proud of is Metro’s continued ability to provoke the kind of discussion and analysis that most games never even raise.

    Here’s some reading for starters –

    http://ambientchallenge.blogspot.com/2011/10/learning-russian.html

    http://exitwarp.blogspot.com/2010/10/novus-homo-thoughts-on-metro-2033.html

    http://www.brainygamer.com/the_brainy_gamer/2011/01/late-to-a-party-nobody-threw.html

    and

    http://www.brainygamer.com/the_brainy_gamer/2011/01/what-a-beautiful-world-weve-destroyed.html

    #20 2 years ago
  21. Da Man

    #19, you mean this one ?

    Oops wrong game. I guess it starts with a ‘G’. You can’t clone what was already a copy.

    #21 2 years ago
  22. ManuOtaku

    like the previous commenters i do also love both games , especially darksiders, i cannot wait for both of them really, having said that iam also waiting with great anticipation the south park game that is been developed by obsidian, THQ this year really delivers i hope they can turn things around and do not close or sold.

    #22 2 years ago
  23. viralshag

    @21, I was actually thinking of Zelda as that’s what everyone else says – I’ve never played a Zelda game though.

    I also prefer Darksiders to GoW and I have never even heard of Rygar :P

    #23 2 years ago
  24. Da Man

    Fair enough, #23.

    #24 2 years ago
  25. Patrick Garratt

    @20 – Cheers. Will look. Amazing what you don’t know.

    #25 2 years ago
  26. YoungZer0

    @16: SPOILER

    It follows the books actually. I played the game before i read the books and the ending shattered my fucking mind, because i always expected the good one to be canon. Never saw it coming. Always thought Artjom is going to do the right thing. He’s smarter than that.

    But he didn’t and he realized what he did when it was already too late. I couldn’t sleep that night. Artjom was the only one who understood. He could’ve been the link between those two races, instead he completely eradicated a whole race.

    So sad to see that the second book didn’t go into what happened to Artjom after that.

    /SPOILER

    Really loved the way the developers implemented the karma. No dialogtrees. No “Do this to be a better person”. Much more subtle. Would’ve loved Artjom to have a voice though. He already talked during the loading-screens, he should be able to talk with people.

    The world was also incredibly believable. Something other games in the genre also seem to miss out on.

    #26 2 years ago
  27. reask

    LOL I am actually playing darksiders atm.
    I downloaded the demo before xmas and got the kids to get it for me as a xmas present.

    Good game but not in the same league as gow3 imo.
    I must add that gow3 was my first ever button masher and darksiders is my second.
    Well I played about 2 thirds of gow1 so I suppose 2nd and a half.

    Puzzles are good in darksiders but in between boss fights it is never too hard.
    Playing on normal so I suppose If I racked it up a bit my opinion may be different.
    I am at the desert part so still a bit to go and it may get tougher.
    Overall it is a good game and I look forward to the sequel.

    #27 2 years ago
  28. DSB

    Metro and Darksiders are gonna sell alright, but I don’t think they stand a chance of turning the company around, at least unless Darksiders comes into it’s own.

    I don’t think they have much of a chance unless they try to step out of the shadows of other franchises.

    Darksiders is obviously built according to Zelda, Space Marine is built according to Ubisoft shooters and Gears of War, Homefront according to Battlefield and CoD, and Dawn of War was rebooted to profit on the arena RTS scene. Trying to leech off of other peoples ideas like that doesn’t make good games.

    I used to be excited about games that had the THQ stamp on ‘em, but then came the Fuel of War era. Games without imagination, meant to mingle with AAA-franchises that they never stood a chance against.

    If your ambition doesn’t go fruther than releasing rebranded copies of popular games, and trying to grab whatever scraps from those that you can, then I don’t think you’re trying hard enough.

    Unless THQ learns to carve and own it’s own corner in the industry, I just don’t see how they can turn it around. They were doing a lot better when they weren’t just aping after everybody else.

    #28 2 years ago
  29. Edo

    Speaking of Darksiders II,new trailer is out http://www.gamespot.com/darksiders-ii/videos/behind-the-mask-darksiders-ii-trailer-6348706/ .

    #29 2 years ago
  30. YoungZer0

    @29: Looking good.

    #30 2 years ago