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“Not your regular game story” – writing Metro: Last Light

Wednesday, 8 May 2013 07:54 GMT By Dave Cook

Metro: Last Light is going to raise the bar for writing in games. VG247′s Dave Cook speaks with author of the Metro games and novels Dimitry Glukhovsky about penning his dark, frequently shocking tale.

Dimitry Glukhovsky

Born in 1979, Glukhovsky started writing Metro 2033 at the age of 18 and self-published it on his own website in 2002. It has enjoyed over three million readers to-date.

Metro: Last Light was written by Glukhovsky and the plot is canon, informing elements of his next book Metro 2035. It sees the Metro network locked in a vicious civil war.

I recently played three hours of the game at a preview event. You can read all about what I saw here.

We’ve got a list of Metro: Last Light achievements here, but beware of spoilers. You have been duly warned.

Last month I was lucky enough to play three hours of Metro: Last Light. Within that session I was bombarded with more themes, ideologies and graphic, genuinely harrowing scenes that most games deliver in their entire running time. The rape scene was particularly savage.

It’s a rare thing, given how – frankly – shit game stories can be. Moments that should deliver an emotional sucker punch can feel cheesy or forced, while sentiment is regularly drowned in a sea of bombast, made-to-order characters and the deafening sound of ceaseless gunfire.

If we can’t truly invest ourselves in the world of a game then can we really say we give a damn about what’s happening to it, or to the plot’s leading players? Personally, no, but then again reading and writing are personal, powerful hobbies, and each bears a different impact on the next player.

Metro: Last Light batters your senses with so many themes of varying severity, from the simple sight of loving parents caring for their child in the rusted bowels of a subway station, to seeing live traitors being hurled into a blazing furnace for acts of insolence. It speaks to many people, with a sliding scale of emotions and messages that it can’t fail to resonate with everyone on at least one level.

This is a commendable achievement, and it comes from the mind of one man – author of the Metro series of novels – Dimitry Glukhovsky. I managed to corner him for a brief chat during my hands-on time with the game, just to try and get a handle on the various themes at play during 4A Games’ shooter.

“The first game Metro 2033 was literally based on my novel Metro 2033,” Glukhovsky told me. “Last Light was different else because when they decide to go for a sequel … I have a book called Metro 2034, but it’s not very suitable a story for a shooter. So I decided to create a separate story for the game, and I started writing a plot, then I wrote the dialogue – so I’m responsible for both the ideology, the plot and everything.

“Then I realised that the story was so big – it’s much bigger than your usual shooter would contain – and right now I’ve got a plot and part of the story written for a book called Metro 2035, which will include the story of Metro: Last Light but will be much bigger than that.

“When I was writing the book, I just understood that maybe the story I had in my mind was too big and complicated – and too adult actually, for a shooter game. When you play through Metro: Last Light, it’s not your regular game story.”

He’s not wrong, this is a very different beast to any game I’ve played this generation from a story-telling perspective. Sure, you can draw parallels between Last Light and Metro 2033 – the station town hubs are still there for example, and are brimming with human stories – but the impact on your senses is tangible, lingering.

As I mentioned in my last hands-on preview, the world of Metro: Last Light is suffering an intense civil war that rages between various factions. They ape real-world groups such as the Nazis, communist parties and more, each bearing conflicting opinions on social tenets as far and as wide as gender equality, class and control.

My session was book-ended with two Metro stations. The first was an impoverished hub full of shanty homes carved into recesses lining the walls, containing both humans and swine for sustenance. It was a depressing, squalid sight, but the people were happy to have a home.

You could see it on the faces of children as they watched jugglers and shadow puppet artists, and in the songs of workers as they sat down for a round of vodka after another day of hard-earned survival. These people had endured and worked together to try and rebuild their shattered world, and to progress from there.

Meanwhile, the station under the Bolshoi Theatre was menacing in a similar vein as BioShock: Infinite’s Columbia. It was colourful and clean, with hourly cabaret shows featuring can-can girls. The women danced as soldiers drank grog and ate well, whooping and hollering like jackals. Behind the stage the downtrodden performers prepared for the next show in dank dressing rooms as Nazi troops kept people in line. The contrast was remarkable.

I asked Glukhovsky to discuss the themes of the Metro stations and to explain what he was looking to convey while writing Last Light’s script. “It’s about humanity repeating the mistakes it has once already committed,” he replied, “and not being able to learn from them, then how can we pay for the sins we commit? Is there a way to deserve a second chance, and if we do deserve a second chance are we really smart enough to use it?

“Last Light is – in a way – the story of a man getting a second and last chance to make up for everything he did wrong. Definitely in the background there is a civil war which reflects on the last world war, because the factions in the subway of Moscow reflect – in a characteristic way – the ideologies of the 20th and 21st century.

“The clash in the story of Metro: Last Light is an echo of the clash that the world has seen twice during that time, and the circumstances World War III brings to the Metro. So history is repeating itself and the people are not able to draw a conclusion from it.”

There are even strange flashes that trigger in Last Light’s protagonist Artyom as he comes across corpses left from the day the bombs fell. They show him visions of their last moments, and one gruesome scene shows a plane full of screaming holiday-makers being vaporised by the nuclear blast. It’s horrible, but lends perspective to the world. I asked Glukhovsky if the game delves any deeper into life before the apocalypse.

“I don’t go into detail either in the book, nor in the game,” he confirmed. “It was World War III that happened, rather than the intrusion of extra-terrestrials or something. Humans are the solely responsible creatures for bringing the world into this condition. I don’t give away many details because today, you’d assume that Iraq or North Korea was responsible for it, but this story is perpetual.

“All the news you see on CNN or other world news, they strengthen my story because whoever you see – be it Saddam Hussein or Kim Jong Il – it proves the probability of the world gone to hell and then getting down into the tunnels and catacombs of the subway.”

He’s not wrong. Given current tensions in North Korea and in the Middle East, people are starting to seriously ask questions about the eventuality of World War III. It feels less like something you hear about in a sci-fi book, movie or game, and more like something that may actually happen in our lifetime. I asked Glukhovsky how deeply real-world tales of conflict have impacted Last Light’s creation.

“I’ve researched lots of stories,” he explained. “I need to play the game through once more to see how many of those real-life stories have actually made it into the game. But I was writing for three months, which resulted in over 3,000 spreadsheet cells in Excel for dialogue. That can be anything from “Ouch”, to a life story.

“I wrote with a huge extra reserve of stories, from parents protecting their children, people falling in love and in different Metro stations you’re going to see each faction – the Nazis, the fascists, the communists and the capitalists. So the personal drama at the stations comes from opting to talk with side characters, so it’s not just shooting and running through the game. The world is happening around you and you can go and talk to the people.

“I did everything possible to make this feel like a real world, and that the people who surround you give you such stories that could fill any American drama. I tried hard to make it feel real, but we will have to see how far I’ve succeeded in that.”

To close our quick chat I asked Glukhovsky about the future of the Metro book and game series and he explained that his world – dubbed ‘The Universe of Metro 2033 – has now become an open platform for authors all around the world. At present there are 35 novels each depicting the world of Metro 2033 in their own homeland, and delivered in the write’s native tongue.

It’s an incredible concept, giving personal insight into how other countries might fare following World War III, and expanding Glukhovsky’s world with dark tales, each playing out at the same time as Artyom walks the Metro line in search of redemption.

2The entire world lies in ruin, but circumstances are different everywhere,” he told me. “It doesn’t have to be the Metro – it can be wastelands, or the ocean populated with monsters, sea creatures and everything. So far we have published 35 books, but most of them have been translated into multiple languages. So we are trying to attempt the world’s first … not commercially, but creatively forge a single, coherent universe with the help of authors from different languages and cultures.”

I asked Glukhovsky if such a broad scope might one day give rise to a Metro-MMO. He just laughed. For now however, Metro: Last Light is – from a narrative perspective – an outstanding piece of work. It’ll linger with you for days after playing, as it did with me. It’s eventual impact on the craft or writing for games will be interesting to see once the game hits PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 from May 14.

Disclosure: To assist in writing this piece Dave attended a Deep Silver preview event in London. All travel and food was paid for by VG247. Catering was offered by not accepted, and no merchandise or advertising was offered or accepted.

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12 Comments

  1. Hussar

    I love their “no crappy unrealistic 2D HUD” approach. So immersive.

    Metro 2033 was one of the most underrated games ever. I hope Last Light will receive enough attention for its great quality (graphics, sound), excellent story, gameplay, event pacing.

    Love you, 4A Games. You’re probably our only hope to get back into a STALKER-like world. Best luck, guys.

    #1 2 years ago
  2. Samoan Spider

    @1 Agree entirely. Not having a HUD was one of the best features of the game.
    Very much looking forward to this as I’m hankering for some more Russian post-apocalyptic shenanigans.

    Also, what was the spread like despite you not eating it Dave? I imagine these companies go overboard on the grub. And what did you eat instead? These are important details.

    #2 2 years ago
  3. Digital Bamboo

    Great piece! This is the type of thing I love to read on this site– detailed interviews with talented people behind the games.

    Any chance Metro 2033 will ever release on PS3?

    #3 2 years ago
  4. Edo

    Can’t wait to get my hands on this next week!

    #4 2 years ago
  5. 2-K

    Can’t wait to immerse myself in this Beautiful twisted World

    #5 2 years ago
  6. zinc

    I tried to get into Metro on the 360. I was expecting a Russian Fallout, so was disappointed when I discovered it’s not actually open-world. Plus it wasn’t very nice looking & if I’m honest I found it rather slow & clunky.

    Still, Last Light looks a lot prettier & I know what to expect going in now, so will he keeping an eye on this. Strong writing in gaming needs to be supported.

    #6 2 years ago
  7. Creteck

    @6 You should play Metro 2033 before you play Last Light. Its a direct sequel to the original. And the story is pretty strong, and intense when you almost reach the half. What you say about the graphics might be true, considering you played it on 360. But on PC it is one of the prettiest games of this date. But finish the game.

    #7 2 years ago
  8. Hussar

    zinc, playing Metro 2033 on a console is a crime you’ve just committed. While PC version is excellent.

    #8 2 years ago
  9. Mjorh

    We’re runnin out of FPSs with strong stories , i’m lookin forward to the story of this game …

    #9 2 years ago
  10. Eddie Rodrigues

    I really love the immersion that FPS games bring, but thanks to certain titles that shit on the story just to bring a simple yet dull multiplayer, I am almost killed every time I say I love the genre. I liked the first Metro but it isn’t a game I would buy (thanks to Xmas giveaway from THQ, I didn’t have to), the atmosphere was cool but it felt somewhat repetitive.

    #10 2 years ago
  11. jaz4life20

    Found a full review online. Click to see full metro last light review

    #11 2 years ago
  12. Radaway

    Awesome interview- Here’s another https://soundcloud.com/am640/vgs-may-10th-metro-last-light/

    and a chance to win the game

    #12 2 years ago

Comments are now closed on this article.

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    Frozenbyte has announced Trine 3: The Artifacts of Power will launch on Steam Early Access next week. The early access title will run you $19.99/€19.99/£14.99 and you can purchase it come April 21. If the short video above isn’t enough to tempt you, a video showing nine minutes of gameplay was released last week.

  • Journey, Flower, flOw trilogy to be released this summer on PS4 in 1080p at 60fps

    A remastered version of the Journey Collector’s Edition is coming to PlayStation 4 from ThatGameCompany. According to Gamespot, the trilogy will contain PS3 titles flOw, Flower and Journey on one disc, and it will run in 1080p at 60fps. A standalone version of Journey will arrive close to the trilogy’s release on PS4 through the […]

  • Here’s a few screenshots of PS4-exclusive Alienation from Housemarque

    Screenshots for Alienation, Housemarque’s four-player co-op PlayStation 4 exclusive, have been released and you can have a look at them in the gallery we’ve posted. Announced at gamescom 2014, the game features three main character classes, weapon customization, and various team set-ups. The game has players shooting at things with twin-stick gameplay with a top […]

  • Star Wars: Battlefront website notes November 17 release, teaser video and first image hit

    The first Star Wars: Battlefront image has been posted, and apparently it appeared on the official website at some point this morning. The game will also be released on November 17, according to the official website’s source code. The release date is noted in the code located in the image below. Props to Gematsu for […]

  • Mortal Kombat X is the fastest selling entry in the series to date

    Mortal Kombat X has sold faster than any other game in the series to date, making it the “biggest launch” in Mortal Kombat history, according to creator Ed Boon. Speaking in a series of tweets, Boon said both the mobile and console versions have “literally millions of players getting online” resulting in the servers being […]

  • Shadow of the Beast reboot resurfaces with some new screenshots

    The Shadow of the Beast reboot, which was announced in 2013, has show its face once more with early screenshots. Screenshots of the Amiga classic remake show off the Karamoon’s desert and the main character, Aarbron. According Matt Birch, CEO and founder of Heavy Spectrum, the team is currently hard at work on the “core […]

  • Halo: Spartan Strike arrives on Windows 8, iOS and Steam today

    Halo: Spartan Strike is now available on Windows 8, Steam, iOS devices and Windows 8 phones. The mobile top-down shooter will run you $5.99. Halo: Spartan Strike tells a new story in the Halo universe set during the events of Halo 2 on New Mombasa in 2552. Those playing on Windows 8 devices can compete […]

  • Final Fantasy 15 video shows highlights from the Episdoe Duscae demo

    Square Enix has released a Final Fantasy 15 video which shows highlights from the Episode Duscae demo included with launch editions of Final Fantasy Type-0 HD. FFT0 has shipped over one million copies worldwide, and a player feedback survey is available for the Duscae demo until May 19. Final Fantasy Type-0 HD is available on PlayStation […]

  • Bloodborne has sold over 155,000 digital units since release – SuperData

    PlayStation 4 exclusive Bloodborne has sold over 155,000 digital units since it was released on March 24, according to SuperData’s latest report. The figure produced by SuperData is worldwide and comes on the heels of the one million units sold announcement earlier this week. “After the release of the beautiful but terribly short game The […]

  • Nintendo US eShop update: Mega May returns, Super Smash Bros. update, Mii Fighter costumes

    Nintendo has updated the North American end of the eShop with a Super Smash Bros. update and the StreetPass Mii Plaza games Battleground Z and Ultimate Angler. The update is rather detailed, and a bit larger than normal, and you may wish to pay special attention to the activities listed. Here’s the full update: StreetPass […]

  • Here’s your first look at Sony boss Shuhei Yoshida in Super Time Force Ultra

    Sony Worldwide boss Shuhei Yoshida is a playable character in Super Time Force Ultra, and today, Capy Games has provided a couple images of the man himself in the game. Yoshida was announced as a playable character in the game during Sony’s PlayStation Experience event back in December 2014. The PS4 and Vita version will […]

  • The wait is almost over – The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt has gone gold

    CD Projekt RED has announced the news we’ve all been waiting to hear: The Witcher 3 has gone gold. This means Geralt’s latest, and possibly last, adventure has been sent to the factory to be pressed into lovely gaming discs. “We worked so damn hard over the past three years to bring you this game,” […]

  • Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is a “couple weeks out from beta,” new trailer

    Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is just a “couple of weeks out from beta,” according to development studio The Chinese Room, and a release date will be announced “shortly.” To give you an idea of how development has been coming along since it was announced at gamescom 2013, the team has released a new trailer […]

  • GTA 5 on PC looks incredible, but I can’t recommend it to console players

    As much as Matt Martin loves GTA 5, he can’t recommend upgrading from console to PC just for a slick editing suite and even prettier graphics. “This is the third time in as many years that I’ve bought GTA 5.” I have a Grand Theft Auto 5 obsession, as I’m sure you know if you’ve […]

  • The Forest engine updated to Unity 5, major graphical and gameplay improvements made

    The Forest’s latest patch added substantial improvements to the game. The Forest version 0.16 is now live on Steam with plenty of new additions. The game has been ported over to Unity engine version 5. The plant and skin shaders have been replaced or rewritten. Many other visual tweaks have been made, such as model […]

  • Star Wars: Battlefront banner leaks from Star Wars Convention

    EA has been setting up the Battlefront booth at Star Wars Celebration, and one leaked picture shows what could be the game’s main art. Someone on Reddit posted a picture of the game banner at EA’s booth. Here it is: Lots of things happening here. There’s a Star Destroyer in the distance, TIE Fighters and […]

  • Get GTA 5 working with Oculus Rift using this tool

    There’s a way you can play GTA 5 in VR if you own an Oculus Rift Dev Kit and have a bit of cash to spare. VorpX, the go-to program for adding VR support to games has received an update recently to support GTA 5. This is far from perfect, as it only translates the […]

  • FIFA Ultimate Team: week of April 15 team revealed

    This week’s Team of the Week is now available for anyone to challenge in FIFA Ultimate Team. The team members get selected each week based on their performance during the weekend matches. You can fire up FIFA Ultimate Team on any platform and challenge this squad. You’ll also find some Team of the Week items […]

  • Deus Ex: Mankind Divided will let you stealth all encounters, including bosses

    Deus Ex: Mankind Divided will bring back one of the original game’s major features. Deus Ex: Human Revolution is considered by many to be a great game and worthy of bearing the franchise name. One of its grating issues though was its boss fights. You only had one way to fight them: be confrontational. The […]

  • Project Cars PC specs and supported wheels announced

    The release date of Project Cars is inching ever closer and more details have been revealed to answer all your burning questions. Project Cars developer Slightly Mad Studios has revealed the full list of supported steering wheels on all platforms, as well as the minimum and recommended PC specs. Minimum specs CPU – 2.66 GHz […]

  • GTA 5 gets custom FOV mod on PC

    Those not satisfied with GTA 5′s built-in field of view slider can use a new mod to push the number even further. The PC versions of GTA 5 – just like its PS4 and Xbox One counterparts – lets you switch between third and first-person view in shooting and driving. The game has an FOV […]

  • Win! GTA 5 on PC!

    Want to win a Steam key for Grand Theft Auto 5 on PC? Just enter here. GTA 5 released on PC this week and is going down a storm. We like it a lot, which is why we’re giving away a Steam code for Rockstar’s latest. All you need to do is enter your email […]

  • GTA 5 topples Skyrim’s record for highest concurrent players on Steam

    Not factoring in Valve games, GTA 5 is the new king of concurrent player numbers on Steam. GTA 5 is very popular on PC, even more popular than games like Skyrim in its heyday. The number of concurrent players for GTA 5 has peaked today at 301,246. This makes it the only non-Valve game to […]

  • Mortal Kombat X: what does a modern fighting game look like?

    Mortal Kombat continues to evolve as NetherRealm adds RPG systems and daily challenges to a solid fighting game, says Sherif Saed. “Mortal Kombat X takes many cues from games like Destiny, Call of Duty, and GTA Online with hourly, daily and weekly events.” For as many of its familiar facets, Mortal Kombat X has enough […]

  • J-Stars Victory VS+ coming west in June – new trailer

    J-Stars Victory VS+ will make the jump (see what I did there) to the west after all. J-Stars Victory VS+ is the western title for the fighting game which stars characters from a variety of Shonen Jump-published manga. Bandai Namco has announced the fighter will release in Europe on June 26 and in the Americas […]

  • Codemasters F1 license good through 2016

    Codemasters has at least one more F1 game in it. F1 2015 isn’t out yet, so Codemasters is naturally not talking about what it might get up to in the future. We do know what it can get up to, though; Codemasters’ Steven Embling told Videogamer has the option to continue the series. “We have […]

  • Project Cars has pretty deep graphics options on consoles

    Project Cars offers players a wide variety of ways to customise their graphic settings on PS4 and Xbox One. Project Cars is a graphics showcase and all early indications suggest it’s going to be one of the best-looking games out there. Slightly Mad’s commitment to graphics seems to go deeper than making things pretty, though: […]

  • Super Smash Bros. patch nerfs Diddy Kong – report

    Super Smash Bros. 3DS and Wii U is great but Diddy Kong is a beast and must be stopped. The latest Super Smash Bros. 3Ds and Wii U patch seems to have nerfed Diddy Kong, a character so over-powered that serious tournament players generate controversy by choosing to use him. Nintendo doesn’t publish patch notes, […]

  • Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel developer shuttered

    Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel developer 2K Australia has been closed down. Kotaku broke the news, and also had word from an anonymous source, who said that all staff have been let go. 2K responded to our request for comment with the following statement: We can confirm we have taken steps to begin the studio closure process […]

  • Samorost 3 trailer shows Amanita still in fine form

    Samorost 3 looks as delicately beautiful as its siblings. Samarost 3 developer Amanita Design has a reputation for gorgeous, slightly surreal world building. This new trailer for its latest adventure looks just as if not more lovely than the previous Samarost games and Botanicula. Samarost 3 is coming to Mac and PC later this year, […]

  • Amnesia dev’s new project SOMA now in beta

    SOMA is nearly here and I am torn between excitement and horrified dread. SOMA is the latest horror project from Frictional, the team behind Amnesia: The Dark Descent. We’re pretty excited to see what Frictional comes up with next, and we won’t have too long to wait, apparently; the developer has announced that SOMA is […]

  • Steam Guard mobile authenticator now in beta testing

    Steam is now testing its latest security measure. Steam helps you protect your account by offering two-factor authentication, a solution so beautifully elegant and effective that it’s astounding every gaming network doesn’t do the same (looking at you, Sony). Valve’s version is called Steam Guard, and it works via email. This isn’t always super convenient, […]

  • Godzilla battles Mothra in new trailer

    Godzilla lets you stomp around cities and battle classic kaiju. I’m in. Godzilla is coming to PlayStation 3 and PS4 in early July, but we haven’t seen a great deal of it since its December reveal. The new trailer below gives you an idea of just what Natsume has done with one of the biggest […]

  • Tales of Zestiria to launch this year – new trailer

    Tales of Zestiria continues Bandai Namco’s delightful new habit of bringing the popular JRPG series to the west before the shine wears off. Tales of Zestiria is coming west in northern autumn, the publisher has announced. That’s not a bad turnaround, given it first hit Japan in January, and localisation of text-heavy titles is expensive […]

  • Project Cars release date locked down, new trailer released

    Project Cars finally has a release date. Project Cars will release on May 8, Bandai Namco UK has announced. We haven’t yet had an update from Namco Bandai’s other regional offices, but its probably safe to bet the racer will release around the same time in the Americas, Europe and ANZ region. We can now […]

  • Attack on Titan: Humanity in Chains trailer shows combat, online multiplayer

    Attack on Titan: Humanity in Chains has plenty to offer fans of the anime. Previously known as Attack on Titan: The Last Wings of Mankind, the Spike Chunsoft action game is coming west thanks to Atlus. Gematsu reports it’s due in both Europe and North America in May, via the 3DS eShop. The trailer below […]

  • Bloodborne stamina recovery rate affected by equip weight

    Bloodborne players have unearthed an important gameplay detail not mentioned in the game’s menus or manual. In Bloodborne, players need to manage their stamina carefully for best results. A far more aggressively-tuned affair than past Souls games, Bloodborne does away with equip weight limits, and items have no listed weight details. As far as players […]

  • Street Fighter’s Ryu, Fire Emblem’s Roy spotted in Super Smash Bros. patch – rumour

    Street Fighter’s Ryu is rumoured for future Super Smash bros DLC following datamining of the latest patch. Super Smash Bros. 3DS and Wii U were updated recently, and hacker shinyquagsire23 claims to have found some interesting files while poking around in the 3DS patch data. As detailed on Reddit, the audio files included a new […]

  • Suikoden 3 PEGI rating suggests PS2 Classic re-release

    Suikoden. Suikoden 2. And now: Suikoden 3. Suikoden 3 has been rated by PEGI for PlayStation 3, presumably ahead of an upcoming re-release. Gematsu turned up the rating, and although we have no further information at this time, it’s not much a leap to assume the RPG will turn up as a PS2 Classic on […]