Metro: Last Light has had a bumpy ride. Shortly after its announcement, publisher THQ reported growing financial problems. As these problems worsened, the game was caught in the middle of the crosshairs: it was pulled from GameStop's digital store due to fear of THQ's instability, and when THQ finally dissolved, the game was sold to German media group Koch Media, which owns the Deep Silver video game label.
All this instability could have had a strong negative impact on Metro: Last Light. But according to Deep Silver's brand and PR manager, Jeremy Greiner — who was brought over from THQ — the game is better off now than it was before.
"The wheels started to fall off in December  and we didn't know what was going to happen with THQ," Greiner tells Polygon. "Ultimately, THQ was auctioned off piecemeal and, thankfully, Deep Silver bought the game."
Greiner says Metro 2033 was hugely successful in Germany, which is where Deep Silver and Koch Media are based. The game was well-received in Europe, but Greiner says THQ "dropped the ball" with the way it handled the game in North America.
"I don't think the company really understood what the game was, and at that time it was still very much a kids and family-focused publisher," he says. "They were trying to carve out their share of the core gaming space, but being an Eastern European developer — 4A Games is in Kiev, Ukraine — I think THQ just misunderstood them"
"I don't think the company really understood what the game was."
Greiner says that as a result of THQ's lack of understanding of the Metro brand, Metro 2033 didn't perform as well as it could have because it didn't receive the support it needed. He believes that with Last Light, the company finally "got it," and with Deep Silver now taking over the reins in the final months before the game's release, the game is now in the hands of people who "really get it."
THE PAX EAST DEMO
Deep Silver will be showing an extensive demo of Metro: Last Light at PAX East this weekend. According to Greiner, the demo will give players a taste of the changes and improvements that have been made to the game, as well as how far it has come since Metro 2033 — a game he refers to as a "flawed masterpiece."
Polygon saw the demo ahead of its PAX debut, and a slew of improvements have been implemented in response to player feedback from the first game. Greiner says it was designed with the Metro narrative in mind, so it's "not just another shooter." He says that every level aims to drive the narrative, and every setting gives players a piece of the puzzle to the world they're inhabiting. Different towns and locations reveal a little more about what happened in the past and what is happening now. Every conversation overheard informs players a bit more about the society's politics, the factions, the dangers and the context for their actions. Occasionally, overhearing a conversation might give a player a clue as to how they might proceed when faced with a certain challenge later on.
Greiner says Last Light is a game that is both smarter and more immersive than 2033. One of the biggest changes implemented is in the game's AI. He says where the first game suffered from a buggy AI that pulled players out of the experience (one such bug meant that if one enemy spotted you, every other enemy in the game also knew your exact location), Last Light's AI is far more dynamic. They each have different search patterns — the characters will tell each other where you are. There's a surrender mechanic, and if they see that their comrades are being taken down by the player, they'll retreat. If a player kills someone and the body is spotted, it will trigger the various alert states of guards and the player might hear the AI yelling about the body found.
Last Light is also described as a more "user-friendly" experience, without being dumbed-down. All the elements that make it a Metro game are still there, Greiner says — players still have to put on gas masks and filters, monitor their oxygen levels, wipe down their masks and walk up to bodies to collect items. The elements that give players a sense of desperation have not been changed. What has changed is the way the game controls, the button mapping and the way they come together to make the experience more intuitive.
"I love that [4A] kept all the unique essence of what Metro is while making it a much better experience overall for the user," Greiner says. "It's what the first game could have been, and more."
Metro: Last Light is out this May on Windows PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. It will be shown at PAX East. Polygon's preview of the game's system of choices can be read here.