PAX East 2013: A Tale of Two Apocalypses

By Mark Delaney, 5 years ago
The end of the world is an extremely popular scenario in video games. It allows us to simulate our own actions and behavior in a world in ruins without all the actual bloodshed, turmoil, and lack of toilet paper. In Boston last weekend, two post-apocalyptic games being published by Deep Silver were available to be played hands-on. They're also both sequels to flawed but usually well-received games. My impressions with this pair were mixed but they showed signs of hope -- strange, given the setting.

Metro: Last Light was the first game I got time alone with at PAX East. After enjoying the first one despite its technical hiccups, I was really excited to get back into character as Artyom. I was dropped into a level without context, which is fine, I avoided spoilers that way. After a cinematic intro the game seamlessly put me behind the eyes of the protagonist.

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In a closed room behind enemy lines, I scavenged the room for any supplies I could find. Gathering ammo, a gas mask, and some health syringes, I crept and quietly opened the door. I was happy to notice that none of my ammo seemed very abundant. The game is definitely a shooter, but like its predecessor, it retains some survival-horror elements that fans will be glad to see return. With my flashlight off I took out a few soldiers stealthily by approaching from behind and gutting them with my knife. The lack of a light made it hard for me to find my way but if I turned it on, I'd give away my presence. Using cover I continued on and I was again able to take out more enemies without giving away the fact that I had crashed their Nazi party.

For the purposes of this demo, I decided to find out how the shooting gameplay felt so I opened fire on the next group and ignited a gunfight. The pneumatic rifle returns and felt tighter than the first game's. I had a pistol too but with no aiming sight and poor visibility, I found it hard to hit them. As I ran low on ammo, they flanked me and I took a lot of damage. I had to retreat briefly to allow myself to heal, which is when I remembered I must do so manually and pulled out one of the syringes. After grabbing a shotgun off one of the dead bodies, I finished off the last few Nazis with close-range spraying.

With this demo being just 15 minutes, I didn't get to see much else of what Metro has to offer. I would've liked to see how the gas mask must be managed this time around and I was disappointed to have not encountered any Dark Ones. Still, the atmosphere maintains a strong presence and, as should be expected, it's graphically better than 2033.

Dead Island Riptide (Xbox 360) was the last game of the weekend I got to try out. The first one was a buggy but fun game according to many gamers and this sequel seemed to be coming out pretty quickly in order to beat the next-gen buzzer. Perhaps because of that, Riptide felt too familiar.

Dead Island: Riptide March 14th/13

The demo dropped me into four-player co-op and I got to choose my character from the four returning characters, as well as a new protagonist. I chose Xian Mei, my favorite character and the sharp weapons expert. Then I got to choose her survival style. I could boost her defense or offense, make her more balanced, or manually edit her base skills myself. This looks to be a great addition for the sequel.

My team then dropped into a mission where we awaken after a crash and have to quickly fend off a few undead. Heading up to a close-quarters set of elevated bungalows, we were given a mission to fortify the fencing around the resort. This was very similar to the missions in the first game that required carrying heavy objects that left us vulnerable. This time, the zombies didn't invade until the fencing was up anyways. When they did, the four of us fended them off while also protecting the AI characters that were being attacked. Everything from the melee combat to the HUD is identical to the first game, which made it easily to pick up but also left a stale taste in my mouth.

More came so I decided to take some out with one blow. I lured them to a pile of red barrels (and everyone knows what those do) and then threw my weapon at the red barrels. Unfortunately, they didn't explode. I ran around the slow but persistent enemies and threw my weapon again. Then again. And again. The barrels wouldn't blow up even though my aiming reticule would auto-lock to them as if they were able to be used. I decided to finish them off the more traditional way, one at a time with heavy blows to their necks and limbs.

The next part of the demo gave us all flare guns that we could fire at zombies but the main purpose of these was to blow the bridge so the zombies couldn't cross it. The gunplay is again clunky, which I forgive because it adds difficulty and realism, but it still feels more like an accident than a design decision. Then I realized which bridge they meant -- the one with the red barrels. That's why I couldn't shoot them, because they were needed for this story mission. Why, then, could I auto-aim at them beforehand?

Things like that, as well as bad voice-acting and plastic characters were some of the issues with the first Dead Island, and they seem to be reemerging here in Riptide. One area that definitely has improved is the driving mechanics. They didn't feel as clunky as I made sure to be the one behind the wheel so I could write about it here. We spent the waning minutes of the demo driving to the next objective, and while we never made it there before time was up, steering the vehicle was definitely more fluid this time around.

If you liked Dead Island (Xbox 360), the sequel may give you mixed feelings. On one hand, it's more of what you enjoyed, but that felt like almost all it had to offer. When it releases next month, you may need to ask yourself if what feels like more DLC is something you're interested in.

Dead Island: Riptide shambles into stores on April 23rd and Metro: Last Light is due out a few weeks later on May 14th.
Mark Delaney
Written by Mark Delaney
Mark is a Boston native now living in Portland, Oregon. He's the Editorial Manager on TA, loves story-first games, and is one of three voices on the TA Playlist podcast. Outside of games he likes biking, sci-fi, the NFL, and spending time with his fiancée and son. He almost never writes in the third person.