THQ's global communications boss Huw Beynon recently spoke to OXM about Metro: Last Light's post-apocalyptic appeal and handsome Russian mutants. Benyon's thoughts eventually expanded to a criticism of the rut he believes the FPS genre has wallowed in for years. Specifically, he calls out Call of Duty's rinse-repeat military formula for "stamping out" other creative shooter ideas.
"I think it's probably very true to say that there's reaction to what used to be a small subset of the genre of a military shooter," he said. "It's ballooned and mushroom-clouded to almost define the genre and kind of stamp out memories of what I remember being great about first person shooters, whether that was Half-Life, System Shock, or GoldenEye—where a FPS didn't necessarily have to involve military material, it just meant an invitation to a fantastic other world, which to me was always the point of video games in the first place."
Beynon also suggested gamers are slowly detaching themselves from the idea of always playing as a military superman, and that gamers are hungry for different experiences—like Metro. He also points to Dishonored as a successful experiment. "I've hugely enjoyed and I'm thrilled that they've had success with that—it's probably the game that's interested me most this year and am glad to see it get the critical and hopefully commercial success that it deserves."
THQ filed for bankruptcy earlier this week but continues to keep its publishing duties and upcoming releases active. Elsewhere and earlier on, Black Ops 2 raked in gobs of profit, but not quite as many as its big brother, Modern Warfare.
In a statement released today, THQ announced it filed bankruptcy as part of a sale to equity firm Clearlake Capital. Though financial issues troubled the publisher in the past, the announcement stressed everything will continue as normal while THQ seeks a new owner.
"THQ will continue operating its business without interruption during the sale period," read the statement. "All of the company’s studios remain open, and all development teams continue. Consumers and retailers should see no changes while the company completes a sale. The new financing will support business operations throughout the period. THQ does not intend to reduce its workforce as a result of the filing."
THQ's filing specifically fell under Chapter 11 of the government's Bankruptcy Code, which allows a company to reorganize and essentially get its bearings without disappearing entirely. Which is a good thing, with upcoming games such as Metro: Last Light, Company of Heroes 2, South Park: The Stick of Truth, and Saints Row 4 hanging in the balance.
On a positive note, THQ's substantial success generating over $5 million through its recent Humble Bundle deal boosted its stock nearly 40 percent!
The Ranger difficulty for Metro 2033 (PSA: free keys are being given away on Facebook) stripped the UI, crosshairs, and health while making precious ammo even more scarce in Russia's monster-infested tunnels. Such a masochist's dream come true degree of challenge will reappear in Metro: Last Light, but only as part of a deal for those pre-ordering the $60/£37 Limited Edition.
Early buyers also receive an extra bandolier of military-grade ammo for barter or blasting and a modified AKS-74U rifle. Ranger was also previously packaged separately as free DLC for Metro 2033, so THQ will probably follow suit for Last Light. To some, Ranger might represent the "best" experience of a harsh, barely survivable world, but at least the pre-order is the same price as the launch version, and will probably be available to everyone after release.
Everything sounds so much more bleak when it's being narrated by a despondent Russian. This new Metro: Last Light footage could have been showing a day out at the circus, and the voiceover would still give it the sombre tone of a slowly dying civilisation.
Bad example, thinking about it. Circuses are usually pretty harrowing as is.
Instead we get a moody and atmospheric tour of Metro's decrepit cityscapes and squalid tunnels, all while our cheery friend gives a sermon from the book of Genesis, complete with an extra line that I'm pretty sure isn't church-approved.
It all looks suitably true to the melancholy of the first game. Metro 2033 was a brilliant way to have a bad time and, if you never tried it out, is still available from the Humble THQ Bundle for the next day and a bit. Metro: Last Light is due out in March 2013.
Update: Ooh! As Hitman Dead Man and GinjaNinja32 point out in the comments, THQ are also handing out free Steam keys for Metro 2033 for folks who like their Facebook page. At least, they will when the currently overloaded page comes back online.
THQ's previously reported financial difficulties continue with the resignation of CFO Paul Pucino, who leaves no named successor in the wings. However, there are some glimmers of light on the horizon for the troubled publisher, which reports that it's in negotiations with an unidentified financial sponsor (expected to result in a "significant and material dilution to shareholders").
It's also established a "forbearance agreement" with the bank Wells Fargo, which essentially allows THQ extra time to catch up on its debts - until January 15 in this case.
"This agreement enables us to continue focusing on bringing our games in development to market," said THQ's CEO Brian Farrell. "Meanwhile, we are evaluating financial alternatives that will transition the company into its next phase."
With Company of Heroes 2 looking very special indeed, and other promising titles like Metro: Last Light trundling toward release, we're keeping our fingers crossed that THQ manages to climb out of this financial hole.
THQ's stock has halved in value after the publisher's Q2 financial report announced a delay to the games arriving early next year. Though the delay shows an investment in the quality of those titles, the plummeting share price could leave the company facing bankruptcy before they reach market.
Needless to say, this would be a tremendous shame, as many of the games on THQ's roster are very well-liked here at PCG. Metro: Last Light and Company of Heroes 2 look particularly promising, and later releases, like Crytek's take on the Homefront licence and a new Saints Row game should do a lot to chivvy up sales - assuming THQ can find the cash to fund their development. Then there's Darksiders - which I rather enjoyed despite its weak-sauce PC porting - but the last game hasn't made its money back, despite 1.4 million sales.
As such THQ faces a tough call: gamble money it doesn't have to fund and polish its forthcoming projects or jeopardise the quality of its titles and face diminishing returns. There are other options of course, though not especially welcome ones: a mergers and acquisitions consultant has apparently been hired, presumably to look at the possibility of a buy-out.
If THQ can last out a little longer, then the sales of Metro: Last Light and Company of Heroes 2 may well make or break the company. If you're looking forward to those games, it might be worth considering this fact should you find yourself with pre-order-shaped wad of cash come Christmas-time.
In its second quarter financials report, THQ has delayed three of its biggest 2013 titles, with one pushed back as far as 2014.
The Obsidian-developed South Park: The Stick of Truth has been delayed a whole year, with its initial March 2013 release scrapped, and an early 2014 release scheduled.
Meanwhile, Company of Heroes 2 and Metro: Last Light have been rescheduled from a January 2013 release to a March street date.
Recently appointed THQ president Jason Rubin - he of Naughty Dog and Crash Bandicoot fame - said the delays were made to ensure quality. "Our fourth quarter releases are the first titles that I have had the ability to materially impact, and experience told me that games needed addition development time to be market-ready," Rubin said.
"I believe South Park's market opportunity is significant. It is shaping up to be one of the most anticipated titles of calendar 2013. It is also an expansive title, encompassing multiple television seasons' worth of content. We have been working closely with the co-creators of South Park, Matt Stone and Trey Parker, to make sure all of the game's content performs to the high standards of the TV show, and this takes time. THQ is committed to giving gamers no less than the rich South Park game they have been waiting for and deserve.
"We are also inspired by the potential for Metro: Last Light and Company of Heroes 2. I believe Metro: Last Light is a title that should set standards for visuals with its stunning atmosphere, unique location and cutting-edge style. Company of Heroes was one of the highest rated RTS titles in history, and Relic insists that the sequel live up to its pedigree. Giving both of these titles time to reach their full potential is the right thing to do for the products.
"THQ is excited about our position and pipeline of games beyond fiscal 2013, including the sequel for Saints Row: The Third, Homefront 2 and the as-yet-unannounced game from Turtle Rock Studios. In total we have ten titles in development for fiscal 2014 and later, almost all of which are based on our own IP. We intend to announce more details about our future slate in the coming months.
"I firmly believe releasing our fourth quarter titles without extra time for polish in the current environment would lead to underperformance that could in turn lead to future additional capital shortfalls. But extending development schedules in order to make the best possible titles also has financial implications. Yet there can be no doubt which path has the greatest chance of leading to the long-term success of the company. We must follow the course that generates the highest quality games, and will establish THQ as a mark of quality for the consumer."
Last week, 4A Games announced that after working on "a number of multiplayer prototypes" for Metro: Last Light, it has decided to move the multiplayer team back onto single-player development. As a result, Metro: Last Light will not launch with a multiplayer component, though the developer isn't ruling out the possibility it will happen post-release.
"Right now we’re 100% focused on the single player campaign and not thinking beyond that," reads the post. "We don’t like throwing away work though, it’s a project we could potentially return to after Metro: Last Light ships."
Regarding the change of heart, 4A admits: "In hindsight, it was probably a mistake to announce it when we did, but we’re an enthusiastic team and wanted to be open about what we were making!"
This article first appeared in issue 242 of PC Gamer UK. Written by Matt Lees.
No one expects Russian mutants to be gorgeous all the time, but it’s nice to see them make an effort now and then. Ukrainian developers 4A Games seem well aware of Metro 2033’s shortcomings, and first on the list is getting things dolled up. Skulking through the underground tunnels shows off the improvements to a degree, but it’s the outside world that impresses the most.
As the smoggy black ash clouds begin to clear from the city, the next stages of nuclear fallout kick in. Thick-cut lightning appears intent on cutting the sky in two as rain starts to fall, obscuring the main character Artyom’s visor.
As Artyom pushes through crunched-concrete streets, his travelling companion tells him to keep his head down. Around fifty mutated rat-like creatures bound across the crumbled vista ahead, appearing equally shaken-up by the storms. Metro: Last Light’s flair for cinematic moments scoffs at the efforts of the slightly wonky Metro 2033, but this upgrade comes with a shift in tone that won’t please everyone.
The regular presence of a follow-me-buddy and an emphasis on building drama through scripted moments reminds me an awful lot of games like Call of Duty. If you were holding out for something more like Stalker, switch your eyebrows into frownmode now.
One of the first scripted moments I spot makes me jump: a giant, horrible rat-like thing leaps out of the shadows, showing a mouth full of sharp teeth that hint towards sour intentions. Pinned to the ground and away from his buddy, Artyom forces the barrel of his shotgun beneath what appears to be the beast’s chin, relocating key parts of its brain into a brand new drippy red spot on the ceiling. I’m happy to invite more moments like this, but other scripted sections don’t nail the tone.
A supernatural sequence on a wrecked airplane had great intentions, but fell a bit flat. Flashing images of the plane’s passengers just before the crash felt like home-brand horror, and a longer sequence showing the reactions of the pilots as they flew towards a freshly-grown mushroom cloud somehow misspells shock as schlock. It reminded me of the iconic nuke scene from Call of Duty 4, but the comparison wasn’t wholly kind.
The depictions of pre-disaster civilians in the game feel wooden when compared with excellently silly antics with neo-Nazis and monsters. Hopefully these sequences won’t take the limelight.
I’ll need to withhold judgement until I get a chance to play the game for myself, but THQ’s Huw Beynon insists that the mainstream-facing stuff won’t detract from what made the last game fantastic: “Dumbing down is when you strip all of that stuff out and say ‘let’s keep it simple’,” explains Beynon. “What we want to do instead is to introduce these mechanics better, and weave them into the narrative more… let players get comfortable with ideas one at a time, and they’ll gradually realise a wealth of new options.”
If linear jollies aren’t a total turn-off, this one still looks set to be a treat. Most of Metro 2033’s esoteric features will also play a part in Last Light, which means winding up an electric torch, frantically hunting down fresh oxygen canisters and manually wiping your mask’s visor clean. An excess build-up of water, blood, or indeterminate mutant-juice can severely damage your ability to shoot things.
And trust me, you’re going to want to shoot things. Using bullets to kill things in the last game felt a bit like to trying to knock someone out with half a Battenberg. It’s a criticism the developers have taken note of, and the gunplay this time around seems more substantial. One fight sees Artyom squaring up against a giant bat-bastard, which insists on grabbing him with both claws before dropping him again from an unhealthy height.
A few high-calibre rifle rounds make light work of the beast, putting an end to the encounter. The raucous exchange attracts even more attention, though, forcing Artyom and pals to make a dash for the subway.
Making a last stand at the bottom of the escalator, both rangers run out of Molotov cocktails as giant rat-creatures continue to arrive. A chunky sub-machinegun chews through the mutants, but looks set to be useless once the ammo runs out. An incendiary-flavoured rescue arrives just as things are looking truly desperate, and two flamethrower-wielding rangers open the doors to give the vile creatures a blast.
Last Light’s blasted, wrecked world looks surprisingly beautiful, and I’m fascinated to see just how well it handles. I’m also faintly worried that 4A Games might have fluffed up the balance between freedom and scripting, but Beynon is making reassuring noises that it’ll be something more than a corridor shooter with added radiation. “People like complexity, and gamers aren’t stupid,” he says.
Last Light could shape up to be the sexiest apocalypse in 2013.