Last December, the game publishing giant THQ went bankrupt. The handful of THQ games that were still in development went up for auction, including the nearly complete Metro: Last Light, the anticipated sequel to 2010s Metro: 2033, by the Ukrainian development studio 4A Games. Last Light, a first person shooter that tells the story of the various factions fighting for control of the Moscow Metro system, now home to the survivors of a nuclear apocalypse, was purchased at auction by Koch Media in January and released this week to outstanding reviews.
BuzzFeed has obtained the notes of an anonymous "game doctor" from an unnamed American publisher that bid unsuccessfully on the rights to Last Light. The notes, republished below, detail the publisher's plans to help 4A polish the game for an American audience.
First: congratulations on making Metro: Last Light. You've successfully identified the first and most important factor in breaking through here in the American game market: You made a first person shooter. Look: that's no small thing. Believe it or not, in this market for games, there are still people making role-playing games and adventure games and all manner of dollar-store crap. So take a moment to pat yourselves on the back.
Ok, moment over, and that's the last nice thing I'm going to say. Listen up. If you want this thing to sell at all in America, you will follow the advice I'm about to give you. It takes brass balls to succeed in this first person shooter market, and I've got them. This game is weird, and not in a good way like Bulletstorm, in a European way like BioShock, the success of which still boggles my mind. You need to make some changes for this thing to succeed.
My first note: that title! Fellas, listen: the only thing I would keep about that title is the colon. Pro tip: the colon is like the handgun of English. If you pull it out and point it at something, people have to pay attention. I'm working with the people at Activision to make it Call of Duty → Ghosts, but I'm not sure we're there yet, as a country. Give it time. Anyways! Metro: Last Light. It sounds like a worker bee going home at the end of a twelve-hour shift. I need a nap just saying it out loud. All the great first person shooters have names that really slap you around and won't leave you alone. Even in "Crysis", which lacks a colon, that "y" tells me there's something just a little different about this crisis, something awesome. Suggestions, feel free to ignore: Nuke City: Russia. Blast Radius: Critical Distance. Ranger Force: God and Country. Warpocalypse. If none of these appeal, try mixing and matching.
Gamplay: the shooting is fine. Good, even. But it seems to me that every two or three hours the shooting stops and you have to physically move your character through some kind of town or grouping of people and listen to them talk. That's no way to pace a video game. A video game plot visualized should look like an exponential curve, but faster. Advice: It's better to make these towns into cutscenes. You can skip cutscenes. Sure, you've written some nice sad dialogue and thrown in some nice references, but believe me: it will be lost on Americans. You know what I was reminded of, when I walked through the Communist city and through the ruins of the Bolshoi Ballet? The New Yorker. Another tip: no video game should ever remind the player of the New Yorker. Can you turn the Bolshoi into a fighting arena? Might do the trick.
Ok, graphics. The game looks really good, for a game spent 95% in dank tunnels. My assistant tells me that these tunnels build "atmosphere" and "tension" and that some people like that. I'm choosing to trust him. But here's a thing that bothered me, and you can bet it will bother Americans: So, you spend all this time cramped up inside, right, even though graphics processors can totally handle expansive outdoor environments now. And then finally, after five hours of hoofing it through dank tunnel after dank tunnel, you get to walk around this totally neat post apocalypse. Like Crysis 3. And literally, what is the first thing that happens when you step outside, and walk into the ruins of Moscow? It clouds over and starts raining! Look, I know you Russians like your moody weather and whatnot, but this is when you need to hit players with the lens flare. Classic lens flare scenario. Over, and over, and over again, with the lens flare. It is very difficult to justify a lens flare when it is cloudy and raining. Easy fix. I know a great lens flare guy.
Ok, now, onto this Pavel character. I like how he follows you around in the beginning, and provides chitter chatter while you explore—that way the player can't get bored. We've been doing that over here since Barney in the first Half-Life. But look: no one likes a downer. And Pavel is such a downer! He's always on and on with the "I never went to the beach" and "Maybe I was never meant to be happy" and "God is probably dead." Look, boychik: Americans don't go to their friends for the unvarnished truth. We go to our friends for encouragement. Here's what I suggest: every time Pavel is about to be negative, think about how he can motivate Artyom instead. A couple helpful phrases in this regard: "Almost there!" and "Keep going!" You should keep the Russian accent though. That way players will know he's Russian.
A little more about that plot. You have Nazis, which is good. Everyone understands right away that Nazis are bad. But then you complicate things: there are Communists, and normal people, and bandits, and bad monsters, and even monsters that may be good! Guys: Keep it simple, stupid! My advice: Stick to just the Nazis and the bad monsters. Americans barely remember what Communists are or what motivates them. Almost all Americans know that Nazis are bad, and most associate them, thanks to Indiana Jones and Wolfenstein, with ancient evil monsters. Also, this Artyom: not really an American hero. He just sort of seems like a conflicted guy in a tragic world who is sort of trying his best, which is never quite good enough. By the end of the game we can see that he's trying to save the world (which is okay, but the universe is preferable), but we need to see this earlier, more often, and probably through a metaphor such a small child or a single flower. Do you: know about metaphors?
Oh! That reminds me. The best part of the game is the strippers and the sex scene. Well, I guess that's two parts. But definitely do more with the strippers. Can you replace Pavel with the stripper? Just a thought.
Finally: I am still waiting for the build with multiplayer. My assistant claims that you aren't going to ship Last Light with multiplayer, and I almost fired him for being so stupid. A first person shooter without multiplayer is like a Qdoba without flour. Idiot assistant.
Alright fellas: you've got your work cut out for you. The good news is people simply do not get tired of games like the one I think you can turn this into. So, back to the grindstone! I can't wait to see Warpocalypse on store shelves, or more likely, flying off of them.
Joe Bernstein is a senior technology reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. Bernstein reports on and writes about the gaming industry and web culture.
Contact Joseph Bernstein at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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