Yet Last Light has us back down in the sludge and dirt of Russia's labyrinth metro tunnel system. The world up top is still a rain-lashed hell where mutated beasts crawl through wrecked cities and others tear the sky with huge beating wings. Underground it's still the wretched last survivors clinging to what humanity they can, scraped together and banded into societal microcosms in each metro station.
Oddly, it's familiarity that's comforting, but no less abrasive. Anyone that fought mutants and soldiers in Metro 2033 knows what to expect: something that the game creators know as well. There's a sense, even from the couple of hours we spend trekking through radioactive Russia, that 4A Games is tapping into new avenues to establish the sense of horror.
We're viewing everything through the eyes and ears of Artyom once more. Ammo is still sparse and a valuable trading commodity, gas masks still need dropped over the face when heading into areas with non-filtered air. We still see crammed metro stations, groups travelling between makeshift towns with fearful eyes and hands on weapons.
A newer element restructures the focus from facing mutated horrors to the horrific acts of humans to one another. The core staple of post-apocalyptic stories are realised here as one Metro station, run by a cruel commandant (with a penchant for Hitler-style moustaches) and his on-site army decides aggressive expansion is the way forward, and is readying a takeover of every other station for supplies and ultimate control.
The game demo starts with us travelling topside. Visually the game still packs a punch: rain storms amid moments of sunlight darken the twisted landscape. It's effective stuff. The gas mask HUD gradually fogs, webs walked through cling to it. A button tap wipes away the build up. The muffled sound of heavy breathing is emphasised through the headset we're wearing to play, immersing us further.
We stumble across a plane wreck, entry into the cockpit initiates a flashback to the day of the bombing, seen through the eyes of the flight's pilots as they loose control and crash into the city. The reasons for the flashback are supernatural (and we'll likely see more before the game's close), but the cinematic is unsettling in itself, and serves better in frightening than the cabin full of dead bodies we first witness on entering - second time trudging in Metro and numerous other titles dealing with the same situation, and we're immune to the scale of death under our feet.
Familiarity makes for little surprise or worried response when we're set upon by mutations. But the framing device - the creatures pouring out of housing ruins - if effective, and likely the demo's increased ammo count leeches the fear such overwhelming odds should have. We blast away, alternating ammo types out of curiosity more than wish for maximum stopping power.
Come arrival at the next Metro station we're captured and beaten. And keeping with every villain's mistake ever, the evil plan is monologued at length - and shortly after Arytom manages to make his escape.
Again, it's another framing device that works really well, as we've to sneak through and out of a fortified station. However the tension comes crashing down when it's quickly obvious the guards aren't all that.
The stealth element is built round an on-screen bar marking how hidden you are by darkness - but currently the game's too generous with what that allows you to get away with. We ghosted round the feet of guards speedily enough, and anything other than standing directly in front of them or letting off a shot didn't arouse them. We've had awful times misjudging spacial awareness and sight lines in first-person stealth games before - Last Light felt like a breeze in comparison.
Metro's world design means there's an unavoidable linearity to progress. Station's civilian areas are heavily-populated corridors, making you stuck into a pseudo-viewing gallery as you follow a set route. Outside stations you're confined to train lines that flush you direct to the next station.
4A Games has attempted the best compromise they can, with multiple side service rooms and train depots as optional stops to explore as you travel. Given the need to scavenge for supplies, you're forced into exploration - good gameplay reason to stop players from just charging through.
The slow-burn story and emphasis on scarce ammunition doesn't make for a flash bang experience, and thus sampled in such a small amount as part of a hands-on day, Metro: Last Light looses the vigour of the horrors it's trying to immerse you in. A game then that needs the proper time (and headset) to understand and appreciate it fully. Roll on the review.
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