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Metro: Last Light - Perfecting a flawed masterpiece?

Going deeper underground...

Metro 2033 was a brilliant breath of poisonous air for the crammed the crammed post-apocalyptic shooter genre. It was a horror hybrid: a game about survival, fear and overcoming overwhelmingly tricky odds.

On a console where we've been mollycoddled with simple shooters, it was defiantly, and brilliantly, PC-focused too. It offered little to no hand-holding, and level design was sometimes so advanced that approaching select areas with an eye for cunning let you quietly subvert entire conflicts - sneaking past entire wars without so much as having to dodge a bullet. Sure it had issues, but it was fresh, it was ballsy and it had heart.

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Metro: Last Light is a direct sequel, picking up protagonist Artyom's tale after the events of the first game. It's not based on Glukhovsky's Metro 2034 novel - that book was more of an arthouse project and didn't lend itself to a game, THQ claims - but rather a new tale purpose-written by 4A Games under the guidance of Glukhovsky.

Our live gameplay demo is a mishmash of different levels sewn together to highlight some of the new mechanics, beginning with returning hero Artyom descending down into the Moscow sewer system. As soon as he reaches a hostile camp he brushes past spider-riddled cobwebs to unscrew a lightbulb illuminating his position.

Seconds later, two armed guards stroll past Artyom's hiding spot. He silently creeps up behind the slower of the two and slices his throat with a melée kill. The second guard, unaware of his friend's demise, is shot in the back with a few ball bearings courtesy of the improved pneumatic air rifle.

WETWORK RAIL
It's immediately obvious Metro's weapons have been seriously upped in power, and it's even clearer when, seconds later, Artyom stumbles upon an enemy encampment and takes them all head on. Fighting's meatier this time - headshots all appear to register as headshots, for starters, and drop people instantly.

Ducking behind a concrete wall offers little respite: the concrete crumbles away under machine gun fire, exposing the rebar beneath. But the tables are soon turned when Artyom grabs hold of a nearby chain gun and begins scything through enemy ranks.

When it's fired dry Artyom switches to a pistol with all the apparent power of a cannon somehow squeezed into its small frame. People recoil and fall down when shot - a key improvement over the last game's bullet sponges - and, at this early stage in development it's tough to imagine even hardened CoD fans not enjoying the shootouts.

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RUSSIAN COUCHETTE
Skipping ahead we then see Artyom walking through a hostile Reich station in disguise. There's a rally going on, and there must be at least 100 NPCs in attendance. Artyom pushes through a crowd (a quick head count placed around 40 characters on screen) before his cover is blown and he's forced to sprint through the rest of the station to safety.

It's hard to tell how much of the sequence is controllable and how much is on rails, but that says more about the polish than it does about restrictions: a similar sequence in the first game was 100% controllable, and the fact that a friendly NPC is barking orders to jump and duck throughout the chase suggests you won't simply sit back and watch the action unfold.

The final section of our demo involves a high-speed train chase. First Artyom has to gun down the chasing carts (he can now duck behind a metal bar in his cart to take refuge from incoming fire) after which he has no option but to leap across the tracks and onto a train carrying a key prisoner in need of freeing.

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