Metro: Last Light won't be for everybody. The first game in the series was an unapologetically bleak trudge through flickering train tunnels under a nuke-bombed Moscow with only a lighter and your shadow for company. And when you finally clawed your way to the surface? Nothing but grey skies, acid rain and mutants that look like the products of Rancor/Elephant Man sexy time.
Give in, however, and you'll miss out on one of this generation's most atmospheric games, part action-packed shooter, part survival horror and fully certified pant-filler. This picks up a year after Metro 2033's 'bad ending' in which Artyom, reprising his lead role here, sticks two fingers up to the concept of reconciliation and nukes an intelligent race of mutated (but not all bad) humanoids called the Dark Ones.
Moral plurality? Pah! It's absolutism all the way, and while this cajoling of the player on a set course betrays the very function of a dual ending, moral choices and multiple conclusions will, we're told, return.
But Mass Effect this ain't. Artyom's not the type to sit and ponder, and it's beneath a poisoned sky in concrete catacombs you'll quell a subterraneous civil war between survivors, bandits, mutants and the Third Reich, racing to secure a doomsday device from the bowls of top secret military facility known only as D6. That'll involve a lot of shooting, 2033's stumbling point.
For all its immersion, actually wielding the assortment of electromagnetic volt drivers, rattling revolvers and rusted flamethrowers felt painfully limp in the first game. Simply, if blasting a giant radioactive wolf in the face isn't fun then there's a serious problem. Last Light rectifies that: roaring miniguns churn like a dozen chainsaws in a washing machine, and gunfire rips through the air with a freighting crack. It's not all ballistics; throwing knives return, along with sticky grenades, bayonets, and attachments including customisable scopes, suppressors and barrels.
The irony is, during our walkthrough Artyom barely fires a shot, his nervous fingers lightly tapping the trigger as if issuing Morse code. You start - surprise surprise - in a tunnel. It soon opens up into what looks like a waiting area, near pitch black and choked with dust. You reach for an oil lamp and the room floods with dull light, revealing paint-peeled walls and mouldy scraps of trash strewn across the floor. Suddenly a rat - or what looks like one - darts from the glare, leading your eyes to a rotting body. You bend over to inspect it and crab-sized spiders burst from its mouth and ALL OVER YOUR FACE.
Last Light is full of these darkly detailed scenarios, hardly easy-going fare and not fun in the strictest sense, but definitely compelling.