During a recent eyes-on, hands-off demo, we got to see three different sections of Metro: Last Light's post-apocalyptic take on Moscow, which follows on from the events of previous instalment Metro 2033.
The first, an early level set in an industrial facility, showed how the refined stealth mechanics worked. With most of the areas awash in (dynamic) lighting, staying in the shadows is the key to getting through areas undetected. Bulbs can be removed by hand or shot from distance, Splinter Cell style, to make locations darker. You'll also have to keep a beady eye on the blue lozenge on your wrist, which glows to warn you when you are straying into the light and becoming exposed to enemies. Despite the increased risk, it's worth getting in close to guard patrols, though: their conversations flesh the story out, and also provide useful hints on how to progress.
Dead bodies can't be moved, so timing is important...
Luring them away from their posts is one way of pushing on. Locating and turning off power switches causes them to investigate, providing the opportunity to either sneak past or take them out. Packed into your post-apocalyptic arsenal are both lethal and non-lethal takedowns, but bodies can't be moved once they've hit the floor so picking the right time and place is particularly important. After the conveniently-placed cupboards in Hitman Absolution, it might take some getting used to.
Enemy AI is perception-based, using sight and sound cues, the effectiveness of which is based on their current alertness. If you stray into the light or balls-up a takedown, enemies enter an alert state and begin sweeping the area, using head torches and laser sights to track you down. There's no cooldown for this search phase once it's been triggered, so you can't just hide until it passes; instead you'll need to either confront your foes or make your escape from the area.
As with Metro 2033, the HUD is minimal and you'll need to read gauges on your weapons and suit rather than relying on more traditional onscreen displays. Pressing the shoulder buttons brings up additional controls, allowing you to turn on your torch or clean your mask, though the interface can be turned off completely if you're after a totally immersive experience.
Next up on our tour of the game was a flooded station city known as 'Venice', its people seemingly more adapted to life underground as they fished, drank, and even enjoyed boat trips. There will be a number of these locations, working as a respite from combat, but although they feel like hubs, they aren't in reality - you don't get to return to them later on. You can, however, trade and purchase upgrades for your equipment using military grade ammo as currency, scavenged while moving through enemy areas or looted from defeated foes. Three slots allow you to hold whichever weapon type you want, though ammo for rarer weapons is scarce.
Finally we moved outside, looking for fuel to power a ferry raft. Outdoor locations form a much bigger part of the game than in Metro 2033, accounting for around 40% of the levels. In stark contrast to the gloomy underground locations, there's foliage now growing over the post-apocalyptic ruins and sunshine beginning to break through the fallout of the thinning nuclear winter. However, despite the welcome sweep of nature, this environment is no less harsh than elsewhere, with pools of toxic water everywhere and - more worryingly - mutants to avoid. A countdown timer on your wristwatch indicates how much time your current gas mask filter has left, and you'll constantly be looking out for new filters to keep the air breathable.
Pack a spare pair of pants for the times when mutants burst out of nowhere...
In the demo, a path is plotted out with red flags, which - thanks to an earlier overheard conversation - you'll know indicates a safer route through the wasteland. There are still traps to disarm... as well as mutants: pack spare pants for the times when hidden creatures burst out of nowhere. Not that they stay hidden for long. Once you've found a can of fuel and used it to get the generator running, all hell breaks loose and you're swarmed by an army of mutos. Acid flinging? They do that. And it clouds your vision. Disorientation? There's plenty of that. Panic? Bring a third pair of pants. In the demo, Artyom replaces his air filters, wipes his mask clean, and tries to hold them off.
As the demo ends, it's clear that big strides have been made in righting the first game's flaws, with slicker shooting and a wider range of combat manoeuvres. It remains reliably impressive in terms of visuals and atmosphere, though. We can't wait to go hands-on in 2013...