Metro Last Light preview: A shooter that takes risks

We’re not saying shooters play it safe or anything (we totally are) but the whole ‘ruined metropolis’ thing is getting as familiar to FPS fans as a walk to the corner shop, and most of the time it’s every bit as nerve-jangling. Been there, shot at that. Last Light’s crumbling soviet cityscape is a bit different though.

As we watch protagonist Artyom ascend from a rat-infested underground lair and out into a profoundly grey soviet cityscape that would once have been an impressive square, there’s an attention to architectural detail and haunting atmosphere that suggests developer 4A really is interested in generating a memorable narrative experience, not a radioactive shooting gallery. There’s at least the illusion that you could go off walking for miles in any direction and stumble upon misadventures on your own terms, though this isn’t designed in the same vein as Fallout 3′s open world.

Narrative emphasis is also evident in the flashback sequences that contribute to Last Light’s odd pacing. At the very beginning, we’re a child riding the eponymous underground surrounded by people and colour, back before everything got burned in a nuclear fire. Skipping to the present day, as a grizzled forager with a DIY-looking firearm and equally grizzled companion, you’re aware by the juxtaposition that a lot of people died where you’re standing.

It’s a touch that makes all the difference, adds a bit of much-needed context to the ruins you’ve explored in different forms and different games for years before. As is said grizzled companion, actually: he’s very talkative without coming across like a breathing tutorial. He adds colour and character where there would only be grey in his absence. He’s Alyx Vance with stubble, essentially, and we feel that he’s a bigger part of the game than 4A is letting on at this point.

The minute-by-minute play is all a bit survival horror: you’re scrabbling for ammo to jam into frequently overheating weapons rather than armed to the teeth; exploring and being jumped by mutant dog-things rather than facing waves of enemies. That vulnerability’s easy to get wrong, and some people lambasted the original Metro 2033 on PC for its clumsy weapons even though 4A never wanted you to feel like you were kicking ass. That said, there was definite room for polish in 2033.

4A really wants this to be a more haunting and more unique experience that simultaneously irons out the original’s bugs and clumsiness, and early impressions suggest it’s going to feel a lot more honed. At the story end they’re holding back on any details to ensure that experience isn’t spoiled in the least when you load it up for the first time.

It’s a long form game, designed to be played with the curtains drawn and the house to yourself – like the games back in the good old days which apparently don’t exist anymore (even though you’ve already got pre-orders for Bioshock Infinite, Dishonored, etc).

It’s never going to have the sheen and frictionless mechanics of a big budget Activision shooter, but we think that’ll add to Last Light’s charm. It’s looking like a rough diamond, full of untold horrors and misadventures. It’ll give you time to bond with your chatty companion, observe the spiders that scatter from supplies as you pick them up – and then pounce on you when you least expect it.