THQ's Huw Beynon (that's pronounced "Hugh" by the way) calls last year's Metro 2033 "a flawed masterpiece." The Ukranian-developed shooter somehow managed to over-deliver on some of the rarest components and fail on the most obvious one; a mountain of wonderful flourishes toppled by a clumsy and downright bad combat system. 4A Games nailed the bleak, post-apocalyptic tone, coupled it with survival horror-esque resource management (like the necessity to monitor your gas mask filters), and layered in home-brewed weapons like the pneumatic shotgun which you pressurize, air pump-style. What it failed to do in 2033 was to make the combat compelling ... at all.

So when Beynon calls it a "flawed masterpiece" that's what he's talking about. To correct this in the sequel, dubbed Metro: Last Light, the team at 4A has "rebuilt all of the gameplay systems from the ground up" meaning "better stealth, better weapons and core combat." If you're worried that this change might upset the original game's unique tone, like I was, Beynon says that's not their intention. "We don't want to dumb this down, or westernize it," he said. "We're giving the studio complete creative freedom to tell the apocalypse their way." THQ and 4A are avoiding the desire to follow the usual sequel route and "dial it up to 11."

Since novelist Dmitry Glukhovsky's original sequel to Metro 2033, titled cleverly enough Metro 2034, didn't follow the same story, the team at 4A opted to handle writing duties in-house. "It's an original story that leads on from the end of 2033," Beynon told us. "The author of the original book actually wrote a pseudo-followup called 2034 which is a very different style of book entirely. He kind of describes it as an art-house thriller where the first one was perfect material for a video game." So instead, we're back in the Moscow Metro as Artyom, the unassuming protagonist from the first game.
As the preview demonstration kicks off, I was immediately reminded of how nice 4A's proprietary tech engine looks. Beynon says that they've added in "more sophisticated destruction and dynamic physics" to the engine, which we'll address later. While the demo was shown on PC, he assured us that "all of the tech will make it to consoles." But for the PC gamers out there, 4A is "looking to push" your PC gaming rig, giving you something to "justify [your] purchase." Happy?

We begin with a panning shot across a destroyed Moscow landscape. Cars litter the streets, a winged mutant flies through the air, and we settle on our hero Artyom and his friend Khan opening an access panel into the vast Moscow underground. The camera takes its place inside Artyom's head and our demo guide descends the stairs. Underground, he burns a spiderweb that's in the way using a lighter. Around the corner, he unscrews a lightbulb and, as if to show us that stealth has been overhauled in Last Light, he sneaks up behind a Nazi guard and and cuts his throat using a context-sensitive melee kill.


Wandering into a larger open area, he shoots a pot suspended over a small fire to extinguish it. He makes his way over to a concrete wall and takes cover and, after shooting some of the guards stationed inside a building, this stealth segment is over and it's a full-on firefight. The concrete barrier takes damage as the enemies fire at him, eventually chipping away, exposing the rebar structure inside. Making his way into the building, he grabs a crank-powered chaingun which makes quick work of the Nazi soldiers coming in below. After shooting his way out of the area, he meets up again with Khan who says their best bet "is to hide amongst them."

Upstairs, a Reich meeting fills a metro corridor. Swastikas hang from the walls, and Artyom follows Khan through this den of wolves. They're eventually spotted, and run through one of the metro's bustling cities. Artyom is injured and Khan helps him into a railcar. What follows is a mine-cart sequence, similar to many from the first game – it's a pop-up shooting gallery with parallel railcars. Despite being injured before, Artyom leaps to the other car and our demo ends with an explosion, and Artyom dropping to the ground.


What's notably different about Last Light is the combat. During part of the train sequence, Artyom was using a single-shot rifle, which dropped enemies with just one shot. The chaingun made short work of the Nazis, as did the handmade grenade launcher he used while on the train. Beynon says that they've tried to "communicate better to you that your weapons are doing what they're supposed to be doing." He says it's similar to the "Ranger Hardcore" difficulty option from the first game which upped the damage from all the weapons significantly. As a result, "combat feels a lot more visceral and deadly this time around," he says.

With a 2012 release date, there's a lot of time to go before Metro: Last Light's release, but what we saw assuaged our concerns that what made Metro 2033 special would be replaced with a more generic, but safer, shooter. With an acknowledgement that stealth and combat needed work, the team at 4A is poised to find an even larger audience than its cult classic ever did.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.