Infiltrating what appears to be a Nazi rally, our man is shown hiding in plain sight before blowing his cover and legging it out of a side door to embark on an extended train sequence armed with an intricately detailed machine gun with which he metes out no small amount of damage. The major bugbear of Metro 2033 was its puny shooting mechanic, one of the major defects in the so-called 'flawed masterpiece.' It has apparently been addressed this time round, with much meatier, visceral gunplay promised, and surfaces reacting dynamically to bullets to create a more convincing combat environment. And while it's still a survival horror game at heart, there is a greater variety of weaponry available, and as such some debate as to whether to keep the 'bullets as currency' concept of the first game.

Despite around half the game taking place above the ground, we're barely given a glimpse of it, although they are keen to stress that it represents a very Russian view of the apocalypse: it's not Mad Max, it's not cyberpunk, and by implication it's not Fallout 3. Surely the end of the world is the end of the world, wherever you are? Not so, says producer Dean Sharpe: "I think that in general the Western view of the apocalypse is usually based on technology or war. This is more ingrained in the culture of Ukraine and Russia. It's a much more metaphysical vision with spirits and voodoo and all that type of stuff, and that's very much part of the story." Fair enough - we're not going to argue with a man who recently had his bad back successfully treated by a witch doctor, and whose girlfriend is a self-proclaimed witch...

You choose your leaders and place your trust.

Seemingly, they do things differently in Ukraine, game development included. While there are obvious comparisons with other locally developed games such as S.T.A.L.K.E.R., last year's debut title appears to have carved enough of a niche to warrant this sequel. That said, it does have a whiff of a remake about it, with talk of the same tube stations being revisited along with some new ones. There is also confirmation of multiplayer, which was absent in the last one purely because they didn't have the resources. In contrast to the sleeper hit (i.e. commercial flop) status of the first outing, it almost feels like THQ have told 4A to go away and make the game better, in return for which they'll market it properly.

"I would hope we pull in more of the Western audience," says Dean Sharpe. "I think that there's a certain stigma that goes along with development in Eastern Europe that some Americans turn their nose up to."

Underground, overground, wombling free...

They may well be missing out on one of the highlights of next year, and certainly in technical terms this suspicion is misplaced, as the game is as graphically impressive as anything we've seen recently. As Sharpe confides, "We're friends with NVIDIA. Although with the last round of video cards, we had to bribe the airport people to let us bring them in."

Hopefully their credit will be good enough to enable them to finish the game. Assuming the world doesn't end first...

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