The station is abandoned, the platform crowned with a mountain of junk. There are books, pieces of furniture, newspapers, broken bicycles, busts of forgotten heroes - objects of the old world, collecting dust. Maybe objects remember too? At this station, people see things. Artyom had a vision of two old men, discussing god and fate, smoking shisha, while a cat lazily napped alongside. Homer saw things the way they were - the platform bustling with commuters in rush-hour, the polished ghost-like carriages gliding along the rails. And Hunter saw himself, or at least a part of himself he'd prefer not to recognise.
Barren wastelands. Decrepit and abandoned towns. Desolate landscapes ravaged by time and trauma. Recognisable landmarks slowly but surely reclaimed by nature after our demise. Games have consistently embraced the post-apocalyptic setting. It invites excitement, apprehension and a deep curiosity, and plays on the thought-provoking hypothetical, the 'what if?'. And when these post-apocalyptic environments and landscapes are incredibly detailed, they can result in great efficacy and power.
In a restaurant somewhere in sunny Los Angeles County, 13 years ago, two old friends were having lunch. Wine and conversation were flowing. They remembered how they'd met at LucasArts in the 90s. They weren't there to talk business but they did because video games were their bread and butter. One of the men, Jack Sorensen, was reeling-off job opportunities he knew of - he being executive vice president of worldwide studios at games publisher THQ. "THQ Australia?" he enquired. But the other man, Dean Sharpe, didn't seem interested. He had closed his own studio Big Ape Productions a couple of years earlier, dropped off the radar and taken a break, and now he was ready for something new. But Sharpe wanted a challenge.
The PlayStation 4 and Xbox One remasters are coming thick and fast, bringing with them a wave of controversy - should developers be concentrating resources on porting over games they've already made? Are resolution and frame-rate boosts enough? Most crucially of all, do they represent value for money? The Metro Redux package from Kiev-based 4A Games puts forward a hell of a good case: you get two complete games for £30 and each title is available solus via digital delivery for those who already own one of the originals. But most importantly of all, the remastering work is very, very good. In fact, we'd say it's up there with the best.
We've had our say on 2013's best video games. And so have you. Now, it's the turn of the developers, the makers of the virtual experiences we so love. Read on for the games of 2013 according to the creators of the likes of Super Meat Boy, Assassin's Creed 4, XCOM, Oculus Rift and more, complete with Twitter bios.
No single console gaming genre is as fiercely competitive as the first-person shooter, and whether it's Call of Duty, Halo, Crysis, Killzone or Battlefield, these are franchises defined just as much by their technological distinctiveness as they are by colossal budgets that run into the tens of millions. Into the fray steps the recent-recently Metro: Last Light from Kiev-based developer 4A Games. It lacks in mega-bucks investment, but despite that deficit, it aims to make up the gap in terms of good storytelling, atmosphere and simply exceptional technology.
The week before Danny Bilson left THQ in May 2012, he still had hope. He had a plan: Darksiders 2 from Vigil. Metro: Last Light from 4AGames. Company of Heroes 2 from Relic Entertainment. Enter the Dominatrix, the standalone expansion for Saints Row the Third, from Volition. South Park: The Stick of Truth, in production at Obsidian Entertainment. Homefront 2 at Crytek UK. And then there was the unannounced stuff: the next-gen game from Turtle Rock we now know is called Evolve. Patrice Désilets' 1666 at THQ Montreal. The portfolio is long and impressive.
Nixies are a wonderful piece of retro tech: they're a means of creating digital displays that relies on funny little glass vacuum tubes. Fragile and captivating, it's hard to look at this ingenious relic of the 20th century without wishing they'd caught on - even though they'd presumably have meant that we'd all be making weekly trips to the local horologist. Eccentrics like Steve Wozniak have Nixie tube wristwatches, at any rate - and in Metro: Last Light, so will you, the gadget's bright, rather spindly meshed lettering linked to the internal clock on your PC or console. Whatever happens, there's that digital readout, staring up at you from the wrist of Artyom, the series' sharp-shootin' protagonist, as he ventures through this strange, frightening jury-rigged world where yesterday and tomorrow have collided painfully.
The Nixie model replaces Artyom's old wristwatch: the more traditional dial-and-hands-based number that Metro 2033 veterans relied on to count down the time until they were in need of a new air filter as they explored Moscow's irradiated topside, or to clue them in to how well hidden they were during stealth sections. The new watch does all of that too, of course, and when it comes to stealth, it's a lot simpler and - hopefully - less frustrating with it. In Last Light, a blue lamp on the watch's face tells you whether you're visible or not. It's binary. Tidy stuff.
That watch will be your consistent companion through 4A Games' sequel, and it's a fixed point at which two of the series' key themes come together, too. One is stealth, and it was front and centre during a recent developer playthrough of the fiercely pretty PC version over at THQ's UK HQ. The other lies with the Nixies and that loveably nuts-and-bolts approach to knackered old gear they represent. Metro's world is a dangerous scrapheap where everything useful has been cobbled together from mis-matched parts: a place in which years of living in the subways of Moscow after a nuclear attack have lead technology in strange trajectory.
When I sat down to chat with Danny Bilson during THQ's pre-E3 showcase event in North London earlier this month, I had no idea that, just over a week later, he would no longer be with the publisher. Hindsight is a beautiful thing, but I'm convinced there was something about the way he introduced presentations on Company of Heroes 2, Metro: Last Light and Darksiders 2 to European press that morning that was, for want of a better term, off.
A five-minute demo of Metro: Last Light is enough to showcase scavenging, exploration, and fighting, and to cover ground that includes gloomy, claustrophobic interiors and vast, echoing exteriors where the sky crackles and fizzes with radioactive weather systems. Last Light's the sequel to Metro 2033 - Metro author Dmitry Glukhovsky has been involved, apparently, even if the narrative has nothing to do with his own sequel, Metro 2034 - yet that familiarity provides little comfort in this dirty, post-nuclear wasteland.
The player can seem terribly vulnerable, all alone in this empty world, and mere vulnerability is probably one of the better sensations on offer. After all, the same five-minute demo starts with an uneasy, brooding kind of calm, and ends with all-out frenzy. Five minutes. Let's go.
Our glimpse of Last Light kicks off in the subways, of course: deep within the underground network where the survivors of the nuclear attack on Moscow have fled. It's grim down here - it's grim everywhere - but there are plenty of jarring reminders of the old world, from the empty sarcophagi of the ticket booths, to a jaunty drawing of an ice cream cone on a rust-splattered advertisement.
If it's true that art imitates life, we're glad that we don't live in Ukraine. Home to 4A Games, their debut title, Metro 2033, was an unremittingly bleak affair. Based on a novel by young Russian author, Dmitry Glukhovsky, it was set in a post-apocalyptic Moscow where a handful of survivors took refuge in the city's hermetically sealed underground system, a world noticeably bereft of primary colours, and largely short on laughs. Referencing its geographical origins is more than mere flippancy, however, as the Ukraine-based American producer of sequel Metro Last Light confirms.