Experience has trained us never to go blindly into a press event, even if it is for a brand new and top secret game - foreknowledge is always useful. So before our exclusive first look at Metro 2033 last month, we did a bit
It would be wrong to say it didn't prepare us for what we were to see. It would be truer to say it set our expectations too low for what was to come.
Based on a Russian novel by Dmitry Glukhovsky released for free online in 2002 (and still available at m-e-t-r-o.ru, in the unlikely event you speak Russian) the liner notes sounded like a typical sci-fi horror: nuclear war has wiped out most of humanity, except for a few survivors who scratch out a living in an underground train network.
Between searching for food and ammo, they have to fight off rival human factions and creatures mutated by years of radiation.
Picture a game based on that (which isn't Fallout 3, because that's been done) and you'd probably get a first-person shooter with horror leanings - F.E.A.R. by way of Mad Max. And that's exactly what virgin Ukraine developer 4A Games thought as well.
The handful of trailers issued when the game was announced back in 2006 suggest a decent stab of DOOM-laden corridor action.
After an afternoon spent in a private screening room, it's clear that a lot can change in three years. Whether 4A went underground to slave away on its own 4A Engine that's powering the game, or if it was reinvigorated after finding itself under the umbrella of THQ, who knows. But the Metro 2033 that we see today offers a very different and much more exciting proposition.
You might remember an online rumour last year, which suggested that Infinity Ward was taking the Call of Duty series in a new sci-fi direction. While this ultimately proved misleading, we can't help but think this is what might have happened if it had happened. Visually, Metro 2033 reminds us more of CoD than anything else - the character models are realistic-looking people rather than bulked-out superheroes, and the world, from the underground train stations to the hellish topside above, is meticulously detailed.
You play as Artyom, a 20-year-old inhabitant of a station called 'Exhibition'. Like other stations in Moscow's underground rail network, it is now a self-contained society - one built from the skeletal and decaying remains of the old world. Equipment is cobbled together to fit the purpose of this new underground ecosystem. The old rail cars are now the only transport between stations, postcards are a window to an unfamiliar past, and ammo is the main currency.
From the snapshot 4A Games gives us of Metro's opening section, the developer has worked hard on fleshing out the role of these underground pockets of humanity. Storage rooms are now homes, and station plazas now markets and bars. They're filled with the sight and sounds of a people trying to survive.
It's a powerful combination of the oppressive air of Half-Life 2's City 17 with enclosed feeling of Fallout 3's Vault 101 The eventual journey Artyom makes to other stations in the huge network of tunnels that makes up Moscow's underground, as well as to the surface, can't help but remind you of Bethesda's role-playing epic. Which is no bad thing.
Coming up for air
It's reaching the surface that marks the game's opening scene: a prologue that's set eight days after the story's start. Artyom's quest has sent him to warn other stations of an impending mutant invasion, but that quest looks to have taken a strange turn.