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Heroes, villains and mutants engage in a bitter struggle for survival in the subway beneath post-apocalyptic Moscow in “Metro: Last Light.”

It’s an exciting and compelling adventure that’s one of the best so far this year.

The M-rated shooter — created by Ukrainian developer 4A Games — is the sequel to 2010’s “Metro: 2033.” Both are based on Russian writer Dmitry Glukhovsky’s novels about life under Moscow 20 years after a nuclear apocalypse.

You play as Artyom, a Ranger who unleashed a salvo of missiles against menacing mutants in the previous game. At the beginning of “Last Light,” you are ordered to help eliminate one of the Dark Ones who appears to have survived the attack.

Just as you grab the little creature, it makes a telepathic link that renders you unconscious. You awaken to discover yourself captured by Nazis. And other captives include Communist soldiers and a guy with a mutation. It’s almost like Moscow’s tunnels contain an evil version of Disney’s “It’s a Small World.”

You spend the rest of the game tracking down the Dark One and contending with Nazis, Commies, bandits and — of course — mutants.

The tale is exceptionally well told, with almost every strand woven tightly into an intriguing plot. It’s also filled with well-developed and interesting characters. The primary characters run from amusing to insightful to bombastic and are always worth listening to. Even random encounters offer interesting morsels of information about life below ground.

The settings are incredibly well designed and rendered. But the detail runs much deeper than mere appearance. When traveling through inhabited areas, you get a real feel for what life would be like in the underground shantytowns. There are plenty of things to witness and experience as you wind your way through the tunnels.

It all adds up to an intriguing glimpse into a world that’s filled with gloom but lit by a glimmer of hope.

For the most part, the action and game play rises to the same standards.

“Metro 2033” was dogged by complaints about wonky controls. However, “Last Light” offers an incredibly smooth and responsive controls scene. That’s important because the game offers rewards for stealth and precision. Of course, those who want to go in with guns blazing won’t be disappointed either.

The action sequences are thrilling and entertaining, whether approaching them with stealth or by running and gunning. You always need to keep your eyes peeled and think before you pull the trigger.

Unfortunately, your foes won’t always be thinking. It’s not uncommon for enemies to line up in a doorway, waiting to be shot. And it isn’t too hard to sneak by most of them, either.

Despite the game’s great graphics, you’ll notice a few visual glitches. These include items floating in mid-air and characters moving into your position and enveloping you. However, these are pretty minor problems.

A bigger problem revolves around the game’s automatic saving system. Three times in one playthrough, my console crashed when trying to reload a saved game, forcing me to restart the entire mission.

The game earns its mature rating for violence, frequent profanity and an optional scene involving a lap dance.

Bottom line: “Metro: Last Light” delivers an thrilling foray into post-apocalyptic Moscow’s subway system.

Platforms: Xbox 360 (tested), PlayStation 3, PC Online:

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