Metro Exodus Review – Waiting For the Hammer to Fall
Metro ExodusFebruary 15th, 2019
When Metro 2033 was first released, I can't honestly say I appreciated it as much as I should have. Objectively speaking, it was and still is a fantastic game, only made better when it was remastered with Last Light in the Redux version, bringing the games closer together and creating a fantastic experience. Metro Exodus expands on the gameplay, setting, story and everything else to make what I honestly believe is the Metro experience.
Why didn't I appreciate Metro 2033 and Last Light as much as I should have? Railroading. Literal railroads. Taking place in the Metro did allow for some tight storytelling and it let 4A Games make the most out of limited resources. Following the success of Metro and the experience gained there, it was time for them to spread their wings. Spreading their demonic, mutated bat-wings is exactly what they've done and it's glorious.
'Open' is a word that can have both positive and negative connotations. At least that's my view, following the slew of aimless open world games that have been thrown out by the industry. Metro Exodus is a game that has seemingly perfected the balance between following a story and the faffing around that comes with open world settings. It doesn't forego the linear history of the series either, throwing in areas like the metro of old, all set to amaze and terrify you as you venture away from Moscow.
Metro Exodus, like the previous titles, takes place in stages. The major thing that is different is that rather than the vast majority of these stages taking place in the tunnels of a once great city, now the game has some variety and exploration at hand. This is thanks to the game having fewer, but significantly larger levels, where the open ones could act as at least three from the older titles. Even better is the variety and changing styles these offer within each other.
The best example I can give is that you'll find yourself travelling to a new place in the Aurora. Once you get here you do, for the most part, have complete freedom to explore what there is in that area. More often than not you'll find bandit camps, swarms of mutants or ghouls and other deformed wildlife. So far, so post-apocalypse. What truly helps is that the areas aren't too large, naturally guiding you towards progression and the story elements of each stage.
Objectives will also force you to venture underground, with some levels entirely taking place in an enclosed area, gasmask required, reminiscent of the older Metro titles. Sometimes it's a bit jarring, having a whole level act like that once you've seen how 4A games manage it in a more fluid, natural, way. For example, you'll be in the desert that once was a bay of the Caspian Sea. You'll move towards an old communications bunker and naturally go in and explore it.
I mentioned the Aurora. This is the train that Artyom and his crew find themselves moving across Russia on, trying to find the remnants of the Russian government and then to find themselves a new place to live - and other reasons that I won't spoil for the sake of preserving the story. What a story it is, though this is thanks to the nature of the game in pushing you forward without too much meandering, as well as the constant feeling of tension driven by the game, its mechanics and some downright excellent character building and storytelling.
At least the character building is great if you want it to be. I should explain. Very frequently, you'll get the chance to sit on the Aurora as it's travelling from one area to the next. Here you can wander up to one of your crew and have them talk to you. Artyom is still mute, it seems. You'll also get this opportunity with the crew, as well as some inhabitants of Russia throughout the game. Sometimes these are just as compelling as the crew you spend your life with, often disturbing.
That's always been a strong aspect of the series - telling a story without needless exposition. Through the strong use of imagery and only a small amount of text and dialogue, you can infer what happened in some areas. From the corpses littering the metro of another city after the people have been driven mad, to the Munai-bailer, a group of people who have now enslaved others and run their own fiefdom, the world has changed. It's your job to carve your place out in the world and your decisions will impact how the world sees you.
You can take on side objectives, such as finding the lost teddy bear of a girl who joins your crew. Maybe you'll go and save some completely random strangers who have been taken hostage by bandits. You'll also be given the choice to holster your weapon when approaching certain people, hoping they won't shoot and initiate a chat. If you've infiltrated a base, do you kill or not? The game reacts towards your choices. Fundamentally, I don't believe they impact the long-term story, only changing the reactions in each of the self-contained stories, the levels.
Very few games can leave me feeling on edge as Metro Exodus does. It's more than just the setting and atmosphere that adds to it, the game mechanics as a whole. Even playing on Normal difficulty, which is "recommended for regular FPS players" I've found myself running short on supplies and ammo, literally down to my last bullets and begging, praying, that I could find somewhere safe. Somewhere I could stock up. Only, at times, I haven't had the supplies to stock up and resupply. This forces you to be more conservative, smarter. Far and beyond any "regular FPS", which is exactly as Metro should be.
At the beginning of each level you are given a good number of supplies but beyond that, you're forced to scavenge them for yourself. This also means scavenging for crafting components, of which there are two types: materials and chemicals. In addition to the components, which can be used in your travelling pack to craft weapons like throwing knives or support items like medkits and filters for your gas mask, they can also be used to craft ammo at an actual workbench. These are found in the train and in the very few safe areas scattered across the levels.
In addition to crafting these supplies, the game has also enhanced the weapons and support system of Artyom. Weapons have various upgrades that, once scavenged from enemies, you can adjust as you like. It can be as simple as increasing the magazine size, to equipping a silencer or, in the case of the gas-powered gun, having it auto-refill to a reasonable level - which I've found to be the most invaluable weapon mod in the game. You will also be able to upgrade the suit, such as increasing the strength of the gas mask, increasing the luminosity of your torch, and more.
Most of the suit upgrades are actually found by exploring and completing the side-objectives in levels. One of the earliest you can find is tied to your actions earlier in the game. Did you decide to be peaceful earlier on, not killing some natives? Did you head towards two people with your gun down, not shooting. If so, they'll let you in on a secret location of a stash of supplies and a piece of equipment.
It would be very easy to argue that wandering around, taking even an hour away from the story to try and amass your collection of components, could detract from the pacing and narrative of the game. I'd disagree, thanks to the world building and environments in place, as well as the way the levels usually work. You'll often find that to open up further areas of some maps you'll need to get around or through an enemy.
This is where the game's at its strongest. Metro isn't a run-and-gun shooter, or at least not on normal. Maybe so, on the easier settings. You're forced into thinking about your actions because you can and will die. A gunshot will alert nearby enemies and wildlife. Standing near light sources will increase your visibility. Sneaking in daylight - I wouldn't bother. Find a safe place and sleep until dark. You only want to be shooting a lot in the fixed points that metro has you, often with support, defending against waves of mutants or when being attacked by bandits.
The biggest complaint I have with the game is that it actively forces you into combat at points. I don't have too much of an issue being swarmed by mutants, they're attracted by sound and light. Nor do I mind being attacked by bandits. It fits with the story. What I don't like is being forced into battle with a boss, in a mini-arena. Be this a soldier armed to the teeth with a minigun and more armour than a T-34 or a giant mutated bear, aptly named the lord of the forest. I understand that these are key enemies, but completely removing any stealth options after promoting and rewarding stealth gameplay feels like a swift kick to the crotch. Not to mention they can be bloody difficult.
It does everything while looking and sounding fantastic, too. The game has no UI cluttering the screen, though I personally have crosshairs turned on. Every now and then you'll see an ammo count. Everything else is done intuitively, though the game will prompt you. Artyom gasping? Change the gas mask filter. Torch fading, charge it up. If you forget, that's when the game gets concerned that you've just decided to put your hands over your ears and close your eyes in fear, then it prompts you.
From the environments. A snow-covered Moscow or Novosibirsk - a city I'd honestly never heard of - to the droughts of the Caspian and the green of a lush valley, the game looks great. Everything from the mutants, people, guns and the dilapidated buildings are incredibly well detailed, with each little element enhancing the atmosphere and building the world you're wandering through.
Where Metro Exodus truly excels is in the use of light, be it from your torch to turning on lights in a bunker, illuminating everything, even the spiders that die when under light for even a short amount of time. Light is essential to your visibility and also how visible you are. When you find some night vision goggles, you'll be cherishing them since they'll let you be as sneaky as you like without concerns of bumping into somebody.
This is only enhanced by the audio, with the exception of the voice acting which is average at best. I honestly think the game, as with the previous ones, could do without the accents. Some of the cast are perfect, likely due to their heritage of being non-English speakers. Others can seem a little out of place and a little forced. Also, the text of the subtitles is often different from that of the words spoken. Does it detract from the experience? Not really. It's just a mild irritation that came back to me every now and then.
The fact that I've been singing the praises of Metro Exodus shouldn't come as too much of a surprise. I've only had good things to say about the game when I previewed it both the first and second time. This continued when Callum previewed it at an event I couldn't attend. The only concerns were about the games ability to keep up the tension, not becoming boring through aimless wandering and scavenging. It shrugs off these concerns with ease.
Metro Exodus is, by and far, the pinnacle of the series. I would genuinely say it's the most atmospheric shooter in over a decade, one that is only enhanced by an excellent story, compelling characters and exceptional environments. A game that will leave you on edge, looking over your shoulder and begging for sanctuary, it's time to explore the remnants of post-nuclear apocalypse Russia and find a new lease on life.
PC version reviewed. Copy provided by the publisher.
Metro Exodus is an incredibly atmospheric, engaging and compelling shooter that places an onus on the player to think on their feet, thanks to stringent limitations on ammo, supplies and the resources required to make more. Enhancing this is a world that is almost dead set against you. From other survivors who are more likely to kill you than talk to you, mutant creatures and ghouls that want nothing more than to feast on you and the hazards of the environment, it's a game that wants you on the edge of your seat. It masters this with ease. From tight gunplay to well-developed stealth mechanics, the game offers variety within the confines of its own rules. The only downsides are average-at-best voice acting and the game ignoring its own stealth leanings to force combat with incredibly difficult bosses. All in all, Metro Exodus is a fantastic game that you'd be worse off for missing out.
- Strong balance between open and closed areas, allowing for good progression without railroading
- Visually great throughout, from splendorous scenery to creepy corridors and monstrous mutants
- Excellent character building, though a lot of it is optional
- Incredibly atmospheric, enhanced by the stringent nature of resources in the game
- Strong weapon customisation and crafting system
- Forces direct combat with incredibly difficult bosses even after promoting stealth gameplay
- Average at best voice acting as a result of forced-Russian accents, which also doesn't match the subtitles