Metro Exodus Review
I think it was around the mid-way point of my 40+ hour play through of Metro Exodus when I glibly remarked to a friend “Do you think this is what the Fallout serieswished it was?”.
I heard the wince through the headset, because even I will admit that that statement was a bit of a swing. I’m still bitter about Fallout 76, and I’ve always taken mild offense to the lazy graphics that Bethesda so desperately like to call ‘character’, but its influence here cannot be ignored. Metro Exodus is an open world survival game that regularly reminds me that maybe I shouldn’t run and gun my through the indigenous population of post-apocalyptic Russia, and maybe I should make some considered choices before I unload a clip into some mutated wildlife, thereby alerting everyone and everything within half a mile radius. I mean it all sounds very familiar, doesn’t it? On the surface at least, Metro Exodus doesn’t scream originality.
But thankfully, in practice, Metro Exodus is neither lazy nor derivative. It is very much its own animal, with stunning graphics, heart-pounding survival mechanics and an exciting campaign laced with ample amounts of side quests allowing for hours upon hours of gameplay — a superb continuation of the series as a whole, but a fantastic and accessible starting point for newcomers alike. Trading the invasive and persistent claustrophobia of its predecessors for the anxious dread of agoraphobia was certainly a bold choice for 4A Games, but one that has utterly paid off. Instead of artificially lit tunnel networks, where danger can lurk from any dark corner, we are now treated to wide open, natural, rural spaces where danger can, and will, come from literally anywhere. Despite shedding its location and very namesake, Metro Exodus has lost nothing of what made the franchise so exciting and brilliant in the first place.
In Metro Exodus you take, once again, the role of protagonist Artyom in his quest to make contact with the outside world away from the Moscow Metro system from which the game takes its name from. It doesn’t take a lot of critical analysis to work out that in this he becomes successful in the opening of the game (hey, it's called 'exodus’ for a reason!) — but that doesn’t stop some fairly heavy exposition taking place in its opening hours. I haven’t played the previous offerings of the franchise (2033 and First Light, respectively) for many, many moons so I very much appreciated the refresh of story and characters; but I can imagine that series regulars may find the beginning of the game a little bit of a drag. That being said, it’s a great refresh of how Metro likes to handle its survival and crafting mechanics before you get into the real meat of the game.
Taking place over a single year, you’re joined by your friends in the Spartan Rangers, wife Ana and led by Colonel Miller on board the steam train ‘Aurora’, searching for the above ground remnants of civilisation and answers as to what and why the apocalypse came to pass, and just why Moscow was left in the dark (hah!) for so long. You’re taken across the diverse and fantastic landscapes of post-apocalyptic Russia — and you can really tell that 4A Games doesn’t slouch in the slightest when it comes to the level design. Despite being a staunch Microsoft supporter, stoically defending my precious Xbox One, even I lament at the lack of processing power in my standard edition Xbox. However, the game still looked absolutely stunning. Whether plumbing the depths of a cannibal-infested nuclear shelter, or battling across desert wastes or even paddling across a tranquil lake in the height of winter — Metro Exodus consistently made me stop and have a damn good look around at my surroundings in utter awe of what was in front of me. Amusingly, 4A Games clearly knows how sexy it looks due to the inclusion of a quick and easy ‘photo mode’, where you can even edit and add filters to your landscape photography.
Graphically, Metro Exodus puts up a very high bar; which is swiftly trounced by the frankly phenomenal sound design. If you’ve got them, throw on some headphones and play the game fully immersed. From the surround sound of dripping water, to the clanking, clicks and whirs of your Frankenstein weaponry and then to the screeches and screams of mutants and mutant wildlife — the game consistently surprised me with its attention to detail in everything contained within this very beautiful and deadly world. It gave everything you experienced a certain weight and level of immersion that you just didn’t even know you needed or wanted.
This weight carries through to Metro Exodus' gameplay as well. Previous Metro offerings balanced stealth and open gunfire by making bullets currency to buy upgrades and consumables (the rhetoric that objects that bring death are now the most valuable commodity is not lost on me) — in doing so, you had to really think about whether or not using that bullet to put down an enemy is really worth it, when you could (in theory) just sneak past and maybe knock them out. It was a clever, if unforgiving, mechanic. This is done away with, understandably given you’re no longer in the densely packed Metro system, in Metro Exodus in favour of a crafting system. It’s not especially complex, with only two types of collectables (parts and chemicals) needed in order to create something out of your backpack for non-lethal and simple consumables, or on the larger workbench where you can construct weapons and add modifications. It does allow for quite a range of options for your preferred method of combat, whether that’s a ridiculously loud, gore-splattering, shotgun, or a multi-chambered sniper-pistol — you’ve got choices aplenty. However, it’s quite a basic system, and that’s going to draw some criticism from survival game purists — but it’s robust enough so you never feel drawn out of your immersion; it’s simply functional.
Whereas the crafting system is basic, the standard gameplay simply isn’t. Even the most basic of actions have an attention to detail and level of consequence that is simply absent from other games. Having limited stamina when running isn’t a new concept, but how many games diminish your ability to listen due to your heart hammering in your ears as a consequence of going flat out? When you put on a gasmask, you’re going to have to actively change the filters, clean it regularly and make sure you avoid gunfire and teeth for fear of cracking it (resulting in chewing gum and duct tape patch jobs that further obscure your view). Your body-torch has to be manually charged up to keep it bright, but is ‘unnatural’ so often seems to attract nasties a lot quicker than that of your lighter. However, if you choose to use your lighter to light your way you’re only going to be holding your gun with one hand, lowering accuracy. 4A Games has clearly thought long and hard about what it is to survive in this unforgiving world, and decided that it’s not sitting on a crafting screen pondering what rare items are needed to get a new piece of kit, but of actually existing day to day within it.
I’ve always had the belief that the only reason any of the Metro games are in a FPS format is purely out of creating a sense of immersion in the very dangerous and bloody world that you, as protagonist Artyom, are part of. Things just aren’t as scary if you can see them creeping in from your view off the shoulder of your avatar. The Metro tunnels in the previous installments added to that real sense of horror by surrounding you in perpetual darkness, where mutants had a wonderful habit of leaping out from a concealed access tunnel or dropping down from upper levels of the network. While there are bunkers and dark sections throughout the game, Metro Exodus also revels in treating us to very ‘real world’ dangers, such as roving packs of mutated beasts, panicky villagers and flying gargoyles (yes, really) that will happily pick you up and take you to their nest to be eaten by their children. Okay, maybe not strictly ‘real world’, then. The day/night cycle is also worth a mention because each one feels like it takes hours to complete (it’s not just a matter of minutes for each), so you have to weigh up whether you want to sneak past bandits during the day, or risk mutants and beasts at night. Each one has its pros and cons for you to consider — dependent on what equipment and modifications your gear has at the time.
Overall Metro Exodus is not a light-hearted adventure romp full of revelry and ‘yee-haw’ moments. It’s methodical in its approach to survival and gunplay and also in the consideration of consequences of your actions (or inactions). One could call it sombre, and that it really does take itself awfully seriously with all these extra little survival mechanics. But then you do have to remember that this is a game where there are giant mutated shrimp with outlandish piston-claws and cults that worship fish-gods. So … y’know. Pinch of salt and all that.
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