In 2019, the single player narrative-driven shooter sits high atop the list of endangered genres. With publishers pushing games as services and the never-ending chase for the next high-tempo shooter that will dominate Twitch for a year before inevitably being replaced, Exodus’ insistence on keeping your head down, taking it slow, and conserving ammunition is a breath of fresh air (or in Metro’s case, radioactive air).
Metro Exodus, the latest in 4A Games’ popular series of first-person shooters set in the post-apocalyptic Russia of Dmitry Glukhovsky’s Metro books, challenges and breaks many of the traditions that many would consider series-defining. Bullets as currency, subterranean corridor shooting, supernatural mumbo-jumbo, and the near-endless darkness of the underground sewer and rail systems of previous entries are largely gone, replaced by new mechanics or tossed out due to narrative necessity. The final product takes the series in a fresh new direction, with Metro’s best gunplay and writing set in some of the franchise’s most visually-inspiring environments to-date. But does it work? Let’s find out.
Over the past two games, Artyom has been living in the Metro tunnels of Moscow among who he believes are the last remnants of mankind. The fallout of the nuclear war has left the Earth’s surface destroyed. Venturing beyond the dark safety of the tunnels puts one at risk of radiation poisoning, or worse encountering some ghastly, monstrous mutation. Exodus turns everything on its head when Artyom discovers that not only has mankind survived outside of his familiar tunnels, but some have formed pockets of civilization on the planet’s surface. Accompanied by his wife, Ana, and his squad of loyal companions, Artyom begins a year-long journey that takes them through the snow-covered remnants of long-gone urban hubs to the vast, empty expanse of the sandy deserts.
From the first minutes, Exodus establishes that the coming adventure will be nothing like the previous two. The constricted environments of the Moscow tunnels have been replaced with large, freely explorable areas. These beautiful sandbox environments are a sight to behold but offer surprisingly little reward for exploration beyond the occasional audio log or diary entry which, unless you’ve heavily invested in the lore of Metro, are hardly worth the effort. The risk and danger of venturing too far off the main path is rarely worth the investment in time and ammunition. Additionally, the careful, plodding movement of previous titles in the series doesn’t entirely work with such large environments. At times just navigating the world can be a chore.
What has translated well from the transition to an open world, however, is the ever-present dread that grips you in each new environment. Despite the brighter, open environments of Exodus, the choking sense of claustrophobia of previous titles in the franchise is still present thanks to the clever use of environmental phenomena, such as vision-blocking sandstorms or roaming packs of feral dogs that will keep you on the edge of your seat. The surface air is still poisonous, and each moment you spend outside slowly eats away at your air filters, each bullet fired degrades your gun. Exodus is still a horror game after all, and it carefully manages your anxiety by playing with your adrenaline. Moments of relative calm quickly turn into frenzied rushes of heart-pumping panic at the drop of a hat.
These horror-filled trawls are bookended by character-focused moments on the Aurora, the large train that Artyom and his crew ride upon on their journey across the surface world. In the world of Exodus, a newfound focus on character development and the building of relationships makes trips on the Aurora some of the most enjoyable moments of the game. These offer brief moments of reprieve from all the intensity, providing an opportunity to relax and strike up conversation with Ana or the Spartan Rangers on your way to the next mission.
Gameplay & Mechanics
You will be spending much of the game pointing your gun at things and blowing them up. It’s a good thing the gunplay in Exodus is so enjoyable. Shooting feels weighty and punchy. Bullets affect limbs and bodies with a visual kinetic force. Guns are varied and modifiable, over time allowing for some ridiculous upgrades that make the shooting all the more fun. Weapons mods come with their postives and negatives, requiring careful consideration before applying them to a gun.
Mods can significantly change how a gun behaves and feels in your hand and some experimentation will be necessary to find the right combination for your preference. The new types of monsters, including the unfortunately named “humanimal” that hides in the environment and leaps out at you from seemingly nowhere, require quick-thinking and specific strategies to defeat.
This isn’t to say that Exodus is a festival of bullets the way Doom or Wolfenstein are. Ammunition is still rare, and players must learn to wisely pick their battles and prioritize which bullets go where and when. Guns are appropriately lethal in Exodus; a shot or two will end the lives of most people, and bullet sponge beasts are almost non-existent. Artyom isn’t as bullet-resistant as your typical FPS protagonist, either. Avoiding conflict, either through stealthy circumvention or full-on retreat, is much preferred to shoot-first-think-later.
In previous Metro titles, the ammunition you used in your guns also served as the primary currency of the tunnel factions, forcing careful decision-making from the character. In Exodus, merchants and this ammunition currency system have been eschewed in favor of a new workshop and backpack system. Artyom can visit any workshop throughout the world to craft, upgrade and modify his weapons and he can store items in his backpack for later use. The backpack also allows for crafting stealth-related items, like knives and bolts, in the field.
Graphics Sound & Performance
Metro Exodus looks good. But that’s about it. All the environments in the game have this water painting glazed over feel to them. It prefers softer haziness over sharpened details and that feeds back into the suspense of not knowing what lies a few feet further. Plus the apocalyptic colors don’t help either. While the dark tunnels have given way to white frozen suburbs and yellow desert wastelands, the palette is still very bland and subdued. It does have a photo mode built in, but you will be hard pressed to find beautiful looking vistas apart from the times you captured the sun rising over the horizon.
Also, somebody needs to fix those loading times. I don’t know what’s up with these tough games and long loading times, but this needs to stop. I can’t wait for 5 minutes, each time I die. It inhibits exploration and risk-taking, something which is in direct contrast to an open world implementation. But if you think reloading last save is bad, the first time load is atrocious. I mean ATROCIOUS. We need a petition guys, hard games and long loads don’t go together.
At least the Frame rate stay stable throughout, and I didn’t encounter any problems with Texture popping and tessellations. It could be down to the fact that you don’t face more than 5 enemies at any time, but if the frames dropped during those battles, I would be rage quitting so hard I would have asked for a refund. So good on 4A games on getting that right.
Artyom, is a silent protagonist, only speaking during load times. This does come as a surprise, because almost every other NPC in the game is voiced, and pretty decently too. So not sure, why they went with Artyom only speaking during load screens. Weird. What is not weird is the background score or the lack of it at crucial points in the game. Just the natural sounds of the game’s world, like the howl of a mutant dog, the increased ticking of your radioactive meter, and the sound of something swimming towards you behind your back, creates a sort of this tangible tension which is amped up when you are playing with headphones on and by yourself.
The Metro series has always stood apart for its unique depiction of mankind’s surviving in a world destroyed by nuclear war. To take the setting out of the dark, dank tunnels of the Moscow Metro and into the big, bright surface world was a bold decision that ultimately pays off. Despite failing to capitalize fully on the sandbox and free-roam aspects of their new settings, the fantastic gun mechanics, horrifying new creatures, interesting factions and a new focus on the characters and relationships that support the world that 4A Games have built make Exodus one of the best shooters in recent years, and the best Metro title to date.