Metro Exodus is, in many ways, the natural evolution of the Metro franchise. Given that this is a game filled with enemies who have rapidly mutated thanks to the nuclear fallout of the war in 2013, this seems oddly appropriate.
The game is based on Metro 2035, the third book in Dmitry Glukhovski’s Metro series. Exodus tells the story of Artyom, your protagonist for two games/books, desperately seeking a life outside of the Moscow Metro, where the survivors of the war in 2013 have bunkered down for the past 22 years. They believe they are the last vestiges of humanity after Russia and America basically bombed the world back into the Middle Age. It was a horrific nuclear war of retaliation after retaliation: the 7 billion people on Earth in 2013 were quickly and brutally cut down to just 50,000 living in the cold, dark cramped tunnels beneath Moscow: or so the people of the elite Hansa line would have you believe.
Despite how much I loved the first two games, this life underground isn’t enough for our hero. Desperate to find more to life than the warring states that each Metro station has become, Artyom and his gang of soldiers – including his wife Anna (who is an excellent sniper) and her dad (the commander and therefore your boss) – steal a train and leave the city at first signs of human life on the surface. This is bare-bones, spoiler-free version of the game’s premise, but suffice it to say the plot is a little more complicated than that.
What is Metro Exodus?
So, putting the story to one side entirely, what is Metro Exodus? Like Metro 2033 and Metro Last Light, this game is a first-person shooter that sees an elite military group fighting mutants, fanatics and fascists alike. But this is not your average Call of Duty clone set in Russia. Instead, it’s like no other shooter I’ve ever played outside of the franchise. Perhaps this is because it is a game set in Eastern Europe made by Eastern Europeans, as Huw suggested. Perhaps it’s just because it’s not made by EA/Activision and isn’t trying to pander to that crowd. Either way, Metro Exodus is a unique, bleak and beautiful experience that I highly recommend.
Rather than shooting your way through waves of mutants and marauders, you’re rewarded for taking your time and sticking to the shadows. That doesn’t mean that you’re crawling along at a snail’s pace though – when you enter irradiated zones you need to don your gas mask or you will suffocate – and it doesn’t mean that you don’t fire your weapon either. You get into your fair share of shooting contests, and when your weapon jams because you neglected to clean it, you’re ready to start swearing rapidly under your breath. Stealth is your friend: bullets in the Metro games are scarce and if you can steal them from a dead enemy without wasting any of your own, you have more munitions for when you really need them.
Cleaning and maintaining your equipment isn’t the only mechanic that you need to concern yourself with though – you need to craft gasmask filters and health kits and you can modify your weapons on the go, turning a pistol into a sniper rifle in a matter of seconds. Just be aware that the game never stops the clock to let you do this; opening your map is a physical action and it won’t stop enemies from trying to bite your face off. Likewise, you can’t stop in a firefight to eat a million wheels of cheese like in Skyrim – you take your time; you prepare; you survive.
Leaving the Metro behind
Unlike the old Metro games, Exodus is not strictly linear. The story certainly is, but it spans several sandbox levels taking part in each of the seasons of a calendar year. You have a set list of objectives that Artyom must complete, but how you go about them, and whether you risk the irradiated wasteland by exploring Russia’s crumbling buildings along the way is entirely up to you. Case in point, there’s a fetch-quest in the first sandbox level that I had to complete, but the place I went is one I had cleared out earlier because I heard a bandit talking about his plans to sell people into slavery – and here in the Spartan Order, we don’t take kindly to that. And that was just because I was on the way to pick up a teddy bear from a demon and I happened to be passing by. That’s the kind of game that Metro Exodus is.
These seasonal sandboxes are strung together by brief periods of normality aboard the Aurora, the aforementioned stolen train. It’s a chance to catch up, read up on and talk to your crew, smoke a cigarette rolled with an old newspaper or celebrate your latest mission with something that looks like motor oil. For a game that is so bleak and violent, showcasing the worst of humanity in the likes of the Fourth Reich and the bandits, this is the chance to see how human your crew is. Never before have I cared even slightly about the crew of an FPS. Normally they’re just there to lend a hand in a firefight, but here, they provide recon, tactical support and even covering fire when you need it. Even before you see them raise a weapon, you feel yourself latch onto them – whether that’s seeing the little girl hug the teddy you rescued for her or your friend Stepan play the guitar to lift someone’s spirits, you care about your crew. When your wife Anna puts her head on your lap and starts chatting to you, you just want to listen and be a supportive husband. You can’t talk back, however, because Artyom only talks in the loading screens – and this brings us onto where Metro Exodus falls flat on its face.
The load screens are, ironically, like waiting for a train. No matter how long you’ve waited, you’re going to wait that little bit longer. A quickload – and yes, I timed this – takes about 50 seconds. And that was after quicksaving and quickloading without moving, just in case that made any difference. The load times are, frankly, appalling and need a lot of work. The number reason I advise stealth, outside of it making the game easier, is that it means you die less often. This means less time staring at the load screen in frustration. And as Artyom only talks when you’re loading a new level/loading from the menu, you’re just stuck mindlessly scrolling through the same tips and hints.
Onto the look and feel of the game, I’ve only encountered a few minor glitches with the graphics and one bug where I couldn’t get out of a train, but these are well within what I’d consider an acceptable margin of error. The binaural sound doesn’t quite have the same level of finesse as Resident Evil 2, but playing with headphones on will make life much easier when sneaking around – knowing that a guard is walking past just by listening for the direction of the sound always makes stealth games better. Last but not least, talking about sound, the game is much better in Russian, but unfortunately the language is locked until you manually choose to ‘load’ it in the menu – same as the other non-English languages. This needs to be done while you’re connected to the internet too, as they’re not saved on the disk. Strange and unorthodox, sure, but not game breaking obviously – it’s just good to know if you want to play in a different language (I’ll tell you why you should be playing in Russian in another article, soon).
The final thing that I want to touch on is the lightbar. Having previously played Metro Exodus twice on the Xbox, it was interesting getting my hands on it for the PS4. The lightbar in this game is used as a flashlight, lighting up the room in brilliant white light when Artyom clicks his flashlight on. This seems like a wonderful idea until you realise that the glare on your TV is now making it hard to see where Artyom is going. It’s a nice touch, but I’m not convinced it was a good idea.
Metro Exodus takes you on a journey in more ways than one. You grow attached to your crew as Artyom learns the truth about life above ground and travels across the continent. You care about their trials and tribulations. You well up with pride when you hear someone tell a kid that now they’re allowed to drink all the water they want because you fought hard for their survival.
As a long-time fan of the franchise, Exodus is everything I wanted from the game – the same story-driven experience but with sandbox elements to flesh out the game without fluffing it out; the same mechanics we know and love, but tighter and better than before; and a chance to see what happens to Artyom after he escapes D6. If you want to know any more than that, you’re going to have to pick up the game yourself.
*Code kindly provided by the publisher for review*
- Despite being the third game in the series, it’s fairly easy for new players to jump in
- You care about the people in the world that you’re trying to protect
- Wasteland survival FPS action adventure stealth games are better than the sum of their parts when done properly
- It’s better than any train ride I’ve done recently
- Metro Exodus is harder than I remember the old games being, and it will certainly challenge you in parts
- The load times are unacceptably slow for a game with a string of accessibility options
- It’s weird that foreign language audio tracks need to be downloaded from the internet