The first two Metro games, based on a novel series of the same name, don’t receive the widespread recognition I feel they deserve. While both titles reviewed relatively well for their time, it’s rarely mentioned what a game like Last Light is capable of in terms of sheer quality. The Redux versions also proved that Metro deserves a spot among the genre-defining greats while still retaining what made them so special. Metro Exodus marks a departure for the franchise in more ways than one. It’s by far the most ambitious experience that 4A Games has ever created, for better and for worse.
Narrative has always been a focal point for the Metro games, advertising themselves as story-driven first-person shooters. Exodus is no different from the last two games in this regard, but its storytelling is handled in a very different fashion. Exodus is set two years after Last Light as returning protagonist Artyom and his fellow Spartan Rangers venture out into the seemingly irradiated surface world after leaving the Metro due to unforeseen circumstances. The Aurora, a train journeying along the Russian countryside is quickly acquired by Artyom and company, and it serves as their primary form of transportation as they make stops along the way to a better home. The way their situation and plight is set up during the opening act is some of the most engaging stuff to come out of the franchise thus far, and the plot mostly manages to hold interest for the length of its 15 or so hour length. Engaging characters and unexpected plot twists, keep it from becoming stale, and when Exodus gets its groove on, it has some of the best storytelling in the series.
I say mostly because Exodus has a few flaws that keep it from reaching the storytelling heights of Last Light. First of all, the change to semi-open worlds means that there are large chunks of gameplay with minimal story/character development, with the occasional more linear sections favouring a more narrative-focused design. There are also instances where characters would start talking before another was done. I initially thought this was a conscious choice, but as the problem lingered on, it became clear that something was up. It might sound like a small issue in the grand scheme of things, but it pulls you out of the immersion quite a bit and can make conversations between multiple characters hard to track at times. Another small issue that was also in past games is Artyom being a silent protagonist. While you could argue that it provides a way for the player to slip into the shoes of said character, there are moments in Exodus that would’ve been improved by having Artyom input more than just grunts and movement.
Where Metro excels is in the way it incorporates every single mechanic into the game world in some way, and Exodus is no exception to the rule. There is almost no HUD or UI to worry about while playing; everything is displayed on Artyom’s character at all times. It creates an alluring sense of realism and immersion that’s hard to find in modern gaming, and 4A Games have the formula down to a tee. Things like pulling up a map in real time, guns getting jammed, wiping your gas mask clean after a bloody and brutal battle. These are small things that all add up to make Metro Exodus take atmosphere and immersion to new heights. It’s all complemented by a focus on player choice when it comes to equipment and how you handle situations. Guns are customisable down to the most minute details, and maintaining clean equipment at the cost of resources is of utmost importance.
Limited resources and inventory management also return in Exodus, but they’re not quite the same as before. A new crafting system means that proper exploration and smart use of materials can lead to an excess of ammunition and filters during some parts of the game. I didn’t experience as many tense moments where I desperately needed resources in a life or death situation. I was only playing on normal, but the only real difficulty was derived by combat. Both Artyom and his adversaries are frail. Things like headshots and point-blank shotgun blasts are more than enough to take someone out. The same applies to the vicious mutants you’ll encounter in the different areas. They’re agile, angry, and unpredictable, which creates for some truly cathartic and chaotic moments.
I mentioned earlier that Exodus has shifted from linear level design to more open areas throughout the game. Technically, there are still levels/areas that you will progress through, but they’re kind of like semi-open worlds as opposed to the run and gun design of 2033 and Last Light. There are numerous side objectives to pursue if you desire to, and the curious will always be rewarded with crucial resources. Each of the four main areas feels distinct and unique both in tone and visual design. It’s hard to go into detail without spoiling much, because what these different areas have to offer is the best part of Exodus, and they should be experienced as blindly as possible.
Also, damn, this game is gorgeous. I couldn’t get over the immense visual fidelity on show here. Every area is beautiful in its own way, visually striking and clearly defining each season. Exodus is a visual feast in every sense of the phrase; it’s one of the best looking games I’ve ever played. It has to be seen to be believed, but some of the stuff here is just jaw-dropping. Unfortunately, the title’s polish doesn’t fare as well as its visuals. I encountered numerous lighting bugs, braindead AI, and, most frustratingly, soft-locks where I had to restart the game to get it going again. It’s made all the more noticeable when you’re ripped out of an immersive moment, so hopefully, it’s patched within the coming days. Sound design also lends itself phenomenally to the atmospheric roots of the series in a way that builds more tension and realism during its most haunting moments.
Metro Exodus is a flawed game, but this doesn’t hold it back from being a stellar narrative-driven experience. It’s hard to express what it’s like to play a shooter so invested in its atmosphere and immersing the player in its world. 4A Games have proven yet again that they’re amoung the best of the best at making these kinds of games. Metro Exodus is an engaging journey from start to finish, a tense survival based shooter that knows what it does well and does not hold back to ensure you know that it does them well. If you’ve never played a Metro title, I’d recommend starting with 2033, as narrative is a core part of the series, but Exodus is a perfectly fine place to start if it interests you, and long-time fans will be thoroughly pleased with how it’s turned out.