After getting revealed at Microsoft’s E3 presentation for Xbox back in 2017, Metro Exodus has been one of my most eagerly anticipated titles – not only because it just so happened to look bloody brilliant, but also because I’ve been following Artyom’s dire journey in the ruined Russian underground ever since his first adventure in Metro 2033.
After a few small delays (as well as the release date actually being brought forward), I’ve finally got my hands on 4A Games’ latest release in the series and I’m glad to say that it delivered exactly what I hoped for: an evolution on the Metro formula that manages to feel different whilst still maintaining the vibe of what made the games so enjoyable to begin with.
Metro Exodus continues on from the previous games, with Artyom still struggling with life in the Russian underground and refusing to accept that there isn’t a better life out there for his people. When he uncovers an active train that travels past his home, Artyom decides to take his wife and friends away with him to find somewhere better to call their home. This means heading across Russia and into all new locales, some of which aren’t as safe as he might have hoped…
You’ll find plenty of documents littered across each environment that don’t only flesh out the history of the game world but also tell the tales of the inhabitants that live in it, so there’s plenty of small narrative details to be found if you go hunting for them. There’re a lot of interactions with different characters in-between missions too, with your allies often feeling like a small family that are travelling alongside you as you venture out across the deadly environment. There are actually some neat events that occur throughout the game with these side characters that’ll help you grow fonder of them and they make for some really touching moments – even if it can feel a bit weird that Artyom doesn’t actually respond to them with words.
Yes, it’s the way that the series has been set up, but given that there’s such a strong focus on storytelling and character development it still surprises me that Artyom remains the silent type. There are a lot of emotionally-driven scenes throughout Metro Exodus that affect characters in different ways, but it can be difficult to feel like a big part of them when Artyom literally says nothing in response. It makes it feel like you’re just seeing a story unfold in front of you instead of feeling like you’re a part of it at times, which is a shame because the narrative and the characters of the world are actually one of Metro Exodus’ strongest points.
The Metro series is one that’s known for primarily sending you through claustrophobic and dingy tunnels on a linear path where you’re constantly on edge worrying what might be hidden in the shadows – Metro Exodus still has those moments, but there’s a bigger focus on exploring much larger and open areas where you’re given the freedom to explore. Each area you visit in the game feels like a small open-world of its own, with plenty of side-missions and enemy encampments to uncover along with the main story missions. Whilst the series has always allowed you to play in your own way (more on that in a bit), the world itself never catered for it in such a free manner as it does here.
Given that you travel a lot further afield aboard the train, there’s a lot more variety in the environmental design of the game too. You’ve always been able to head up to the outside world and see what remains of it, but it’s not just derelict buildings to be explored now – you’ll also get to see how more rural locales have been affected by the devastation that hit Russia. It makes for an experience that feels a lot more varied in design, which when combined with the more open-world-like setup stands as a clear evolution and improvement for the series. It maintains the same Metro vibe but still manages to feel so different at the same time.
There are some areas where things haven’t changed up all that much though, with the gunplay of the game being one of them. It’s still enjoyable to shoot at enemies of course, but the game does lock onto targets slightly and make it easier for the player to take foes down. Whilst it’s a godsend in some of the darker areas where you can’t quite see your enemies and need to act quick, it could also make the game feel a little bit easier at times. It still manages to challenge you by making ammo a scarce resource though whilst fighting groups of enemies can be tough, so at least it’s never a complete cakewalk…
Of course, you can always take the stealthy approach if you prefer, with Artyom able to take out enemies in a sneaky manner and cause plenty of distractions to get them off his tail. Carefully watching enemies’ movements and picking when to strike is mighty satisfying and there never felt like a moment in the game where it wasn’t an option thanks to just how versatile the level design is. Want to go all guns blazing? Do it. Want to be sneaky? Do that instead. There’s never just one way to do things in Metro Exodus and you’re never forced to play in a specific way.
There are a lot more factors to take into consideration though, such as the day and night cycle that’s ever-changing. In the night time it’s a lot easier to take a stealthy approach for example, with enemies finding it a lot more difficult to spot your presence and leaving themselves vulnerable to attack. The catch? Nastier beasts are lingering around in the dark and will rip you up if they catch you. The day and night cycle itself can actually make for some fantastic moments: one time I was sneaking through an enemy base at night only for the sun to rise and make my position all the more obvious. It was a situation I managed to get out of alive, but it completely changed up how I needed to play and ramped up the tension tenfold. It was just brilliant that the world is constantly moving along with you and that you’ve always got to be on your toes. Whether being stealthy or shooting everything in sight, Metro Exodus always manages to offer both a tense and entertaining experience that’s easy to get completely absorbed into.
There’s a bigger emphasis on upgrading Artyom’s skills and crafting your own items this time around, with plenty of gear, weapons and collectibles to be found across the world. It ties into the new open-world-like structure well, with the optional locations you can explore and objectives you can complete often giving you the resources you need to improve. It certainly helps motivate you to explore a lot more, though the scarcity of ammo and oxygen filters also acts as a good incentive too – it’s nothing to be too intimidated by as long as you keep your eyes peeled when working through missions, though going out of your way to grab extra resources never hurts too.
Whilst the gameplay is thrilling throughout and the game world expertly designed, there’s one aspect in particular of Metro Exodus that stands out to me the most: the fear. With limited resources at hand, a constant need to keep your oxygen supply healthy, and the onslaught of monstrous creatures to be found (including mutant spiders that literally crawl all over the screen), it’s easy to find yourself feeling like a bag of nerves when playing through the game. It takes the whole ‘horror’ side of things a lot more seriously than similar post-apocalyptic games too, with plenty of horrendous sights to be seen and a constantly eerie atmosphere in place that makes it feel like you’re genuinely in a struggle to survive.
Visually, Metro Exodus looks astounding, especially on the Xbox One X. The character and enemy models are absolutely on point, the desolate environments are packed with detail and look almost life-like at times, the lighting effects add to the suspenseful atmosphere, whilst the game also runs smoothly throughout too. I remember being blown away by how the game looked when it was originally presented and finding it hard to believe it was running on a console, but Metro Exodus still looks that good now in its finished form. It does have a few issues here and there with the loading times standing out in particular and I did have a hard crash on one occasion, but those are small issues when you consider that everything else in the game feels so good.
Developer: 4A Games
Publisher: Deep Silver
Platform(s): Xbox One (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, PC