Metro Exodus is a janky gem- but a gem it is indeed.
Metro has always been a franchise that has evoked fierce loyalty in its fanbase. Though it isn’t the biggest or the most high profile shooter series out there, its focus on narrative and its blend of atmospheric survival horror, stealth, and first person shooting over the course of two great games have endeared it to millions. With Metro Exodus, developers 4A Games have expanded on the first two games of the series in significant ways, in the process creating a game that is larger and more ambitious than both its predecessors put together- but has the gamble paid off?
It really has. Though issues that fans of the series will be very familiar with by now – the jank and lack of polish Metro games have always been known for – are still very much part of the equation, and can lead to moments of frustration, by and large, Metro Exodus is a finely crafted, tense, and thrilling experience that retains the biggest strengths of its predecessors, while sticking the landing on almost every new thing it tries with great aplomb.
"Metro Exodus is a finely crafted, tense, and thrilling experience that retains the biggest strengths of its predecessors, while sticking the landing on almost every new thing it tries with great aplomb. "
Picking up two years after the “Redemption” ending of Metro: Last Light, as Exodus begins, silent Spartan and series protagonist Artyom is convinced that there is life out there- after picking up a rogue signal on his radio for a fraction of a second, Artyom becomes dogged in his belief that the denizens of the Metro aren’t the only survivors of the nuclear war, and that life on the surface is still possible. After a series of startling revelations and momentous events in the first hour or so of the game, Artyom, Anna – who he is now married to – and the rest of the Spartan Rangers escape from the confines of the Metro, beginning a long and arduous journey across the destroyed remains of Russia aboard the train, Aurora, to uncover truths about things they had never deemed possible.
It’s a setup that works on multiple levels. For starters, it pulls you into the story immediately, with the game wasting no time to put you through your paces with intense scenes and unexpected developments. Though at times the writing is a bit amateurish and the characters a bit shoddily developed, the larger narrative itself is an engaging one, and as is often the case with Metro, serves as a huge motivator for you to keep playing onward. More importantly, though, this setup allows Exodus to shed the linearity-driven progression of its predecessors. No longer confined to the tight underground spaces of the Moscow Metro, a huge chunk of Exodus instead puts the player into wide open environments, with the only pre-decided sections being the beginning and the end. It’s not open world, mind you, but rather a middle ground of sorts.
Metro Exodus is often at its best in these open, wide-linear areas, encouraging exploration and enabling the player to take their time with the given objectives. Optional quests and activities are handed to the player aplenty, but it’s all done in a very organic manner, with the game removing any and all abstractions- there are no delineation between quests, no markers on your HUD, no objective prompts. You’re simply told about a point of interest in the area you’re in by a character, and the rest is all entirely up to you- when you approach it, how you approach it, or even if you approach it. The lack of abstractions extends to other, more granular aspects of the game as well, such as its lack of a traditional HUD. To determine your location or the location of a specific objective, you don’t pull up a separate map screen. Artyom himself instead pulls out his clipboard to check his own in-game map in real time. To check the direction you need to be headed in, you don’t look at a compass in the HUD- you look at the compass Artyom is wearing on his wrist, and where its needle is pointing. It all grounds you and immerses you in the world to great effect, while other smaller touches, like having to wipe Artyom’s gas mask to clean dirt or condensation, take that even further.
"Metro Exodus is often at its best in these open, wide-linear areas, encouraging exploration and enabling the player to take their time with the given objectives."
The open ended levels of Metro Exodus also benefit a lot from other neat systems in place, such as a day and night cycle, or weather effects, which can have a great impact on how or when you choose to approach missions. For instance, bandits and rovers are much more active during the day, while nighttime is when the mutants and the most horrifying hazards in the game usually rear their heads. Deciding when to tackle which objective based on such factors injects a lot of agency into the game.
Though Exodus makes a conscious decision to go bigger than its predecessors and significantly expands its horizons, that doesn’t mean it forgets their greatest strengths. The tight, claustrophobic, linear level design of 2033 and Last Light isn’t as prominent in their sequel, but it’s not entirely missing either. Exodus smartly intersperses and punctuates its wide-linear levels with such missions, set-pieces, and scripted events regularly, and these moments, as fans of the series would be happy to know, stand toe-to-toe with the game’s more open-ended sections. Metro has always had a propensity for foreboding atmosphere and a constant feeling of dread, and putting its players in locations and situations that are incredibly effective at showing the harsh, deadly nature of its post-apocalyptic world, and Exodus hasn’t lost that touch. What’s also great is that the game strikes a very good balance between being linear and being more open ended, and keeps moving from one to another at a good, solid pace.
Survival elements are, of course, one more thing that Exodus retains- it wouldn’t be Metro if it didn’t. From your ammo, to the state of your gas mask, to how clean your weapons are, to resources such as gas mask filters, there’s a lot you need to keep track of. You can never be too liberal with the use of anything that you have at your disposal, and conservation of ammo and resources feels vital to survival. Moments when you’re frantically scrounging the environments to look for resources you can use to craft some ammo or a health pack are a dime a dozen in Metro, and illustrate the game’s unforgiving and dangerous atmosphere perfectly. Your gas mask can crack, at which point you have to fix it with duct tape; weapons that haven’t been cleaned in a while can jam up during combat, leaving you vulnerable at inopportune and unpredictable moments; electrical devices such as night vision goggles and flashlights need to be charged regularly, and suddenly being blinded in a dark tunnel because the batteries of your night vision ran out can be very panic-inducing, even if it’s just momentary panic. Everything feels like a struggle in Metro Exodus, and gels with its unrelenting and savage world perfectly.
"Metro has always had a propensity for foreboding atmosphere and a constant feeling of dread, and putting its players in locations and situations that are incredibly effective at showing the harsh, deadly nature of its post-apocalyptic world, and Exodus hasn’t lost that touch."
Crafting is another system that has been expanded upon greatly in Metro Exodus, mostly thanks to its surprisingly robust and extensive weapons customization system. Artyom can now customize his weapons on the fly, simply pulling his bag off his shoulders and attaching/detaching parts to and from guns as and when needed, all in real time. From suppressors, stocks, and magazines, to barrels, sights, and any number of other attachments, the amount of modifications you can make to your weapons in Metro Exodus – depending on what resources and parts you’ve managed to scrounge up – is staggering, as is the range of options available to you in terms of how much you can change. Using a larger barrel, a new stock, a scope, and a new muzzle, you can literally turn a pistol into a decent mid-range sniper rifle. Going into cramped areas crawling with enemies, you can turn a fast-firing machine gun into a silenced, smaller weapon to aid you in stealth. Given the sheer number of options available, and the fact that they don’t feel like they’re their just for the sake of it, and actually offer valuable advantages in different situations, Metro Exodus feels like a game brimming with variety in this area. Constantly thinking about how best to modify your weapon according to the situation you find yourself in adds a lot of improvisation and on-the-fly planning.
Metro Exodus isn’t without its issues though. 2033 and Last Light had a lot of strengths, but shooting was never one of them- the same is, sadly, also the case in Exodus. Shooting feels unsatisfactory and seems to lack the oomph you would expect from a first person shooter, with things such as occasionally bad hit detection, unsatisfactory feedback from shooting weapons, and the guns themselves just not feeling very good to shoot all contributing enormously to this issue. Enemy AI is also, for the most part, not very bright, and is often all too happy to stand out in the open while being shot at, or at times even run directly at you while you’re shooting them down. The lack of energetic shooting works to the detriment of Exodus in some situations, especially during some of the scripted sequences – which are otherwise excellent – or times when, for whatever reason, you feel like you’re forced to get into firefights. Thankfully, stealth is almost always a viable option, and though Exodus only employs very basic stealth mechanics, they function much better than shooting does, and make for much better scenarios and encounters.
There is a lack of polish in other areas as well. Animations for characters and enemies of all varieties look stiff and jerky, while facial models are substandard and are plagued with weird lip syncing during dialogue. The dialogue itself often suffers from audio glitches as well, and all too often, characters start talking over each other during cutscenes. During a conversation between two characters, often one can start replying to the other even while the other person is in the process of finishing their sentence, and dialogues can be miscued at improper moments and begin to overlap- it can lead to moments of confusion, and there were times in my playthrough where I felt crucial events and storytelling moments had been let down by such shoddy glitches. During the first couple hours of my playthrough (which was on an Xbox One X), Exodus also crashed entirely on four occasions, forcing me to restart the game each time- thankfully, though, for whatever reason, it was only the opening hours of the game where it crashed, and it was no longer an issue in the remainder of my time with it.
"Metro Exodus isn’t without its issues though. 2033 and Last Light had a lot of strengths, but shooting was never one of them- the same is, sadly, also the case in Exodus. The lack of energetic shooting works to the detriment of Exodus in some situations, especially during some of the scripted sequences – which are otherwise excellent – or times when, for whatever reason, you feel like you’re forced to get into firefights."
While there is a lack of visual polish in things such as animations and facial models, by and large, Metro Exodus is a stunning game to look at. Developers 4A Games have put out nothing but visual beasts while working on this series, and Exodus proudly follows in the footsteps of its predecessors. Environments are intricately detailed and look absolutely gorgeous, while even on a smaller scale, the weapons, interiors, or even things such as Artyom’s backpack or the cracks in his gas mask exhibit an immaculate level of attention to detail. The series’ typically strong art style is also present here, and brings its bleak and barbaric vision of a post-nuclear apocalypse to life with superb results.
Metro Exodus is the kind of first person shooter that has become a rarity in an era where the likes of Half-Life are little more than distant memories- a shooter concerned, first and foremost, with a narrative-driven single player experience. In light of that, it would have been a game that many would have latched on to even if it was a less than satisfactory experience- thankfully, Metro Exodus justifies the adoration it is bound to receive with its impressive quality. While it’s slightly disappointing that the jank and polish issues that have plagued Metro in the past haven’t been ironed out in its latest instalment, the game manages to overcome these issues with a memorable and thrilling campaign set in one of the most believably realized and immersive post-apocalypse settings to date.
This game was reviewed on the Xbox One.
An engaging narrative that will keep you hooked; A good balance of wide, open-ended areas and claustrophic, linear levels; Scripted set-piece levels are are strong as you would expect; The more open-ended areas are very well designed; Encourages you to take your time and choose your approach to whichever objectives you want to tackle; A lack of abstractions makes for a grounded and immersive world; Robust and extensive weapons customization mechanics are used very effectively; Visually stunning.
Occasionally amateurish writing; Unsatisfactory shooting; Enemy AI is not the brightest; Lack of polish in some areas; Initial crashing issues.
Metro Exodus is an ambitious sequel that retains the best parts of its predecessors, while also expanding upon their ideas in significant ways. A general lack of polish hurts those ambitions somewhat, but in the end, this is a game that is well worth the price of entry.