Danger lurks outside the Metro.
Metro 2033 and its followup, Last Light, were survival shooters that mostly took place underground, deep within the mutant infested tunnels of a Russian Metro system. Artyom, the series’ protagonist, is convinced there is life outside the Metro. This third in the Metro series, Metro Exodus, is the answer to that curiosity, giving us a valid reason for the series to expand to larger outdoor environments, while also retaining the feel of what a Metro game entails. Exodus may not be the best of the series, but it’s a damn fine game nonetheless.
Metro Exodus takes place two years after the events of Last Light. Given the series has a tendency for good and bad endings, this of course, follows the events of the good ending. During a mission to investigate if there really is life outside the Metro, Artyom and his wife, Anna, accidentally uncover a secret about the outside world and end up alongside a group of special forces on a train eventually named the Aurora. What follows for this third installment is the group traveling on the train, gathering resources to keep it going, all while trying to find answers about what and who are actually outside the Metro.
While it’s been mentioned that Metro Exodus is an open world shooter, I strongly disagree with that statement. While Exodus does feature several open environments, this is still a largely linear experience that simply allows you to stop at various locations along the way; scavenging for resources, meeting the locals, and tracking down new equipment to make surviving that much easier. You’ll be given objectives to complete with some small side activities as well, but there is no open world busy work here to pad on artificial length to the game. Depending on how much you’ll take to explore each and every square inch of each location, you should wrap credits somewhere around the 13-15 hour mark. Everything you do here has purpose and keeps you focused on the story at hand. While the open environments may feel like they remove the claustrophobic nature of the series; there are so many threats around you that you always feel boxed in, forced to think smart or end up on the wrong side of a mutant’s claw or some trigger happy bandit.
Metro is not a series to go in fast and hot; instead opting to be a more slower methodically paced shooter, taking your time in checking out who and what is all around you. There are no targeting systems or the ability to place a cursor over the head of someone you’ve tagged. No, if you see an enemy thirty feet in front of you, then you’ll have to remember he is there and moving around the environment. While other shooters have adapted stealth-based gameplay into their game, it is usually only during short encounters and not the focus of the entire experience. Here, you can turn off lamps, douse fires, or cut the cord on hung cans, ensuring you are not seen nor heard. Metro is at its core, a stealth survival shooter that still features solid gunplay should you be discovered and have no choice but to return fire.
For navigation, Artyom will have to rely on his compass; always pointing in the direction of his main objective, and a map he carries on him at all times. You cannot place markers or personal waypoints, and instead must make mental notes about where you need to go. However, as you use your binoculars; an item you get a bit later on in the story, you can use them to ping points of interest, automatically adding them to the map as question mark locations. These spots usually have an upgrade for your gear or some special item worth seeking out. As you empty out bases of its inhabitants, Artyom will mark on the map that the base has been cleared, letting you know that the location is no longer occupied. While the map sizes of each of the few areas you’ll travel to are fairly large, they don’t seem overbearing or feel like a chore in exploring. In the games second area, the Caspian desert, you’ll have access to a vehicle that is rather enjoyable to drive around in, hearing its creaking suspension struggle as you bounce around inside. My only issue with the vehicle is that it is mostly limited to this environment only and only used once more later on.
As you make your way to your objective, you’re going to encounter numerous locations off the beaten path to track down crafting resources, more ammo, or find new equipment. While many of these areas are abandoned buildings or rusted boats, you’ll still find locations that take you deep underground, typical of the Metro series. While these areas are a great way to add to your available ammo or earn a few crafting materials to fashion a med kit or two, you may end up having to fight the hostiles that control the area, often expending more ammo than you’re collecting, forcing your to plan out your task at hand. Each location can be played either at night or during the day by using a bed to fast forward the day, which also heals you in the process. Traversing the environment during the day will see less monsters but up the population of the gun-toting locals. On the flip-side, during the night, you’ll see less of the human element and more so of the creatures that lurk in the shadows. During the night, you can use the cover of darkness to slip by pretty much anything. I’ve had fanged beasts cruise right by me, unaware I was even there, nervously shaking that they will discover me. While most of the people will be asleep or not present in large numbers, you’ll still have several threats walking around with a helmet mounted light, allowing them to see you if you get too close. There are various stealth elements you can use like turning off lights or dousing a fire-pit, as I’ve mentioned already, but also by using night-vision goggles or scopes that perform the same trick. Playing Metro exclusively at certain times of day can really change up the experience you have rather than just being the same game at different points in the day.
Metro can also be played with even less HUD elements, allowing the atmosphere of the game to be front and center. While the game is relatively HUD free already, this will remove access to the aspects of the HUD that alert you to what can be picked up and the ammo you currently have in your rifle. While Dead Space wasn’t the first title to have your character wear some aspect of the HUD on their person, Metro handles some of the information you need in the same way. Artyom wears a watch that indicates how much time is left in his air filter, the radiation level in the area, and if you are visible to enemies with a light indicator. Health is mostly through a visual indicator of if there is blood at the top of the screen, so it can be sometimes hard to tell just how close to death you are or if using a medkit is viable now or to wait for later.
Metro Exodus has a wide range of enemies to content with; Bandits, Fanatics, and Cannibals make up some of the human element whereas winged demons, mutated fish, monstrous shrimp, and light-fearing spiders make up only some of the creature-based threats you’ll have stand in your way. Some of my favorite encounters are with the spiders, who will burn up from exposure to your varied light sources. What makes them extra creepy is their companions that often act as a precursor to their arrival; medium sized spiders that crawl up your arm and across your face mask; making me shiver in terror almost every time it happens. Metro does a great job at consistently making their creatures threatening while the human forces are a bit more predictable, and act mostly commonplace as they do among the genre. One neat thing that the human forces do is give up, knowing they are outgunned and will put their hands up in defeat. You can either knock them out or kill them, but keep in mind that the game does feature a bad ending if you take too many innocent lives. My biggest issues with the human forces is the recycled dialogue that is used across the entire spectrum of combat. Regardless of what region you are surviving in. There are only a handful of different voices and many of the threats they make, featuring several uses of colorful language, are often repeated again and again. The creatures may share the same grunts and screams, but at least they are terrifying with each and every encounter.
Taking place over the course of a full year, you’ll spend each of the four seasons with your crew, often spending time with each one through missions as well as conversations and moments on the train. Metro Exodus takes a considerable amount of time to ensure you care about each of the cast, an aspect that is often neglected across the genre. There’s Anna, your wife, who is also a crack shot with a sniper rifle. Her father, Colonel Miller is a hard ass military man who is used to the old ways. There’s Damir, Duke, Idiot (Yes, that’s his name..), Alyosha, Sam, Tokarev, and Stepan, who are your fellow squad mates who all brings something unique to the team. As you progress through your first large area, you’ll encounter a few more characters that will join you on your travels, each lending their talents to the overall journey. Between each environment, you’ll unwind on the train, taking in conversations and social with your crew. These moments are some of my favorite in Exodus because it takes the time to not only develop the characters, but to offer up a furthered sense of believability to its world and those who live in it. Many of these interactions will go on for some time, rewarding those who want that extra layer of depth to its cast. While it’s never required or used in a way mechanically that contributes to any real element of gameplay, it’s something I always looked forward to when we were ready to move on to the next location.
In previous Metro games you would encounter numerous shops to purchase items with ammo, making some encounters a tough choice on what and who to shoot. Since you’re always on the move in Exodus, this currency system didn’t make sense to the current narrative and instead has been replaced with an overall crafting system. As you explore every single location, and as you search the bodies of the dead, you’ll come across materials and chemicals. These act as a basis for every crafting item you can construct. As you encounter safe houses or explore the Aurora, you can do the majority of your crafting at workbenches. As you find more parts and pieces for your weapons or armor, you can equip them to Artyom here. You can also craft more ammo, med kits and gas mask filters as well, and clean your weapons too, ensuring they do the most damage in a fight. On the go, you can only craft med kits, gas mask filters or ammo for your Air Rifle, the Tikhar, or a special additional weapon you unlock much later on in the story. Crafting is made extremely easy mostly due in part to a very intuitive and simple menu system that is very clear to understand and navigate.
While you have a wide range of weapons to choose from; pistols, shotguns, smg’s, rifles, and sniper rifles, you can change how each weapon functions with various scopes and attachments that you’ll find as you explore. While not every attachment is universally compatible, you can change the function of a weapon in very drastic ways that you could essentially have two of the same weapon equipped and have them act very differently from one another. I would often rock a SMG with a night vision scope on missions, but swap it out for a 4x scope when venturing out during the day. The Tikhar Air Rifle itself is fun to use and is somewhat different from any other gun in the game. Built with spare parts and some liberal uses of duct tape, this air rifle requires you to pull down a handle and pump the gun until its gauge indicates strong enough power to make the weapon viable. Now, you can actually over pump it and cause the gun to act up, so it’s best to pay attention when you are cranking the handle. You will eventually be able to equip different rounds to the gun, but what they are and what their effect is, well, i’ll leave that for you to discover with sheer pleasure.
Metro Exodus runs on the 4A engine, a gorgeous tool set that allows for some breathtaking visuals. Plain and simple, Exodus is stunning to look at it. The characters themselves have some very impressive detail and even their clothing is more than just stretched textures, instead allowing them to have separate moving pieces that allow for more realism. The facial animations are good, often great, and allow for clear identification of the emotions they are trying to convey during the story. The environments are painstakingly detailed and feature some truly impressive views during the day and becomes a thing of terror during the night when you have to rely on either your flashlight or a nearby lantern. I will say that while there is a tremendous amount of detail present here, much of it is copy and pasted from one building to the other. The same posters, frames, and objects are present across all environments, apart from the wicker baskets found during your trip to the forests of Taiga, but this does tend to remove some aspects of the believability that we are given with the game. While the forest area does its best to apply unique items to its location, you’ll still see the same jars of spoiled tomatoes and other foods that exist in each of the previous areas.
Apart from the repeated voice samples plaguing its human elements, Metro Exodus is superb in its sound design; even more so when you use the Dolby app on Xbox One. The use of surround sound really adds to the experience when you have extreme weather all around you, or those quieter moments when you are letting a pack of creatures slowly move past you. The sound effects of getting in and out of the vehicle, firing and reloading your weapons, are truly fantastic and really add to the experience. The voice acting, depending if you play in English or Russian, can be hit or miss depending on what you are wanting from it. Personally, I find the accents to be anywhere from good to great, with only a few moments where some of the actors don’t quite keep the accent consistent. While Artyom has a voice during the loading screens, detailing the adventure between zones, he is silent during the actual gameplay moments, even when it makes no sense for him to be so. He is often asked questions, or if he can hear them on the radio, and despite a voice being given to the character, his vocal absence still puzzles me three games in.
While Metro Exodus does a lot of things right, it has several bugs that really hold the title back from being as impressive as the previous two games in the series. I lost hours of progress one day when the game chose to pick a save from 6 hours back, forcing me to redo all that content. While it turned out in my favor as I found items I didn’t find before, as well as actually unlocking my achievements for things I had done before, it was still a frustrating moment that had me initially fuming. My biggest issue with the saving system is that it only quick saves or saves your checkpoint. You don’t have much control over a master save and this can cause you to save part way into a battle and have to live with those consequences when its gone horribly awry. I’ve quick saved in the middle of taking out a base with not a single soul aware of my presence, to loading back into it and being detected while the game loaded in. As for other issues, I’ve had enemies find me through walls, shoot and kill me several times through those same walls, and a few crashes along the way. I’ve heard of several problems with framerate across the PlayStation platform, but never really experienced any drops in frames on the Xbox One X. There’s also been a discussion about the lengthy load times, but these are mostly while initially loading into the world and reloading quick saves or checkpoints are usually pretty quick.
Metro Exodus is a game that I can understand that there will be people who are not going to enjoy it. It’s a series that has a very unique feel and pacing and I can see why some people may find the series boring. Metro Exodus ticks all the right boxes for me as a Metro title while also evolving the core concepts the series is based on. The larger environments can feel just as tense and suspenseful as the tight corridors and underground sewers due in part to the dangers that still lurk around you. Despite the open world nature of those environments, 4A Games doesn’t include any sort of filler or generic fetch quests either. While there are items you are requested to seek out, it never feels generic in any real way. 4A Games knew Metro wasn’t the type of game to embrace those open world trivialities, so it took what it needed out of the genre and still made it feel very Metro.
Metro Exodus was purchased by the reviewer and played on an Xbox One X.
The review has been written to be viable for all platforms but does refer often to the experience on Xbox One X.
All Screenshots were taken on an Xbox One X.