By now, most gamers know of the Metro franchise. A series of post-apocalyptic games made by the Ukranian 4A Games studio based on a series of novels written by the Russian author Dmitry Glukhovsky. The two games, Metro 2033 and Metro: Last Light gained quite a following and were generally well-received by the critics. We even included them in our list of most atmospheric first-person games.
Today, with Metro: Exodus, the franchise seems to have gotten to a point where the general interest seems to indicate that it’s become an FPS juggernaut. With expectations soaring sky high, it’s good that the threequel takes an extended walk outside the underground metro for a breath of fresh air.
Metro: Exodus is available for purchase on the Epic Game Store.
Whereas the previous two Metro games were like two parts of the same story, Metro: Exodus is a completely new adventure. It acknowledges the canonical endings of the previous two entries but moves away from the Dark Ones and metro underground factions to do its own thing. The largest link it has to previous games is the colorful cast of characters.
You, once again, play as Artyom, the Spartan ranger dreaming of a life beyond the confines of the underground metro. The beginning of the game is actually set in a segment of the metro in order to remind returning players and show the newcomers just how miserable life down there can actually be.
After showing you a sneak peek of Moscow, both under and above ground, a huge revelation forces Artyom, Anna, her father – Colonel Miller and the rest of the Spartan rangers to flee the ruined city and leave the metro behind. They do this by using an old train they dub the Aurora and head toward a supposed seat of the surviving Russian government.
I remain purposefully vague since Metro: Exodus is, like previous games, completely story-driven. In fact, much of the game’s charm stems from exploring the unknown. Each mission is carefully crafted and feels like an episode of a TV show with a mystery of its own. Know that – while you’ll see some story beats coming from a mile away, other times, the game will genuinely surprise you. Even to a point where some main objectives are disregarded completely and replaced with something new and unexpected as the story unfolds.
Much of the emotional weight comes from Artyom’s comrades and his wife, Anna. They are all believably written and expertly brought to life by their respective voice actors. Not all of them are memorable or distinct enough for you to remember them by name but they do make you feel like a part of a small family.
Anna’s relationship with Artyom is especially endearing in that regard. She often fantasizes about a peaceful life and hearing her talk about their difficult journey as it were a honeymoon really made me care for the character. It’s only sad that Artyom continues being a silent protagonist as I feel that many of these emotional moments could have hit much harder had he not been a mute throughout.
The high quality of the main story missions is only boosted by the side stories. Exodus expertly (and seamlessly) weaves these optional missions into its game world. You’ll only ever get a vague instruction and a general quest marker and it’s up to you whether and how you want to pursue them. There will even be times where side-quests givers find you in response to an action you took during gameplay. It’s a perfect example of emergent play, as quests never feel forced and will either deepen your knowledge of the post-nuclear world and its people or reward you with valuable resources for your journey.
Metro is a series once known for its linear underground locales but Exodus, much like its protagonist, takes a risk and goes above ground. While the core gameplay largely remains “shoot, stealth, collect” until a mission is over, the open, sandbox areas introduce a few new elements that take this simple formula to a whole new level.
Right from the get-go, you’ll see that Exodus rewards players who have a slow and methodical approach. Much like in the story department, you’ll want to take your time when exploring and approaching potentially dangerous situations.
Each of the large playable areas has different flora, fauna, weather, environmental hazards, and enemies. While different human enemies are often just reskins of each other, with weaker and stronger variants, the various mutants and creatures are the true source of variety. Mutant dogs, rats, bats, lobsters, spiders and all manner of other creatures bring a very effective element of horror to the game. You’ll know what I’m talking about as soon as you meet your first spider in the game.
Each area also introduces a new mechanic of sorts that you’ll need to use in order to progress. This makes the regions feel almost like a different game and not just a simple seasonal reskin. As you enter each one, it’s best to scout the points of interest with your binoculars which will add question marks to your map. As mentioned, it’s up to you to weigh the risk and the potential reward of each point. Sometimes, it’ll be a simple resource cache, while other times – you’ll be liberating slaves that will help you in the main mission.
If you are a newcomer, you might be surprised at just how stealth heavy Exodus can be. While it’s never a case of “be stealthy or fail”, bandit strongholds or mutant lairs are often teeming with enemies that are sometimes best avoided. Not so much that you couldn’t handle them with a diverse arsenal of weaponry at your disposal, but more because each encounter puts a strain on your equipment and severely drains you of supplies.
These come in the form of different ammo types, medkits, and filters for your gas mask. Additionally, the more you use a certain weapon, the dirtier it gets and it has a greater chance of failing at an inopportune time. That means that you need to regularly clean them. You’ll even find weapon upgrade components that aren’t there simply to boost stats but also have a practical gameplay value. The best example would be the night-vision sniper scope with which you can invade enemy outposts during the dark.
If you ever played any of the recent Far Cry games – the experience is pretty much the same. You’ll be able to keep to the dark to take enemies one by one or go in guns blazing. If you are playing at a lower difficulty, you’ll generally breeze through enemies. If you are undetected, they’ll stick to a patrol pattern, and if you are discovered, they’ll shoot from cover and rarely change their position. At higher difficulties, however, not only will they be tougher but will try their best to flank you and often even swarm your position.
Crafting, cleaning and upgrading your gear is performed at a crafting bench using the two main resources – scrap and chemicals. Scavenging these two resources from caches and enemies is a huge part of the game as being prepared before each mission, however trivial, is paramount in order to succeed. Scavenging not only perfectly fits in the world of Metro, but it incentivizes exploration without ever feeling forced. You might feel starved for resources when starting out, but it won’t take you long to get into the groove of things and realize just how fun the gameplay loop actually is.
The devil is in the details and much of what Metro does wouldn’t be as fun or as immersive if it weren’t for the little things like animations for putting on a gas mask and having to wipe it clean of water or blood if you kill an enemy up close. Having to charge up your flashlight while a horde of radioactive zombies is approaching in the dark and many many more.
GRAPHICS AND AUDIO
As a franchise, Metro always had bragging rights when it came to visuals and atmosphere. Where two previous games used their underground setting to great effect, there were concerns that going above ground in Exodus would diminish the overall presentation. Well, I’m glad to report that this is not the case. Quite the opposite, in fact, the open sections of the game find new and exciting ways to showcase everything we love about the Metro’s grim presentation of the post-apocalypse – dialed to eleven.
The realistic, sharp textures, incredible lighting and particle effects combine to create one of the most beautiful and atmospheric game worlds to date. It’s one of those games that swallows you whole as you explore every inch of its large open areas. Each one gives you a taste of a different season with beautiful environments consisting of varied, often twisted flora and fauna, as well as man-made structures. The areas are also filled to the brim with small details that tell their own story of what happened after the bombs fell. It’s all complemented greatly by the dynamic day and night cycle as well as the outstanding weather effects.
The game is well polished overall and there weren’t any issues that would throw me out or hinder the experience. Only small issues I encountered were the ones like being able to see sources of light behind walls, NPC’s sometimes moving like robots during cutscenes or having no shadows. Some of the more obscure areas of the world also featured extremely washed out textures but I have to admit – I found them only because I went looking.
All in all, even if the gameplay side of things wasn’t as refined, Exodus would be worth playing on looks alone as the atmosphere it creates is absolutely second to none. The only thing that might make this difficult is the required hardware. While the game is optimized fairly well, it will still require a powerful PC in order to run higher presets at acceptable framerates. We tested the game using an I7-7700k coupled with an Nvidia 1080ti and had to dial down the resolution from 4K to 2K using the “extreme” graphical preset in order to get the game running at above 60FPS. To put things into perspective, the “ultra” preset with 2K resolution ran the game at 125FPS. This means that, while you’ll definitely find a perfect combination of graphical settings – you might miss out on some of the visual splendor should you dial things down a bit.
The visuals are only further complemented by the amazing sound design and music. Whether you are descending into a long-abandoned bunker or on a boat sailing across a lake – you’ll be fully immersed into the game. It’s one of those rare first-person shooters where you’ll slowly climb up a staircase, making sure to cover your blind spots as the sounds constantly keep you on the edge of your seat.
There’s plenty of moments where sounds create a beautiful sense of urgency and panic. You’ll know it once you stumble upon a dog-like Watcher howling for his pack or hearing the approaching horde of zombie-like humans affected by the radiation. The weather effects such as a sand storm or rain are also a standout in the sound department. I don’t think I ever heard such a smooth transition between the sound of the rain when I was outside, compared to when I got indoors.
As mentioned, the voice acting really brings most of the characters to life in an expert fashion. There wasn’t a single NPC that threw me out of the experience and I feel like they dialed down the bad English-Russian accents when compared to previous entries in the series. They are still here, mind you, only in a far less immersion-breaking form.