Should you get aboard the Metro hype train? Read why we thought you may hesitate to buy a ticket in our Metro Exodus review.
Carefully I approach the shore, makeshift oars breaking apart a thin crust of ice bobbing atop these irradiated waters. I’m careful to avoid the ripples as I go – a telltale sign of something lurking beneath the surface, waiting to turn my rickety boat into a splintery supper. On foot now, I approach the small shanty town ahead, a church bell tolling from across this blighted wasteland. I can hear two men talking; wiping the dirt, rain, and blood from my gas mark, I ready my pneumatic rifle. I’ve got a clutch of freshly-crafted steel balls, more than enough to quietly take off the pair of watchmen. The gun’s jammed, however, and I take a knee for a few seconds to fix it, having forgotten to do so when ambushed by a pack of hound-like mutants back near the railway, swapping out the useless weapon for my personally modified shotgun. It may only hold two shells but if it wasn’t for those two shots having found their mark, I’d be dead right now.
Then I realize something – these two men, they’re unarmed: looking out over the lake, two long fishing poles hungrily hovering above its murky waters. This land belongs to a cult, its zealous, technophobic followers having almost killed me during our last encounter. Still, these two look friendly enough. Holstering my rifle, I approach…
Metro Exodus has plenty of these moments and while not completely unscripted they add a layer to the game’s story and atmosphere that wasn’t there before. Both Metro 2033 and its sequel, Last Light, were incredibly linear shooters that had you scouring a subterranean network of tunnels in their grim depiction of a nuclear apocalypse. Occasionally, you’d brave the surface, gas mark in hand, exploring wider areas overrun by mutants but there was that same feeling of being led from one beat to the next instead of being able to fully soak in this world, inspired by the best-selling novels of Russian author Dmitry Glukhovsky.
In the past, Metro has been mistakenly labeled as a spiritual successor to the severely underrated Stalker series. I say this because part of what made those games so unique wasn’t their hazardous wastelands and occasional quirkiness, it was the sense that you had some actual freedom in approaching your objectives instead of hurtling down a single path, taking the odd breather when the story felt like indulging itself.
Metro Exodus definitely leans closer to its Stalker roots this time around though it’s still, for the most part, a linear experience. This isn’t Fallout – you won’t be setting off, charting a course for a chosen landmark, then experiencing a series of emergent stories in between. Sadly, Exodus isn’t equipped to feel like a fully open-world game, instead finding a middle ground that should appease series fans and those wanting something more than a mere cookie-cutter sequel.
Whether or not you’ve played previous entries or read Glukhovsky’s books isn’t hugely important. There are references to certain characters and events that may go over your head but, for the most part, Exodus is newcomer-friendly. Once again you play as silent protagonist Artyom who, since the events of Last Light, has tried to settle down. However, convinced that he and his fellow metro-dwelling survivors aren’t alone in the world, he continues to take risky excursions above the surface, endangering himself while eating into the settlement’s dwindling resources.
We won’t spoil what happens but if you’ve seen any pre-release media for Metro Exodus then you know about the Aurora – the train that carries Artyom and a ragtag band of survivors beyond Moscow, giving Exodus a distinct road trip feel flavor, unlike its more confined predecessors. It’s tempting to make the joke that Metro has become an on-rails shooter though you won’t be spending too much time on the tracks. Exodus settles into a rhythm of taking you from one large hub area to the next where you will complete story missions and a string of side tasks.
Compared to previous games, it’s more open by design, though the minute-to-minute gameplay hasn’t really evolved. There’s something about the shooting and the way Artyom awkwardly shambles around that feels clumsy and archaic, Metro sits somewhere between the snappy responsiveness of games like Call of Duty and the deliberate heft of Killzone, though never finding a comfortable sweet spot.
It’s more than serviceable, however, and there’ll be plenty of satisfying moments when cranking far off headshots or just managing to fend off a mutant swarm. You can avoid most confrontations altogether, of course, though Metro’s flimsy stealth mechanics remain largely unchanged since previous games.
Those survival elements the series has featured in the past come to the fore, however. With the option to freely explore Metro’s wasteland, Exodus gives you an expanded toolset to do so while having a more robust crafting system. Where previous installments had you exchanging currency for ammunition, weapons, and equipment, everything here is either found in abandoned caches or crafted by hand.
Extra tools such as ziplines, binoculars, and workbenches all come in handy while adding texture to the game world. If there’s one thing Exodus does extremely well, it’s making you feel truly immersed as a survivor looking for hope in its alluringly oppressive world. With two games under the belt, expect to see some similar design tropes when it comes to Metro’s characters, enemies, and environments, though developer 4A Games also pushes for some diversity, too.
Despite a predominant sludge of browns and greys topped with a dusting of snow, Exodus can be quite the looker. Not all of its locales are brimming with a picturesque sense of character, though the game benefits from some fantastically detailed character work and lighting effects.
If you loved both 2033 and Last Light then you’ve likely boarded the hype train already and won’t be disappointed. Many will appreciate the continuation of Artyom’s story and 4A’s shift towards a freer, more immersive experience though Metro is still a couple of pegs below that top tier of first-person shooters. It feels rough around the edges and is let down by occasional bugs, sloppy AI, and a flimsy stealth system. That said, innovations elsewhere make some of these shortfalls easier to overlook.
Metro Exodus review code for PS4 provided by the publisher.
Metro Exodus is out February 15 on PS4, Xbox One, and PC via the Epic Games Store.