Metro Exodus Review
By Kevin Tavore,
The cold streets of Moscow are long abandoned at this point. The entire city is a ruinous landscape that only irradiated monsters can call home. It’s also the only place left on Earth where humanity can still live, if you call living in the metro tunnels a life. Chilling, depressing, dark, sorrowful. These are the words that describe the atmosphere in the Metro series up until now, and those games’ legions of fans relish in those feelings. But they don’t describe Metro Exodus, at least not alone. In 4A Games’ latest thriller, players will finally explore the Russian countryside, from a river basin to a dried Caspian sea to the forests in the heartland. The horror and sadness of the apocalypse is still alive and well, but there’s also life, adventure, energy and hope. It’s a new age for the Metro series, and Exodus is everything you’ve hoped for.
The brave new world of Exodus features sights untold for the series all within a living, breathing world that’s fighting to survive. Gone are the tight corridors and short levels the Metro series is known for. Instead, 4A Games have opened the game up substantially so that it feels abundant and full of promise. As you move through the dreary winter of a Russian river basin that’s crawling with religious fanatics and irradiated monsters, you’ll have the freedom to explore as you like, finding new characters, outposts and other treats as you find the relics of the old world and the beginnings of whatever will come next. This world-building forms the essence of Exodus and is its greatest asset that many games in the future will no doubt look to for inspiration.
This is the apocalypse, and things are grim, but exploration and the choices you make reveal so many little details worth discovering. You’ll find abandoned camps with notes telling the story of those who’ve moved on. You’ll collect miscellaneous items at the request of your squad. You’ll encounter encampments that you can liberate. If this sounds almost Ubisoftian in its open world approach, fear not — Exodus is not a well-worn Far Cry . Your map features no checklist of icons to tick off, nor will you be earning skill points as rewards for the liberation of those encampments. The only tangible rewards are the occasional weapon, useful information, and crafting materials. The intangible world that makes this exploration worth it is your increased connection to this desolate world. I’ll say it again, the world-building is the essence of Exodus .
Digging into the little details, there’s a lot to love as well. Characters will react to what you’ve done and change their dialogue based on it. For instance, while one soldier was briefing me on our plan, I opted to go to sleep so that I could change the time of day. When I woke up, she was sitting next to the bed and asked if I had a good rest. Then she gave me a quick recap of the plan since I missed it. The game is littered with these details and they come together to reveal a care and respect for the experience by the developers that helps to endear it even more. On the negative end of the little details spectrum, the game does occasionally crash, necessitating a restart and a long load time. These crashes aren’t frequent enough to become a major issue.
A theme of Exodus is moving on, and the story takes you on that journey. The game begins in the familiar Moscow cityscape, but things change quickly as Artyom, along with Anna and his squad, are forced to venture out into the world. Locales are varied and intriguing. There’s a nuclear shelter. There’s an enclave of very deranged people holding onto a bridge. There’s the remains of civilization on the dried up Caspian Sea where an oil baron has taken the local population as slaves and rules over an army of bandits from a lavish fortress. Each location evokes a different feel and emotion that works to set it apart from the others and to breathe life into the game. While the river delta felt like a hopeless swamp, the Caspian Sea feels like Mad Max with concentrated inhumanity instead of chaos for the sake of it. These worlds are varied and that ensures they each feel worth exploring whenever you get to a new one.
Exodus ’ level design is excellent. In pre-release interviews, the team at 4A Games described their efforts to strike the right balance between open world and traditional, linear levels. Exodus is designed in levels, and some of those are as linear as before, with Artyom traveling through scripted twists and turns with little room to breathe. But others, as mentioned, are wide open expanses that give you a great taste of freedom. Even in these open levels, the goal is always relatively clear if you’ve been paying attention to the story beats and conversations and the areas do have their own mini-dungeons that take you upon a linear path. The overall effect is a game that follows a tight, scripted narrative while still giving the player the opportunity to go off the beaten path often enough that it doesn’t feel restrictive.
The gunplay is the only black mark against the game. For aiming, the game features a highly magnetic lock-on the first moment you press the trigger to aim down the sights. At all other times, the reticle feels erratic and hard to use to the point that aiming is sloppy unless you constantly press the left trigger to let the game automatically readjust your sights during combat. Worse still, the guns themselves have no heft to them at all, with big shotguns and miniguns feeling more or less the same to fire as an SMG. These two issues combined meant that I was constantly hoping to avoid firefights entirely and that I was rarely interested in using guns like the minigun, which should have made for an exciting set piece, instead opting to use a standard shotgun and pistol which I felt offered the most utility despite not being particularly fun to use.
Luckily, the stealth aspects of the game have received a major upgrade. In a lot of ways, Exodus feels heavily inspired by a no-ability run of Dishonored . Almost every location can be overcome, with enemies eradicated, using stealth. You can sneak in the shadows using cans to distract your enemies and turning the lights out as you go to ensure you’re gone before the enemies knew it. The stealth is a bit simplistic, missing modern mechanics like hiding bodies, gadgets and unpredictable patrol paths, but the stealth aspects that are there are executed with perfection. While most guns might make you feel like a wimp to shoot, you’ll feel like a certified badass when you clear a complex without a soul noticing your presence. It’s an alternative that greatly alleviates the negative aspect of the shooting mechanics.
Perhaps the most important potential casualty of the open world design in Exodus was the series’ trademark horror levels. In Exodus these levels are weaved into the game seamlessly, either as linear additional levels or as sort of dungeons within the open world and their horror elements are quite effective. An early mission has you exploring an underground communications center that’s been overrun by spiders. The nasty creatures can only be damaged by light so you’ll creep around the pitch black corridors scaring off spiders and panicking as you hear them coming at you from all directions. It’s simply effective and exactly what the game needs to break the pace when they’re offered. The only downside of note is the presence of night vision goggles that you can optionally find in the world — if you do, you’ll find the horror isn’t quite so scary when you can see everything clearly.
To bring a traditionally linear game into an open world mold without breaking what made it special is a monumental task. Metro is a series known for its ability to capture a dreary underground with a sense of horror and desperation. These elements remain intact, but the new structure brings so much more to play that Exodus becomes a better game than its predecessors in every way. The level design is impeccable, seamlessly blending linear levels and open world design while giving you a choice in which way you’d like to go. By breaking out of the subway tunnels, the game also offers a far greater range of environments to explore. The world itself is wonderful to experience with tons of little details to enjoy and just the right amount of horror to keep you on edge. The only downside is the gunplay, with weapons that are hard to aim and that feel like peashooters, but luckily the game adds a stronger stealth element that makes for a fine alternative. Exodus is an overall excellent experience that succeeds at nearly everything it attempts to achieve.
4.5 / 5
- Level design is excellent
- Worldbuilding makes exploration worthwhile
- Stealth gameplay is simple but fun
- Horror elements remain an absolute thrill
- Guns don’t feel great to shoot
- Minor technical issues
The reviewer spent approximately 22 hours leaving the Metro and exploring new lands in Russia before finally seeing the credits roll. He earned an unknown number of achievements as they were hidden at the time of publishing. The game was played on an Xbox One X.