Emerge from Moscow’s horrific and oppressive metro system out into post-nuclear Russia and beyond aboard the train “Aurora.”
The Metro series is well known for its compelling linear storytelling, dark, claustrophobic tunnels, precious resource gathering, deep emphasis on stealth and vicious mutated creatures hellbent on tearing you to shreds. Developer 4A Games have built on their previous titles, releasing Exodus with a lot of original features, while adding new, large open-world sandbox areas to get lost in. Ammo retention is an absolute must, and a couple of new monsters all await you in this fresh new direction for the series.
Since Metro Exodus’s release a week ago, I’ve been playing it on-and-off, trying not to skip around areas and to soak up as much of the atmosphere as possible. That may sound contradictory to what it’s like to play both previous titles in the series, mostly because of the linear trajectory you take to reach the end of a chapter, but here, there is a lot more game than I initially thought.
I will have to say straight up, the story is probably around 20 hours long, however, with the addition of these new, larger free-roam areas, it will take you another 10-15 hours at least to collect everything, and explore all there is on offer – you’ll want to take your time.
That being said, my play-through wasn’t rushed at all; taking my time exploring the areas, usually getting jumped by a pack of monsters all in a hunt to find those precious crafting resources. I, as a gamer, have that habit of arriving in a new area, locating all the “points of interest” and collectables, then occasionally dabbling in the storyline. Similar to how a vast majority play Skyrim or Fallout.
Here, you can just get lost in Russia’s multiple wastelands having ventured off to that tall, decrepit building way off in the distance. When next thing you know, you’re at the other end of the map two hours later having run into bandits or ghouls somewhere along the way. There is freedom, while still presenting a linear trajectory.
So, without spoiling the story too much, you play again as Artyom, recently self-relinquished from the Spartan Order, who now, continuously returns to the irradiated surface of Moscow, fixated on finding life outside of the underground metro system.
On one such expedition to the surface with wife Anna, a functioning train is spotted travelling through the city. Inevitably, the pair are captured, along with individuals claiming to be from a town hundreds of kilometres outside of Moscow. With Colonel Miller and the Spartan soldiers, Artyom and Anna embark on an epic journey to find new life atop the surface.
And with that, the crew of the “Aurora” travel the whole of an in-game year, traversing all four seasons, spread throughout across many unique locations and differing play styles to suit the changing weather.
On the way, you will encounter differing foes, and being a train, many mechanical incidents may occur, not to mention rivalling factions controlling the exact tracks you travel on. It is a grand voyage Artyom and the crew of the “Aurora” embark on, and the way you interact with the world and your decision making will directly impact the crew and the final ending of the story.
The gameplay itself centres around a handful of large areas, free for you to explore at your leisure, collecting ammo, crafting parts and the occasional upgrade for your suit that alters things like the flashlight, ammo capacity and your mask’s strength and filters.
The environments you will encounter range from a lush forest nestled next to a dammed lake, where you’ll undoubtedly hear herds of wolves before you see them. A dank frozen river section where cultists reside, while you’re busy avoiding a man-eating catfish. Also, a sandy desert teaming with mutant zombie-like creatures in the midst of blinding sandstorms will have you scrambling for the nearest shelter.
Neatly woven throughout these open worlds are the classic, anxiety invoking, monster-infested, dark and gloomy corridors that the Metro series is well renowned for. Whether it be avoiding a firefight by stealthily sneaking past a group of human guards in utter darkness, or frantically charging your flashlight as it diminishes to ward off spider-like creatures deep within a bunker, is essentially what makes 4A Game’s version of survival horror so damn good.
Where the main questline is concerned, you can tackle it whenever you like, and upon opening up the map, you will see that there is quite a large distance between you and the quest marker – so why not explore that damaged house over there. There is always something of interest on the map, which I think is quite brilliant; Assassins Creed Odyssey had a million question marks littered throughout the map, but none were really worth going after.
In Exodus, you actually NEED resources. Like all the time. Straying off the obvious path, in my opinion, is 100% required! So, when venturing off to look at those “points of interest”, they're likely monster nests where pretty decent loot can be found, a bandit hideout with a couple of guys, or possibly a safe area where you can rest and craft materials or change-out some weapon attachments.
Now, on to the weapons. You have access to three guns, all of which can be modded on the fly with the new backpack system. Similar to how the Crysis trilogy handled their weapon modifications, and more recently, Homefront: The Revolution.
With old favourites like the AK variant “Kolash”, the manually pressurised pneumatic rifle “Tikhar” and semi-auto shotgun “Shambler”, there is enough variety here to take your time and figure out which weapon combinations suit you. New to the Exodus is the silent crossbow “Helsing” and punchy bolt-action rifle “Valve”.
With an available arsenal this large, and mid-gunfight modding at the press of a putton, a simple single-shot handgun can become a formidable silenced sniper rifle, or if you are running low on health or gas mask filters, they can be crafted in an instant.
Exploring abandoned areas and killing human enemies nets you new weapon mods from differing stocks to extended and silenced barrels, as well as varying optics and magazine sizes. The more mods you have, the stronger you will be in a firefight.
I’ll advise you now, TRY AND AVOID AS MANY FIREFIGHTS AS YOU CAN. Ammo isn’t necessarily scarce if you’re frequently exploring, but it is extremely precious and can be wasted quickly on the smallest crowd of enemies. Headshots reign supreme, and on console (PS4), are a challenge to line-up consistently.
Furthermore, stealth should be the main way in which you tackle encounters because human AI aren’t stupid when the bullets start flying. They’re typical routine-AI when there is a large room of them, and can be handled one at a time no problems; a hint in a load screen suggests throwing knives, and yes, they are a massive advantage when sneaking around quietly.
As for monsters, in large groups, they can overwhelm and frustratingly kill you very quickly. They are also attracted to sound, so shotgunning a mutant in the face will attract all his buddies, and those things do not go down without a fight.
What has made the Metro series so immersive in the previous games has been the feeling that you ARE Artyom, and you are living his life, seeing everything through his eyes and actions.
Be that struggling through the dark tunnels of the metro with a minute left on your gas mask filter, or getting captured by bandits and escaping, having only seven bullets left, knifing them all in the throat on the way out.
It’s that atmosphere of not knowing what’s around the next corner, tentatively listening for what may jump out of the dark and attack you. Conserving as much ammo and resources as you can before finding a safe place to reload or craft some more valuable filters for your mask.
All this is here in the new Metro Exodus game, and I think 4A and Deep Silver have created an even better version of Merto 2033 and Metro: Last Light, with more sophistication through the addition of open-world areas blended with a solid storyline, while still incorporating features that were so rich and entertaining in the previous titles.
Graphics weren’t particularly the best I’ve seen in a video game, but sound was spot on. I highly advise playing with headphones because the world is so vibrant and the whole environment is always alive. Weapons sound and feel amazing. They are so meaty, and time to kill is satisfyingly quick, and human enemies aren’t just bullet sponges.
You’ll die a lot if you don’t plan your attacks ahead of time, and loading screens between deaths were frustratingly long. That disjointedness from getting lost in the worlds and thus forgetting about the main storyline can be a little annoying, but I think that may have been who I am as a gamer.
In a generation where Battle Royale and Online Co-op seem to be taking over, single player, narrative-driven games don’t gather as much praise as they deserve. Red Dead Redemption 2 is an excellent advocate for that example, and I believe here, Metro Exodus presents a tense, immersive survival horror FPS that is well worth any person’s time.
Lastly, I don’t particularly believe you need to play any of the previous titles to understand what’s going on. The world has experienced nuclear fallout, and there are some crazy-arse monsters that will rip your face off – all you have to do is survive.
Cover image from: https://www.microsoft.com/en-au/p/metro-exodus/c48tlvq2rqrs?activetab=pivot%3Aoverviewtab
Copyright © Will Boddy 2019