Back in February of 2019, after a bit of public controversy, developer 4A Games released the third title in the Metro series of games based on the literary work of Dmitry Glukhovsky: Metro Exodus. Blending the utilitarian playability of a first-person shooter with the cinematic appeal of a survival-horror, and sprinkling in a dash of stealth mechanics, Metro Exodus is well-equipped for the task of bringing the acclaimed novels to life. If you haven’t played Metro Exodus yet, now is a good time to get caught up on why you should.
Developer: 4A Games
Producer: Deep Silver
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows PC, Google Stadia
Initial Release: February 15, 2019 (PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows PC), November 19, 2019 (Google Stadia)
MSRP: $39.99 (PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows PC)
In case you haven’t played previous entries and are simultaneously unfamiliar with the novels, the Metro series takes play in a world ravaged by nuclear winter. The last vestiges of civilization have clung to life in the relative safety of the tunnels of Moscow’s metro system; 247 miles (400 km) of rails buried up to 275 ft (84 meters) underground connected by 232 stations, many of which were designed as nuclear fallout shelters.
The Moscow Metro is a veritable underground nation unto itself, and it serves the perfect setting for the series, which is undoubtedly what Glukhovsky had in mind while penning his books.
For years, Russia has been a wasteland full of mutant abominations and other terrors of the dark. Civilization lies on the brink of extinction, and there is little hope of ever returning to the surface. Life in in the Metro has a perpetual dark and dreadful tension, which serves as the backdrop for the series’ survival horror elements.
The notion of going above ground is considered by all to lie between fanciful and delusional, with monsters lurking 24/7 and threatening to infiltrate into the tunnels themselves. If the monstrosities don’t kill you, the radiation will. Survivors are content to simply be alive, scrounging for food in their disparaging world of tunnels, hovels of garbage, and meals of mushrooms and irradiated “meat”.
One man, however, not only has the will to live outside, but believes that he is not alone–that there are others who have survived beyond the safety of the Metro. His name is Artyom.
On a train dubbed the Aurora, Artyom, his wife, and a small band of soldiers leave the Metro, entering upon a world now alien and grotesque. Resources are scarce, civilization scarcer, and day and night bring their own dangers. Everything is an uphill battle and without a strong will you will not last.
In creating an atmosphere true to its designation as a member of the survival horror genre, Metro Exodus excels. The same bleak, doom laden atmosphere that pervaded the books will have you feeling vulnerable and paranoid throughout the whole game.
In the dark, abandoned ruins of Moscow, ghouls catatonically await the sound of your arrival. In the fields, packs of hideous canids hunt. In the bogs, fish the size of Buicks threaten to tip your boat and rip you to shreds, and arthropods eight feet tall slide ominously into the toxic waters to scavenge your remains. In the air, humanoid bat creatures threaten to swoop down and drag you away.
Metro Exodus is visually astounding. Anything it might lack in raw graphical prowess, and it lacks very little, is made up by meticulously detailed levels and viscerally terrifying enemies.
From the snow laden bogs and embankments of the Volga river, to the barren Ryn Desert of the Caspian Sea, and the coniferous forests of the Taiga, every area in Metro Exodus feels exceptionally unique. Each area is a self-contained ecosystem, like its own little planet, complete with idiosyncratic environments and the individual hazards that accompany them.
The game is not open-world, as many had speculated way back before the game’s release, but instead seamlessly moves through linear and non-linear levels as the narrative demands. Many of the areas act as sandboxes, large open areas that are still fully explorable, but that are chained together as the game’s story progresses.
They are as beautiful as they are deadly, but what makes the world of Metro Exodus really stand out are the details in how you interact with it. There is no HUD, and your primary means of navigation are a compass, a hand-drawn map, and a pair of binoculars. Everything is done the old fashioned way. You feel like a pioneer in a new world, even if it is built atop the old one.
There are other small details that really make you feel like you’re in the environment. Visor effects, like raindrops or condensation from your own breath, can cloud your vision, and you’ll be forced to manually clear your view with the L1 button. Weapons and equipment can get dirty as you traverse through muddy water and dirty forests, degrading their performance and forcing you to maintenance them.
At every turn, Metro Exodus capitalizes on opportunities to make you feel like you’re really there.
Artyom writes the latest itinerary on the back of his map, which you can defer to when you get lost. That areas are large enough to get lost in is of note, given its not an open-world. You will still
want need to explore.
Much can be missed by not listening to what saved hostages might say or not heeding the locations your crew points out in dialogue. All of Russia has secrets to find, interesting sights to behold, and insights on the past-and-present state of things.
Your actions have subtle consequences: Not saving a hostage might mean you never discover an area. Not exploring an area may deprive you of a teammate. Most of your travel is by foot off of the Aurora, but there are segments where you will travel by boat or by car to cover large distances.
There are no shops out here. The only ammo and health you get is what you make from scraps and what you get off killing human enemies. Turn off the lights to shroud in the shadows, throw cans to distract, and make the most out of the thugs to keep your stock up.
You will want to save ammo. You will frequently find yourself trapped in places where the enemies literally fall out of the ceiling and slide out of the walls. Recklessness ends in death; doubly so as the AI powering your enemies is, as the name suggests, intelligent.
Human enemies will communicate and work together to flank you, and creatures will stalk you patiently waiting for their opportunity. There are periods of run-and-gun fighting, but that’s not how most of Metro Exodus will play out. Stealth is key in this game; stealth, and a healthy awareness of your surroundings.
Keep in mind that day and night offer opportunities for strategizing. In the day, human enemies are more active, and at night, monsters are out and about in much larger numbers. Infiltrating a base holding hostages is best accomplished at night, while travelling long distances is best saved for the daytime.
In addition to the day/night cycle, the game also sports a variety of weather effects from dust storms and fog, to rain and snow storms. Because the game requires both awareness and stealth, these weather patterns can have a significant effect on how you approach a given situation, altering the shape of gameplay.
Fairly early into the game you’ll receive a backpack, affording you an impromptu workbench with which you can make medkits, gas filters, and modify your guns. Different parts will give them different attributes, allowing you to tailor your weapons to the specific battle you’re headed into.
It has limits, mind you. As we mentioned, you’ll need to clean your guns or they will jam during a fight, and you’ll need to make ammo–for obvious reasons. For these, you will have to go to workbenches in safe spots, as your portable workstation is ill-equipped for the task.
The game is not without its flaws. There are varying bugs depending on which platform you’re playing on. Clipping is an issue, as getting stuck on stuff or tumbling into spots from which you cannot escape can happen on any platform. Sometimes, the only way out is to bounce a grenade off your own forehead.
In the PC version, there have been bouts of choppy framerate and outright crashes. In the PS4 version, loading times can be comically sluggish. Hit detection gets flimsy too, with bullets flying uselessly through an enemy’s head or torso.
In terms of narrative, rather than reaching absolution, the game grinds to a halt like the emergency brakes on a train. A fitting end for what is unlikely to be the final game in the series. Depending on your actions, you could get a variety of endings, but one thing remains constant: Despite the trials and tribulations, there is life outside of the Metro. One day, civilizations will rise again, wars will commence, and life will move on.
That Metro Exodus is already a year old bears almost no impact on its quality. Sure, February 2019 was a long time ago and we’re a little late to the party here, but good things are worth waiting for. Metro Exodus is an phenomenal game that combines many aspects of several genres, weaving them into an spectacular, if occasionally inelegant, tapestry. We highly recommend picking up this title, especially now that it can be found for a bargain.