Over my 7 years as an active gamer, I have spent nearly 1500 hours roaming the scorched wastelands of Fallout, the barren hills of The Long Dark, and the bombed out back alleys of This War of Mine. Thus, it should come as no surprise to anyone, when I say that Metro Exodus had been my most anticipated title of 2019. And, as I’m thrilled to note, it does not disappoint. On the contrary. In this noxious cloud of bloated free-roamers and nondescript first person shooters, Metro Exodus stands as a fresh filter for one’s battered gas mask, 4A Games managing to fuse the two formats with unparalleled aptitude.
This high praise, however, contrasts my initial feelings. Ever since its E3 2018 reveal, I had worried about the game’s departure from the linear traditions of its predecessors. Worries further fueled by the relatively fresh memories of the Homefront brand, crashing and burning after an identical move. Granted, circumstances differed then. 2011’s Homefront having, directly or otherwise, left two studios and a seasoned publisher dead in its wake. Coincidentally, the very publisher that put Metro’s debut title on the store shelves, back in 2010. Furthermore, were I of a superstitious disposition, I would not be able to ignore the fact that both Homefront and Metro’s publishing rights originated at THQ, only to eventually end up in Deep Silver’s possession. Ultimately, though, my mind was put at ease, as 4A knocked it out of the park for the third time.
In the days prior to diving into Exodus, I played the first two Metros: 2033, and Last Light. Finishing both arduous campaigns on highest difficulty, left me hoping that this latest entry’s model shift, clearly meant to expand the franchise’s audience, wouldn’t mean series principal Artyom, has now become a veritable killing machine. And, thankfully, he has not. As per tradition, each new playthrough offers the player the option to tune things to 11. Should one choose to do so, the protagonist’s inherently vulnerable nature will inevitably shine through.
Start a mission, reach a certain point, FUCK UP ROYALLY, contemplate mistake, start over, adjust accordingly. An exercise repeated more than 30 times for one particular mission (personal preference- not a necessity). Seeing as how stealth is a highly viable strategy now (the V key knocks enemies out, instead of killing them), and there’s a much greater emphasis on whom one chooses to kill, and whom to spare, this action loop became the core of my playthrough.
4A Games manages to bring exquisite balance to the mix of action and down time. A much appreciated facet of the game, given how often the latter is overlooked in similar titles. It is pure joy for me to sit down, relax and listen to people’s stories in-between action-packed missions. Maybe eavesdrop on stranger’s radio conversation. Or play the guitar. And herein lies the crux of Metro Exodus. Albeit mostly a departure from the claustrophobic tunnels of the Moscow underground, I don’t see the game’s open environment as a betrayal of the franchise secret sauce. Exodus suffers no shortage of unnerving darkness, terrifying encounters and exhilarating set pieces. Of course with a dramatic soundtrack to match.
Some parts of the game, however, shine less bright. Key NPCs, for instance, have a ham-fisted habit of explaining whom one should avoid harming. Meanwhile, common human enemies display remarkable regularity in their proclamations of what they will do next and where. And it doesn’t take a franchise veteran to tell you that the Metro games have always shied from hand-holding. As a result, it’s bothersome to feel as though I’m suddenly considered too inept to figure out the AI’s movement patterns on my own. Something further compounded on, by the contrast of the previous games’ slightly more natural opponent behaviors.
Both game endings are deeply moving, and quite conclusive, serving to provide an exemplary sendoff to the trilogy. That’s as far as I’m willing to describe them, for fear of tempering their impact. They must be experienced first hand.
The Russian Fallout:
As for the general vibe of Exodus, and the franchise as a whole, I see this example spring up often, but I’m not too keen on calling Metro “The Russian Fallout”. To me this is akin to comparing War of the Worlds to Mars Attacks. They are antipodal examples of the same genre. Much like their cinematic and literary equivalents, Eastern European post-apocalyptic games are generally much more sombre than their trans-Pacific counterparts, and this game is no exception. In Exodus, the occasional moments of joy and happiness stand out so vividly, as they exist in stark contrast to the mood of the overarching story, which sees hopes raised and crushed on more than one occasion. As soon as the end objective appears in sight, the goal post quickly moves, further separating the Aurora from her final destination.
Being primarily an RPG aficionado, I can best describe the combat thusly: It’s not 2016 Doom, but it’s not Fallout 3 either. It’s much closer to the former. A definite step in the right direction, given player complaints about the shooting impact, particularly in 2033. Weapons boast a heft, and attachments have their pros and cons. For example, increased firepower usually comes with a weight penalty, which results in decreased stability.
The arsenal at one’s disposal, is marginally larger than those in the previous games. For a 2019 title, however, I would love to see a broader selection. It’s strange that a single 21st century weapon survived the war, all others either being examples and derivations of older models, or complete DIY implementations. I want to see unique one-off weapons with specific advantages and shortcomings.
But weapons don’t get all the love in Exodus. A new addition to the customization toolkit, comes in the shape of suit mods, which can enhance the capabilities of Artyom’s Spartan armor. These are much more rare, and are easy to miss, particularly by people playing without UI.
Beyond all this, I appreciate the ease of use of the mod and maintain mechanics. They are a welcome addition to the gameplay loop, rather than a flow-hampering obstacle. Just a tiny splash of believability, without plunging into tedious levels of realism. Spend a few units of chemicals whenever at a workstation, and your guns will never jam. Conversely, take bad care of them, and they will fail you when you need them most. Simple as that.
The game’s regions aren’t big, but the developer did a splendid job of making me feel insignificant traversing them. A major part of that can be attributed to the even-present danger of bumping into enemies. Mostly harmless on their own, yet formidable in numbers. But do not be misled. Even single enemies can bring about Artyom’s demise, if you’re not careful. Not to mention the formidable, sometimes seemingly invulnerable, bosses one must face throughout the story.
Another major positive stems from 4A’s decision to forgo littering the map with inconsequential collectibles and challenges, instead focusing on quality over quantity. Less activities, more polish. A large portion of the exploration and interaction happens for the purpose of story progression, and even boosting crew morale. A welcome break from the prevailing open world formula of the day, which encourages repetition and grind, in an attempt to raise the appeal of game monetization mechanics. Where there are collectibles in Exodus, the reason to collect them is justified by Artyom’s personal characteristic traits.
The list of supporting studios leads me to believe that scans of real places were used for some in-game locations. Overall, the game looks stunning. The environments, the weapon models, the lighting, the animations. Everything is on point, and masterfully optimized. The game’s first launch greeting me with an automatic settings configuration, which offered me a buttery-smooth high settings 1080p profile. For reference, my machine sports a GTX 1050Ti, Ryzen 5 1600X, and 16 gigabytes of DDR4 RAM. A pretty average gaming rig by any standard. So, kudos to the devs for their great optimization effort. Work which only continues to improve with every new patch release.
Add the conclusive endings to the fact that Dimitry Glukhovsky has stated he has no plans on writing any more Metro novels, and the prospect of another namesake game ever seeing the light of day becomes remote. As such, Metro Exodus will likely have to live on as the swan song of this decade-old franchise. A role it is more than able to perform.
A last minute addendum:
HMS Bad Taste