Having gotten an extensive hands-on with the game earlier last month, I’ve been patiently awaiting the next entry in the Metro franchise; despite me having never played a Metro title before, I was extremely excited to jump onboard the Aurora and begin my entry into Artyom’s struggle for survival…
…And boy, what a glorious struggle it is.
Metro Exodus, developed by 4A Games and published by Koch Media, is the third title in the long-running dual-media franchise Metro, having encompassed both the medium of novel and game, it’s become a long journey for poor Artyom and his companions as they delved into the Moscow metro system to survive the mass nuclear war that devastated much of Russia in 2013. Upon surfacing and exploring the ruins of the old world, Artyom and his wife, Anna, discover an armoured train known as ‘The Aurora’, alongside a radio jammer that has concealed the whole of Moscow from the rest of the world’s radio communications.
Due to the rest of the world surviving in some capacity, and the very real threat of the ongoing war of 2013 – that of which was previously thought to have concluded over 20 years ago – Artyom and the rest of his colony are forced to evacuate Moscow via the Aurora, travelling across the frozen wastes of Russia in an attempt to reach Mount Yamantau to regroup with what is believed to be the last remnants of the Russian government in order to seek salvation, and search for a new place to call home.
It’s certainly a story with a lot of meat to its bones, and thankfully is one that any person, new to the series or a franchise veteran, can hop into at any point – Diving into the story of Metro Exodus, I never felt overwhelmed or massively confused by the characters, their struggles or their goals – Yes, these people do have connections to one-another and have had their run-ins, but not too much of it seems required to fully understand – and enjoy – the story. Metro works exceptionally well to blend the world, characters and settings together to create memorable instances and moments; meeting Crest atop his excavator-turned-camp whilst fending off mutated zombie-like creatures, journeying to the arid wastelands of the dried up Caspian Sea and being raided by Mad Max-esque bandits riding in monstrously modified trucks, and journeying with Anna cautiously around the wastes all serve as enjoyable moments, despite their somewhat minor parts to play in the game’s overall narrative – You feel like you’re out there, in the Russian wastes, surviving with these people and fighting to the death at a hair’s string; it’s leagues above the caricatures and somewhat jovial natures of many of Fallout’s NPC’s, in my opinion.
Speaking of things this game does better than Fallout, the combat is another big step-up from many other post-apocalyptic FPS titles I’ve played in a decent while – Guns clam up with mud and dirt upon trudging through puddles and ditches; ammo needs to be scavenged or crafted through extremely limited supplies; gas masks need to be equipped to prevent damage to your lungs via dust or toxins, and radiation must be avoided and mitigated to not drop dead in the middle of combat – There’s a lot to take in initially, which can prove a bit cumbersome, however in its complexity is a fairly easy-to-understand set of controls that boil down to a set of basics – A set of basics, note, that feel refined and required as opposed to a mass of systems implemented in an effort to become immersive, but end up getting in the way (Looking at you, weight limits in Fallout…); in many ways, by focusing on it’s smaller systems, and the relationship between it and the world, Metro ends up becoming a wonderfully immersive experience that feels like survival.
This is helped further through the creative and downright horrifying designs of some of the monsters and world that they inhabit – Dark corridors and murky wetlands fill most of Metro’s landscape, giving a feeling of claustrophobia even in the largest of locales – Prowling predators far larger and stronger than yourself roam around the world, actively hunting you and employing pack tactics to snuff you; mutated monstrosities such as giant bats and ghouls flank you at every chance, and your general lack of supplies, healing serums and ammunition help to amplify that feeling of horror; one section that has notably stuck with me was when I was tasked with retrieving a set of records from an underground base in the arid Caspian Sea, which seemed simple enough… Until I found out that the whole complex was not only flooded with sand, dark as all hell and crumbling all around me, but it was also inhabited by a multitude of mutated, sunlight-fearing giant spider nests. Yeah, fuck that.
Metro effortlessly blends ambient and aesthetic horror into post-apocalyptic survivalist themes, much like how it blends its mechanics for the sake of immersion, and it’s truly something special – Saying that, however, it isn’t without its flaws – Some of the ambient animations for things like opening your map, changing your mask and opening your backpack are long and drawn-out, and having opened my map one-too-many times out in the open wastes, I’ve died far too many times to a pack of wild mutants than I’d like to care for – Yes, it is immersive, but it’s also annoying! Another complaint sits with some of the stealth – Light plays a large role in Metro Exodus’ gameplay, however the distinction between ‘being in the light’ and ‘not being in the light’ seems incredibly situational – There have been times where I’ve been in the open, in the dark, hiding behind a pillar as an enemy walks past without a single whisper or complaint for them, and then there are times where I’m in pitch black darkness and am spotted from a decent few metres away by a guy with no torch, with no light source around me; this isn’t helped by the fact that the light indicator on Artyom’s gauntlet only has two states – Detectable and undetectable; there is no middle-ground as you’d expect to hint at you becoming more visible; nope, it’s just a simple “there’s an invisible light line; cross it and you get spotted” system.
All in all, Metro Exodus is a masterclass in building horrific and claustrophobic ambient tension, and uses every trick in the book to make it as effective as possible; the gunplay is fantastic, the additional systems surrounding the gameplay are exceedingly immersive, if a bit cumbersome, and the characters and world are enthralling and interesting enough to really care about them and their struggles.
I give Metro Exodus a: