Metro: Exodus (Xbox One Review)
It’s been almost 6 years since I’d last traversed the winding, underground railway of Metro: Last Light and in that time never have I wondered if I’d ever return to those dark tunnels. Metro was deeply atmospheric, but never really stood out amongst the crowd. When E3 2017 came around and it premiered Metro: Exodus, I immediately questioned whether or not players needed this third installment. This time though, 4A Games had loftier ambitions that would extend beyond the cramped confines of underground Moscow to reach new heights.
As you’d probably expect from the third installment of a series, the stories prior carry forward. That being said, Some of Metro 2033 and Metro: Last Light’s story is left on the cutting room floor to pave way for a fresh story for new audiences. You play as Artyom, a well-respected and seasoned Spartan Ranger, wandering the harsh irradiated wastes of Moscow after a nuclear bomb ends World War 3. Artyom is an optimist; a believer in humanity and its ability to survive. With nagging thoughts of possible survivors outside the snowy walls of Moscow, Artyom rallies his Spartan comrades — and his wife Anna — to commandeer a train and make for the horizon. The key point to really grasp is that Artyom is the lead, the go-to guy, for all missions going forward with added support from his wife– the dyamic duo of post apocalypse Russia. There isn’t too much to about if you haven’t played Metro: Exodus‘ forbearers, but returning fans may be frustrated by questions unanswered.
If you haven’t played a Metro game before, then let me tell you, it’s a whole other breed of FPS. The Metro series is well known for its hardcore take on the post apocalypse. Ammunition is severely scarce, environments are almost too dark to see, and electricity is a rare commodity — often requiring the player to charge things with a hydraulic battery charger. It was a series for those seeking a truly handcrafted, narrative survival experience. However, Metro: Exodus bends the formula a little bit.
Gameplay comprised mainly of tight corridor shooting and scripted events, but now Exodus strips the series of its strict progressive nature to a more open-ended foray. Although, gameplay is not as free form as you might think. Upon completing the first few hours of Metro: Exodus you’re met with a barren wasteland, one which you must scavenge for gear and crucial quest items. You can venture off the beaten path and take in the sights or stick to the job. Regardless, Artyom’s objectives will take you to the corners of each map. Freedom of choice is merely down to whether or not you can be bothered to search areas a second time over — once for the loot and the second time for the quest item that spawned upon plot progression. And this theme carries on throughout. While I have to admit that the design of the open world and the detail therein creates an authentic experience that is nothing less than extraordinary, it’s all fairly shallow. All this is euphoric set dressing is a distraction from the less involved story, most of which is discussed during commutes from location to location.
Perfecting the open world formula is a mighty trick to pull off. All the pieces must fit and work in conjunction with one another, but Metro: Exodus’ draws a line in the sand and sets its own unique set of survival rules. Players must craft ammunition, health, and new weapons to survive the moment to moment gameplay which is easily done through Artyom’s multifaceted backpack. Resources aren’t scarce but you’ll need good eyesight to detect them. Unlike most other games, items don’t have a resonating glow about them to indicate they can be interacted with. At first glance all of the treasure blends right in with the junk of the world. Luckily there’s no need to manage thirst of hunger, which is a huge plus in my books, but you do need to carry around tools that need a lot of upkeep. Weapons need cleaning, your gas mask will often need sutured, and bullets need to be crafted using scrap parts. All of which can be done at a workbench. The workbench lets Artyom tinker with his weapons; adding scopes for increased accuracy or completely overhauling a weapon so that it becomes something new altogether. Your resources will be hard spent from the general upkeep of your gear and it’s all a real nuisance, but this helps compound the realism that Metro Exodus tries to simulate.
Lugging all of this equipment about comes at a cost and it’s not something you can’t actively affect. Artyom’s movements are downright sluggish and getting from A to B is a chore. Sprinting can alleviate the awkward pacing a bit, but reeds, grass, and shrubbery all tug at Artyom’s feet – causing him to periodically stumble. Turning left and right is just as bad too, especially in firefights. Controlling Artyom can often feel like maneuvering a crane: every action is a long weighty movement and it’s difficult to hit a moving target. While the wasteland is filled to the brim with all manner of creatures, the real danger comes from the environment itself. Radioactive hotspots burden your every move while poisonous gas blocks vital supplies. The worst culprit is Artyom’s inability to drop down from a waist high ledge without hurting himself. A simple fall which should result in no worse than a sprained ankle will see Artyom buckle over and die. The only thing I used to fear was getting caught off guard by a mob of mutants, but now gravity seems to be my ultimate foe. Survival is at the forefront of Metro: Exodus but it’s sensibilities when it comes to gameplay are obviously somewhere else.
The hostile environment isn’t the only thing out to get you. Creatures known as Watchers will gang up like a pack of hyenas, flying Demons can sweep down from above for a quick strike, and large mutated bears are ready for their next meal — most of them can easily be avoided in the more spatial set pieces. However, there are times where combat cannot be avoided. Wandering off the beaten path, at least as much as you can do, to find extra ammo or health can result in an ambush. Triggering a fight in this circumstance will see you fight of waves of human and non-human enemies, most of which will now take the surplus of supplies you went out your way to fin. Thanks to these frequent ambushes it feels like there is a completely off balance risk versus reward system. In the end, there is little need to go out of your way to nab supplies only for you to have to use them in the pickle you’ve gotten yourself into. I’d often then just stick to my own intuition and go only where I needed to and hope I had more than enough gear to get me by.
If you do opt to avoid upgrading your gear, Metro: Exodus offers an alternative approach to combat in the form of stealth. Anyone who has played Metro 2033 or Metro: Last Light will know that the stealth gameplay isn’t really up to snuff; detection is a finicky thing. In Exodus, Artyom has a nifty wristwatch that will illuminate if he is in a lighted area, letting the player know they are open to being spotted. If not, then Artyom is one with the scenery and enemies become visually impaired. The whole stealth system relies on whether your watch is lit up or not, there is no gradual build up to when a guard spots you. It feels binary. Being spotted is an instant alert to the entire world, forcing you to restart from a save or go in guns blazing. Stealth takedowns are imprecise and don’t always activate and even when an area is fully dark your wristwatch could state you are lit up like the sun, resulting in instant detection. Unfortunately, Metro Exodus has an unseen morality system which is inexplicably tied to its stealth based gameplay, meaning if you want to get the best ending possible you best avoid most, if not all, firefights whenever possible. Killing even the most convicted and inhumane men can make a dent in Artyom’s overall virtue. This means lots of loading old save files, which is a huge encumbrance thanks to loading times of several minutes depending on the level. Metro: Exodus’ over-reliance on stealth is its downfall. Prior to Exodus, stealth never was a Metro series strong suit and doubling down hurts playability as a whole.
Metro: Exodus is a very practical evolution of the Metro franchise. If I were to take a guess at what direction Metro: Exodus would take prior to its first reveal, then I’d have said exactly this. The thing is, it just doesn’t work as well in action as it did in theory. The open world is fantastically realised and the crafting is on its own level, but trudging around for parts just isn’t all that exciting. The story is nestled in hamfisted transitional loading screens and the overdependence on stealth — and Artyom having the finesse as a bag of bricks — seals Exodus’ fate for me. Metro: Exodus is very much someone’s cup of Zavarka, but it just isn’t mine.