Review: Metro Exodus

Nearly 15 years after the first novel released in Russia, Metro has grown into a popular series the world over. Now on its third game, Metro Exodus represents another shift in the series as the journey our protagonists endure goes topside into the post-nuclear landscape of Russia. Riding on a train bound for a safe haven with little direction, this change in the environments put a new challenge onto the plate of longtime Metro developers, 4A Games. Let’s see if the drastic change in scenery bodes well for the franchise’s future.

Getting basically exiled from their home base in Moscow where the last two games took place, our hero Artyom and his ranger allies embark on an adventure by railroad to find a radiation-free area that they can start a new life in. Along with his wife, father-in-law, and a few other rag-tagalongs, the journey takes place basically over the course of a year as your party faces one tough spot after another. The Metro games have always placed priority in long first-person cutscenes between action and this is no different, just with a little self-aware levity on this third trip. While 2033 took itself seriously but came off unintentionally goofy, and Last Light ramped up this aspect more, Exodus goes full camp as characters joke constantly and make offhanded remarks regardless of the dire situations they’re in.

The voice cast features many staple voice actors you hear in games and anime, except with really obvious and sometimes obnoxious fake Russian accents. Fortunately, the game offers complete Russian voiceover for a more authentic experience, but the production value with the faux Russian was absurd and cartoony enough that I found it extremely endearing. The Metro games have prided themselves in their worldbuilding by having characters talk for literally three minutes sometimes about random things they’re considering, but unfortunately, a lot of it amounts to:

“I really hope the next area doesn’t have bandits.”
“I don’t think we can deal with more bandits.”
“We gotta try though.”

Rinse and repeat. There are occasional gems and you can enjoy some downtime with characters by drinking with them or even joining in on a guitar session, but as someone who’s sat through as much as they could, you’re not missing much (except a few achievements) by skipping them.

Like the last two, the game is dead set on having Artyom be completely silent during gameplay and only providing narration between loading screens. This enters the odd Half-Life-styled method of dialogue delivery where characters constantly talk around you and bluntly state what mood your character is supposed to be feeling. This makes some scenes carry on a bit too long too as your allies will walk at a snail’s pace along guided paths, letting loose every little errant thought they have while you just want them to follow you to the next objective.

Although indistinguishable at the start, I ended up enjoying every one of Artyom’s military buddies, and the game gives each of them enough spotlight that you may really care about them in the end like I did. While your wife, Anna, and your father-in-law, Miller, are still guilty of hamming up every scene they’re in, the dynamic of already being in a strong relationship from the start is a fresh take compared to other games where you’re either single and will eventually find a significant other or recovering from the tragic loss of one. I say this with the most praise possible: Metro Exodus has a PS2 game’s narrative and dialogue stuck in a game made with 2019 graphics and gameplay. If that sentence has some nostalgic appeal of a different era where presentation could be so corny, that it’s actually enjoyable, you’ll find something to love here.

Despite the various changes, Metro Exodus is still a Metro title at its core. Nearly everything in the game is delivered from the first person perspective, scary mutants/bandits are ready to pop up around every corner, ammo is a constant concern so stealth and scavenging is a priority, and one must pay attention to their mask filtration, among other things. Changes include the introduction of a crafting system, a day and night cycle that will affect enemy placement and behavior, and of course, the heavily promoted outdoor segments.

Since its debut last E3, 4A Games boasted that their new title would have large explorable sandboxes to break away from the linear and more Call of Duty-esque corridors from before. Taking itself out of dark tunnels filled with radiation with tiny smatterings of surface sections, Exodus features multiple and varied locations that range from marshlands to tundras to deserts (while still having some underground bunker bits). Where two of these large zones make up a majority of the game, the first hour is standard modern FPS fare that starts off a little too slow and the last third drops the openness completely for areas that were essentially the same scope as the first two titles… but just outdoors sometimes. This 20-hour pilgrimage runs easily double the length of the first two games, and while that objective length feels right for a full package, the unevenness of the campaign’s progression might still feel like its unfinished by the end.

The unexpected negative I encountered regarding the sandboxes is that they were a little too boring and barren. With no fast travel system, you’re constantly backtracking and outside of obvious setpieces that contained key upgrades; there was little reason to scavenge around since wasting oxygen/ammo on the local environment rarely panned out over what little you’d scrounge. The areas aren’t exactly conducive to traversal either as your short jump won’t help you get over obstacles that look passable but are blocked off with invisible walls, and sometimes the environments were so busy with waste that it was actually a little hard to navigate. The more linear marsh section towards the end of game actually seemed like the most polished, as the area felt built with multiple ways to sneak through and I wasn’t wasting 10 minutes seeking treasures off the beaten path that didn’t exist. Even locomotion itself fights with you as sometimes scaling down normal looking declines too fast will make your character trip and die instantly from fall damage… this happened more than once.

Since storefronts are removed, the crafting system is an addition that does aid greatly with the compensation of items/ammo you’re missing, but the two main resources, metal and chemicals, are still so hard-to-come-by that you can’t listlessly trounce through the game spraying and praying. There is a noticeable point in the middle of the game where you have more crafting materials than you know what to do with, but it greatly tapers off towards the end as I was very much down to my final cartridges of bullets for the finale.

Fortunately, for those who are concerned about the challenge, there are multiple difficulty choices including a much more narrative approach that turns the game into a cakewalk. If you lack ammo, sneaking (or blitzing at full speed) through each area is also a valid strategy and it’s actually the intended path if you want the good ending.

Akin to 2033 and Last Light, the game features two endings depending on your moral actions taken. In Exodus’ take on that, it means avoiding killing enemies whenever possible. Even ending the life of seemingly nondescript NPC grunts will trigger bad flags for some of your allies’ states by the finale. Since it’s not always clear whom you’re allowed to kill outside of some bandits and animals, this vagueness ends up being a little frustrating since your allies will guilt trip and chew you out for murder after the fact. Being pressured into this passive mode of play, while it’s more rewarding than just shooting everything, ends up undermining all the gun customization and maintaining you’re encouraged to engage with. The combat itself can be extremely challenging which makes surviving encounters worth it, but the lackluster AI skews the difficulty more towards the fact that you die in three or less hits moreso than them being able to tactically surround you. With every humanoid enemy, you’re given two prompts to either knock them out or kill them, but this sole component seems like a useless addition as there’s no benefit to the latter whatsoever since I never saw guards wake back up or come back to patrol on my return trips to old areas.

Metro Exodus’ environments look great, and its clear 4A could deliver environments that weren’t obscured in darkness. Details like the glass on your mask and the fabric on everyone’s bodies is a notch above other games, although, some of it might appear unnoticeable surrounded by the drab and decaying landscape expected of post-apocalyptic media. The framerate will take some hits on the console, but Metro continues to be a good benchmark for PC enthusiasts. The game boasts real-time raytracing that will kick in if you need something to test your new RTX video card on.

Even with the brighter disposition, Exodus can still be scary. Closed interiors with little lighting are very claustrophobic and often enemies pop out behind corners to ambush you. Players can acquire Night Vision fairly early in the game, but this actually adds a purposefully creepy REC/VHS-like aspect to the more zombie/rake-ish enemies that will crawl towards you, hungry for flesh. Another upgrade in the form of a motion sensor adds a tactical component as you’ll really need to pay attention to its ping and radar alongside everything else. There are multiple moments throughout the game where the sensor will go crazy to immediately alert you to the next messy situation you’ll soon find yourself surrounded in. Also, if you have a fear of spiders, Exodus is going to push your arachnophobia to the test. Those with weak legs to chitin-based life forms will want to avoid the game for various eight-limbed encounters that are forced upon you.

No surprise to veterans of the series, it’s a little important to point out that Exodus is packed to the brim with bugs and jankiness. Sometimes when you drown in water, it won’t load a prompt asking you to reload, characters will talk over each other in dialogue, the ability to switch weapons will sometimes disappear, and much more. My biggest hurdle with this game is the lack of multiple save slots. You’re given access to an Auto Save that triggers periodically and a Manual Quick Save that when chosen, won’t kick-in for a good three seconds after selecting it. Thus, it’s highly recommended not to do it in the middle of combat or while making a platforming jump, because if you reload, you might find yourself being shot to death before the load can even finish, or halfway through a leap and fall short.

At one point, I lost four hours of progress because I decided to check a hole that ended up being an instant death drop. Since the auto and quick saves both triggered while I was already halfway down the hole, I had to reload the whole Chapter of the game and redo every sidequest I already completed. This was my wholly my fault, but the lack of multiple save slots for a FPS in 2019 seems like a huge oversight.

Metro Exodus ultimately feels like it doesn’t really know what it wants to prioritize, and especially after all the hubbub of exploration that isn’t even that well implemented, that will still only make up half your playtime. However, what sold me on my adventure was very much the friends I made along the way and some decent environments that stood out from each other. It’s made very clear that Artyom is not doing all the work in the party and everyone else is contributing to their part of survival. This whole team plays out from start to finish in a very satisfying way if you are going for that good ending, and the resolution of Metro Exodus made it worth it. Most of the game is completely average and serviceable, but when the stealth and the story excel, it glows brightest.

7 out of 10 stars (7 / 10)


Rely on Horror Review Score Guide

A PC review copy was provided by the publisher. Metro Exodus was played on a Intel Core i7-8700K with a NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 on Ultra settings.

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