Metro Exodus turned heads when it was first announced at Microsoft's E3 2017 press conference with a gameplay presentation that led many to believe it would be an open world take on the franchise. While that's not exactly true, Metro Exodus does blend open world elements with the Metro shooter/stealth formula to varying degrees of success.
In Metro Exodus, silent hero Artyom leaves his home in the Moscow metro tunnels to explore the nuclear-ravaged world with his wife Anna, her father Miller, and a ragtag group of soldiers and tinkerers. The group travels from one large area to the next by train, with Artyom able to explore these relatively large areas as he pleases. Being out in the open is a pretty stark departure from past Metro games, and it comes at the cost of the excellent atmosphere and claustrophobic feelings that the other two games in the series were able to capture.
Metro Exodus largely turns its back on its horror roots, though that's not an inherently bad thing. It doesn't exactly feel like previous Metro games because of it, but what's presented here in terms of story and tone is fine in its own right. While the story has no shortage of grim moments and some situations are downright bleak, Metro Exodus is bizarrely optimistic for a Metro game, allowing it to tell a different kind of story.
Metro Exodus is all about hope, with the main cast of characters all looking to start a new life above ground, and plays out like a road movie as they explore post-apocalyptic Russia on the Aurora train. They will meet new allies and improve their train along the way, which offers a satisfying sense of progression, as does the changing seasons.
Metro Exodus tells an expertly paced story that is constantly moving forward, rarely wasting time with filler or pointless distractions to pad out its length like other games tend to do. Almost everything Artyom does in the main story missions has a purpose, and benefits his group in clear ways so that the missions don't feel like time-wasting busywork.
While the story itself is consistently entertaining, Metro Exodus's narrative isn't without its problems. Most of the characters have personalities that are indistinguishable from one another, with Artyom's only defining personality trait being the fact that he never talks. Despite Metro Exodus having the largest script in series history, friendly soldiers are so bland that it's virtually impossible to care about anything that happens to them, good or bad.
It is possible to have some extra interactions with these characters by visiting the train between missions, and these brief chats do offer the characters a chance to stand out. What's interesting is that these characters will actually react realistically to what Arytom is doing; for example, if Miller gives Artyom an order but the player just stands there, he will get annoyed and start yelling for him to leave. Players can choose to ignore these optional interactions, but they go a long way in fleshing out some of the characters, particularly when it comes to Artyom's wife Anna. Experiencing their relationship is a highlight of the experience, and players are robbing themselves of some of the game's best written and most engaging scenes if they opt out of these little moments.
One downside to this is Artyom's status as a silent protagonist makes some of these scenes feel a little awkward. Other characters even remark on how quiet Artyom is all the time, which draws extra attention to that fact. Silent protagonists aren't always a bad thing, but in Metro Exodus, the silent protagonist makes some scenes goofy instead of as emotionally powerful as they otherwise would have been.
Goofy scenes are another problem when it comes to Metro Exodus's story. There are some moments in the middle of the game, which we won't spoil here, that are absolutely ridiculous, and the ensuing chaos is far more hilarious than it is scary. Some story developments feel too similar to other post-apocalyptic stories, like Mad Max and even The Walking Dead, and come across as derivative as a result. This is a shame because despite the Metro series being part of the crowded post-apocalyptic genre, it always felt original and fresh compared to similar games and media.
While Metro Exodus is a departure from the series norms in terms of some plot developments and the semi-open world areas, the core gameplay is actually very reminiscent of past games in the series. Players are encouraged to be stealthy whenever possible, sneaking up on enemies by sticking to the dark and choosing to either kill them or knock them out when getting close enough. Metro Exodus isn't very innovative with its stealth mechanics, and at this point, they're starting to feel a bit dated, but they still get the job done.
When players aren't able to take the quiet approach, they can often shoot their way out of any tough situations. Shooting in Metro Exodus is a highlight of the the game. Guns feel heavy, with booming sound effects that are almost startling. Weapon accuracy deteriorates if players don't regularly clean their weapons, and players are also able to equip a variety of attachments to their guns to make them even deadlier. It's fun to explore the open world areas for gun parts, as improving one's weapon in the game is a genuinely rewarding experience.
Besides having to clean and upgrade their weapons, Metro Exodus players also have to swap their air filter when needed, fix their gas mask, and recharge the battery for their flashlight. On higher difficulties, these tasks add stress and tension that enhance the experience, and combined with the weapon management, really help players become immersed in the game.
Metro Exodus players may want to consider starting out on a lower difficulty, by the way, even if they're veterans of the franchise. Success in the game largely depends on if players have enough crafting materials to craft the first-aid kits and ammo they need to get through any given area, and there is a period at the start where these crafting materials are virtually nonexistent. This makes the first few hours of the game particularly challenging, even when compared to later stages when there are more enemies to deal with and deadly traps to watch out for. Things aren't so bad once players get over this hump and have plenty of places to loot for crafting materials, but it definitely takes some time to do so. And then it becomes almost too easy, and we would recommend players increase the difficulty accordingly.
On even the Normal difficulty setting, Metro Exodus's enemies aren't playing around. Artyom can die in just a few shots from humans and a handful of vicious swipes from mutants, making each combat encounter that much more thrilling. Everything is a threat, especially early on when resources are limited, and players will find themselves in some heart-pounding situations as a result.
The one downside to the otherwise great combat is the game's checkpoint system. Metro Exodus players have to either manually save whenever possible or rely on the auto-checkpoint system that will give them a checkpoint, even if they're in the middle of a firefight. There was one especially annoying instance where we had successfully made it past all the guards in an area and then had to turn a valve. No one had spotted us, and so we assumed the coast was clear. But suddenly Artyom's back was riddled with bullets, and we died just as the game gave us a checkpoint. This trapped us in a death loop that forced us to load an older save and restart a portion of the game. Luckily, Metro Exodus lets players manually save almost whenever they want, and so situations like this can be avoided if players are privy to it and remember to save often.
Metro Exodus suffers from some other issues as well, including unresponsive buttons when trying to loot enemies, the occasional unlocked door simply refusing to open, and long load times. We also noticed NPCs clipping through objects and some noticeable texture pop-in at certain points of the game, at least on console. None of this was game-breaking, though, and perhaps would've been less noticeable in a game that wasn't so visually impressive.
Metro Exodus is stunning, and we found ourselves just stopping to look at and admire the game world on more than one occasion. The game world is brilliantly designed, and the changing seasons give it some much needed variety that can't be found in the other Metro games. It's interesting to see how the game world changes from one season to the next, and based on our time with the game, players can experience it all with virtually no frame rate dips, screen-tearing, or slowdown of any kind.
Metro Exodus's gorgeous visuals are somewhat undermined by the NPC clipping issues and texture pop-in, and one has to wonder if those issues would have been ironed out had the game spent some more time in the oven. But even though its technical issues, lack of genuine horror, and bland cast make it fall short of its predecessors, Metro Exodus is still a decent mix of the franchise's traditional stealth/shooter gameplay and a semi-open world environment, with some truly stellar graphics to boost.
Metro Exodus launches on February 15 for PC, PS4, and Xbox One. Game Rant was provided a PS4 code for this review.