The Metro series has all the makings of a classic. A unique perspective, intriguing lore, philosophical questions and immense attention to detail are a integral part of it’s makeup. However, it’s a series that’s not quite broken through to the mainstream. Metro Exodus takes everything that makes the series special and applies a coat of polish to it that could very well, finally, make it appeal to a wider audience.
Metro Exodus immediately makes you sit up and take notice with it’s visuals. The E3 announcement wasn’t just for show, Metro Exodus does indeed look as stunning as it did during this reveal. Textures are dripping with detail, animations are smooth and lifelike, and the lighting truly brings it all to life. It’s remarkable good looking. Moreover, it’s runs splendidly, with no slowdown, stuttering, screen tearing or copious load times, it’s a visual milestone on console that shows no compromises in performance (on the Xbox One X).
This visual fidelity results in environments that immerse you deeply. Metro has always been a series with huge attention to detail; every inch of the environment contains relevant items and clues to the greater world, weapons and equipment look appropriately ramshackle and tired, as well as realistically aged, modified and reconstituted, now this detail is even sharper and prettier, making post apocalyptic Russia absolutely fascinating to explore.
And indeed exploration is large part of the experience, despite a linear narrative driving you along at a delightfully fast pace, large, open areas are available for you to get a little lost in, discover materials, monsters and side quests that can keep you busy and distracted from the critical path for hours.
In a break from previous Metro titles, Metro Exodus lives up to it’s name and leaves the Metro area behind, allowing you to experience a much wider variety of environments. From the dilapidated, snowy streets of Moscow you make your way through swamps, vast structures and even a desert, with each one providing a wonderfully different visual treat and twists to the narrative. Furthermore, each area has it’s own unique elements for you to enjoy which shakes up the experience a little, from slowly rowing boats through swampy waters to fast-paced action through a labyrinthine bunker, and more. It’s well-designed to provide just enough variety to the core gameplay loop to keep you engaged through mission structures and crafting options that don’t really change that much.
Much like previous Metro titles, stealthily creeping around and knocking out or murdering foes is the order of the day, with the option to go noisy if you fancy some more action, or you get spotted. Crafting, meanwhile, couldn’t be simpler. Materials are generously strewn around every location allowing you to fix equipment and weapons, modify weapons and create more ammo. It’s a system that fits the post apocalyptic setting while remaining intuitive. It’s also one of the few times you’ll experience anything that really feels like a traditional game; in combat and general exploration, a lack of a HUD and smart visual cues on your equipment makes the whole experience hugely immersive.
When reloading or switching weapons you’ll see weapon icons and ammo counts in the bottom right corner, but it quickly fades away. Meanwhile, damage is indicated by blood and darkening around your vision as well as audio panting and groaning. It’s spectacularly realistic and immersive. You’ll need to wipe the glass of your face mask as it gets dirty or wet to maintain your vision, put the mask on and off depending on the radiation indicator on your wrist, charge the torch as it dims, reload your weapons as they jam, cower from the bright mussel flashes when you’re fired upon and witness brutal scraps in first-person when you’re thrown to the ground by aggressive mutated monsters. With the aforementioned remarkable visual fidelity and this lack of a HUD, Metro Exodus comes alive and pulls you in like few other titles do.
However, there is of course a downside to this immersion. It can be difficult to tell how close to death you really are, moreover, as you’re learning the controls this can lead to moments of frustration when you’re pressing every button trying to figure out how to turn you map over and see the current objective, for example. For the most part, prompts will appear on screen to give you a helping hand early on, and after some experimentation it soon becomes second nature, but with how punishing Metro Exodus can be, the hesitations and fumbling can lead to some unfair deaths early on. Fortunately checkpoints are generous and a quick save option mitigates the frustrations.
Despite the series being so established, Metro Exodus does a great job welcoming new comers to the world. Once again you take control of silent protagonist Artyom, joined by his wife and your band of special forces misfits. The events of previous Metro games are mentioned in passing conversations, filling you in enough without piling on the lore. Furthermore, you’ll soon get to know your fellow soldiers through conversations and their actions in missions alongside you. It’s top class storytelling with subtle, natural dialogue. The voice cast performance is a little bit hit or miss, with the occasional immersion breaking line delivery pulling you out of the experience a little, and there’s multiple moments where so many people are talking at once it’ difficult to understand what’s going on, but overall it’s strong group of companions that you’ll quickly to learn to love.
However, while plenty of missions involve you teaming up with one or multiple companions, just as many leave you alone amongst the hostile environment full of mysterious mutated creatures and crazed humans. Metro Exodus has moments of quiet contemplation, philosophical discussions, joke-fuelled relief, intense action, desperate searching and escaping, and tremendous horror and isolation. While the sneaking and gun-play core gameplay is unchanged throughout, despite upgrades and the discovery of new weapons, there’s plenty of variety to be found in the pace and atmosphere of each mission. Sneaking around a dimly lit area with backup, dousing flames to better hide in the shadow and stalking your foes is a patient, tense and satisfying experience that can turn action-packed in a moment, meanwhile, exploring a long abandoned bunker full of foul, deadly creatures that screech and claw in the darkness is terrifying. This variety of experiences followed by moments of calm and companionship with your wife and military unit makes for an excellent overall pace.
Metro Exodus takes brave new steps outside of it’s comfort zone by exploring beyond Moscow, but the core experience is very much the same as in pervious titles, only this time with the extra polish it needed to feel responsive, consistent and intuitive. The gun-play is wonderfully intense and accurate, the stealth is largely optional and hugely satisfying when conducted flawlessly, the visuals are at a new level of awe inspiring and exceptional sound and UI design makes this one of the most immersive FPS titles on the market. Metro Exodus is a game of the year contender, for sure, and quite possibly an FPS of the decade contender.