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Metro Exodus review: Finding humanity in a post-nuclear hellscape

In Metro Exodus, you learn how to recognize silence. It’s unnerving, in the beginning, the lifeless stillness of a post-nuclear hellscape. Quickly you come back round to it although, as a result of silence way—for a temporary second, no less than—not anything is attempting to kill you. No person is yelling “He’s over there!” and nobody is capturing at you. You’re now not being mauled by way of senseless ghouls. Demons don’t circle above you, diving right down to scratch at your face. You’re now not drowning, or on hearth, or choking on toxic fumes, or bleeding out at the sand.

Silence way protection. And in Metro Exodus protection is an extraordinary blessing, punctuated by way of the beep of your makeshift movement detector choosing up a brand new den of horrors.

Peace teach

In Metro Exodus, it’s been 20-odd years since nuclear struggle destroyed Moscow, drove the few survivors deep underground into the concrete safe haven of the subway machine. It’s been 20 years of infighting, of tin-pot dictators and territory grabs and dwindling assets. And in 20 years, now not a unmarried particular person’s arrived from out of doors town. Those few, those blessed sufficient to succeed in the metro, are the ultimate final representatives of the human race.

Metro Exodus IDG / Hayden Dingman

Or no less than, that’s what the folks of Moscow assume. Artyom isn’t so positive although. Following on from the occasions of Metro: Closing Gentle, Artyom’s satisfied there’s existence out of doors town—if handiest it’s good to succeed in it. Each day he ventures above floor, braving radiation and antagonistic flora and fauna to succeed in Moscow’s ruined rooftops the place he listens to static at the radio. Each day, static.

Till in the future, there are voices.

I received’t destroy what cases motive Artyom and the ragged remnants of the Spartan Order to go away Moscow. Suffice it to mention, they do—and it’s compelled upon them quite than selected. Regardless, it’s on Artyom, his now-wife Anna, and the remaining to discover a new house, touring by way of teach throughout huge swathes of the Russian nation-state.

And I do imply huge. Each Metro 2033 and Closing Gentle had been linear affairs, hall shooters in an generation the place we hardly noticed hall shooters. It made sense. In any case, the primary happened nearly solely within the confines of the titular subway machine. The latter ventured above the skin extra regularly, however nonetheless used to be about being trapped within the labyrinthine ruins of Moscow.

Metro Exodus IDG / Hayden Dingman

Exodus is set exploration, each thematically and routinely. Happening over the process the yr, you’ll spend maximum of your time in 3 huge environments: The Volga, the Caspian Wilderness, and the Taiga. There are linear moments amid the open-world, most commonly story-related, however they make up a fragment of the sport. Extra regularly than now not Exodus will give you a map, a couple of sights, a gun, and not anything else.

There’s a sense of coming full-circle right here. In any case, Metro developer 4A Video games is composed in no small a part of builders who labored on S.T.A.L.Okay.E.R., a landmark open-world shooter at a time when open-world video games had been nonetheless a novelty. For Metro to move open-world, it’s in any case embraced being the S.T.A.L.Okay.E.R. religious successor it handiest kind of resembled sooner than.

Exodus is friendlier than S.T.A.L.Okay.E.R. ever used to be, to be truthful. Nevertheless it’s additionally refreshingly unfastened shape in comparison to the simple action-shooter setup of Closing Gentle. After a brief prologue phase Exodus turns you free at the icy shores of the Volga, and it truly is solely you, a map, and a gun.

Metro Exodus IDG / Hayden Dingman

Each segment of Exodus centers around a new crisis. The Volga, for instance, sees Artyom’s train ambushed by local bandits, then forced to parlay with the locals to try and get across the river. There are really only three or four “missions” of note.

And yet I spent maybe seven or eight hours (maybe more) on that map, painstakingly scouring collapsed buildings for scraps of supplies (for crafting more ammo, health kits, knives, and so on) and gear upgrades. By the time I left the Volga I’d managed to secure night vision goggles, longer-lasting gas mask filters, a better battery for my flashlight, and a bevy of gun attachments. Most of this was optional. You get a few upgrades through the course of the story—it’d be hard to miss those night vision goggles for instance. But the majority of it is tucked away in random outposts, or monster-ridden ruins.

It feels overwhelming at first, I’ll admit. We did two demos of Exodus prior to release, one at E3 last year and another just a few weeks ago, and in both I had basically the same concern: That the open-world nature of Exodus, that lack of structure, would seem aimless.

Metro Exodus IDG / Hayden Dingman

But you soon realize there’s a logic to the world. Sure, the Volga is littered with all manner of sunken houses and crashed train cars, and it’s tempting to poke into each and every one. There are definite landmarks though, and the game (in one of its few player-friendly design choices) allows you to mark these on your map by panning over them with Artyom’s binoculars. The smallest of these locations might be a single camp with some supplies and a few enemies to clear.

The largest are Metro levels in their own right though, sprawling dungeons with a short story to tell—whether explicit or, more often, implied by the environment. Here, a crumbling church full of cultists who banned electricity in the wake of the apocalypse. There, the sunken remnants of a train depot with a shrine to a mutant whale-god. Later, a recluse congratulates you on making it past the overgrown spider-scorpion-nightmares who live underneath his home, a feat the soldiers who pursued him couldn’t manage.

That’s still Metro’s strong suit, the atmosphere of it all. It’s what elevates Metro above so many other open-world shooters, the fact that its world feels realistic and weighty. And freed from the confines of Moscow there’s more to experiment with in Exodus, be it the rusting hulk of a beached ship-turned-prison, or caves pocked with makeshift homes, or geysers of oil that periodically light on fire, or a rail line threatening to crumble into the lake below, or a collapsed hangar with the dusty remnants of helicopters within. It’s incredibly picturesque and diverse, this post-apocalypse, and worth exploring.

Metro Exodus IDG / Hayden Dingman

Not that Exodus is without issues. Like most open-world games, Exodus has a hard time balancing between the player who explores every nook and cranny versus those who want to blaze through the story. If you’re meticulous like I was, and if you master the use of throwing knives to conserve ammo, you’ll end up with an absurd number of crafting materials, taking much of the danger out of Metro. Why worry when you can always gin up more ammo, more health kits, and more gas mask filters? The crunch of resource management, a trademark of Metro since the original and its unique bullets-are-also-your-trading-currency system, is mostly absent here.

And it’s also full of jank. One particularly egregious bug lost me two hours of progress early on, breaking my save and forcing me to restart the game. As of the time of writing, 4A couldn’t tell me what caused the issue or whether it’d be fixed for release. That sucks.

Myriad other bugs abound. I’ve seen people floating in mid-air after I’d alerted their camp. My companions are constantly running into me and then pushing me out of cover or down a hallway. I’ve been pulled through a door and into a black void, then rescued later in the same scene by scripting that warped my character back into the room to accept an item from a character’s outstretched hand, thank goodness. Don’t get me started on the characters themselves, with models that look much older and less polished than the environments, or the constant pauses between every line of dialogue, or the near-constant animation glitches.

Metro Exodus IDG / Hayden Dingman

See if you can spot the floating man.

Enemy behavior can be wild as well. It’s often impossible to tell whether alerting an enemy will alert the entire base, and reloading a scenario can result in different outcomes entirely. Also, it’s hard to take the Demons (flying mutant bats) seriously when their AI is thwarted by ducking alongside or underneath literally anything. Not very threatening.

But none of this should come as a surprise to longtime Metro fans. 2033 and Last Light were games I loved despite the jank, and Exodus is no different. Sure, it’s buggy, but there’s nothing else like Metro.

People always clamor for Half-Life 3, or a spiritual successor to the grim realism of Far Cry 2. For my money, Metro’s the closest we’ve come in the recent past to either of those hypotheticals, and particularly Exodus. Its commitment to grounding the player in its world, to forcing everything through Artyom’s eyes, is relentless. In broad strokes, Exodus is the same “Finding A New Home” story we’ve seen over and over, particularly in post-apocalypse settings. But it’s filled with insightful commentary on social and political systems, on demagogues, on how religion and other doctrines can be used to control a vulnerable populace, and—most importantly—on how those ideas pertained to the society that came before the apocalypse.

Metro Exodus IDG / Hayden Dingman

Metro’s nuclear war is more than a convenient setup. It’s core to the entire worldview, a thread straight through from 2033 to Last Light to Exodus. Everywhere Artyom goes he finds the same petty tyrants lording over the same insignificant fiefdoms and making the same excuses for their behavior, proof that even if the majority of the human populace died when the nukes fell, humanity’s baser instincts are alive and well.

Bleak, no? And yet Artyom still goes up to the rooftops every day and turns on the radio.

Bottom line

I’ve said it before: I’ll take flawed-but-interesting over polished-but-generic every single time, and Metro has long epitomized that belief for me. Sure, Metro Exodus is rough around the edges, there’s no disputing that. I was annoyed having to replay that first two hours, and there are countless ways I think Exodus could be improved—not least of which is the dialogue delivery. This is still very much a B-tier series in some ways, and it shows most in the character performances.

And yet it’s so exciting when it all lines up, when you’re creeping through the brush at night, skirting a patrol, then crawling through the rusting sheet metal of a collapsed hangar to scrounge for a new scope or a few assault rifle rounds—just you, a map, a gun, and a prayer.

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