The third game in any series is always going to have a lot riding on it.
They run the fine line of continuing the standards laid out by the first two and improving on them, or the idea trough has run dry or its story has backed itself into a corner. For every Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater or Witcher 3, we get a Batman Arkham Knight or Mass Effect 3.
So, where does Metro Exodus lie on that scale? Is it a glorious addition to the quiet but well-laid foundations of the first two, or is a massive derailing to what was already established? All aboard, as I tell you where it lies.
On the national express, there are signs of distress…
Following the events of Last Light (in which the quietly hidden “good ending” is considered canon), we resume the role of Artyom, who again only speaks as a narration over loading screens. Still convinced that there are others alive outside of Moscow, much to the chagrin of his wife and the rest of the Spartan Order, it turns out there is after one of Artyom’s many excursions to the surface.
Siezing a working train from Hansa soldiers, and inadvertently grouping with the rest of the order, they leave Moscow in search of new life. This turn of events sees them exiled under penalty of death should they return, hence the ‘Exodus’ of the title, and the meat of the game.
It’s a very cleverly done introductory mission, to say the least. To me, it was 4A’s way of blending old with new, to say, “Here is where we started, in tunnels and darkness, to literally moving away from that”. Taking the core work of the first two Metro games, and drastically moving to quasi-open worlded mission hubs is a bold move indeed, that does actually work in Exodus’ favour.
Each “mission”, if you will, is played out over a season of the year. The intro and first mission hub is winter, and it serves as a cold reminder as to what lies ahead for your ragtag bunch of exiles. For you see, you only have one carriage and a crapped out engine in your locomotive, as well as an order of fish worshippers blocking your way (no, really. They worship the Tsar-Fish).
To say Exodus is open world is a slight misnomer. More accurately, it’s more open hub. The first area, winter, is large enough that you can tackle main or optional objectives in any order or path you choose, as well as figuring out how you want to play, too.
But, and this is a big ol’ but to anyone unfamiliar with the Metro series, don’t expect to go in guns blazing. Stealth, or the better parts of remaining unhidden, are the order of the day here. Artyom is not a bullet/damage sponge, and won’t last long against a barrage of attacks. Couple that with the limited resources for crafting (which I’ll come back to later), and you’ll see that standoffs don’t work in your favour.
Sneaking does have its own reward though, as does playing as a pacifist (or as best you can). Shooting up a bandit camp will see the aggression rise as they try and bum rush you, yet take them out quietly and they will yield to you and make your life easier.
When taking on the mission to progress, you can decide when and how you want to attack, too. Personally, I hunkered down until nightfall and crept in, only knocking people unconscious. Your team follows suit, only opening fire if you’ve been spotted. It being a two-parter of a mission, once I’d crossed via boat to the main stronghold, the enemy weren’t aware of who were because we’d subdued them relatively quietly.
Now, I’m a fan of stealth games anyway, so it was nothing new to me to play that way. But what did surprise me was the outcome of the mission: the leader of the fish followers allowed us a truce and safe passage through to the next seasonal mission. I haven’t tried the “kill ’em all” approach to see if the outcome varies, but that might be my next run.
So, main objective (and some story stuff that I’m avoiding spoiling) we hop along our newly named Aurora and head to what we think is all sunshine and roses…
I was born in darkness, molded by it
Finally arriving at Yemantau base, you discover things ain’t what they’re meant to be, as the remnants of this faction of the Russian government has gone a bit snooker loopy.
Again, glossing over the story (which is kind of hard to do when the missions are literally on rails), we arrive in the spring/summer portion of the adventure. It’s here that is a real testament to 4A pushing the graphical boat out and showing they’re more than doom and gloom. Visually, it’s akin to the Blood and Wine DLC from Witcher 3: You get so used to seeing blandness, that a bit of colour in your eyeballs and you start appreciating every landscape and blooming flower.
From winter to acrid, dry settlements and the surrounding habitat, the game world’s inhabitants react accordingly to each change in climate, making it more immersive than just a pallet swap of where you’ve been before. It’s a nice touch to see your team react as people would do to new, unknown environments.
So far, this is all sounding rather lovely, isn’t it? A Brave New World, played out by our merry troupe of explorers on a quest for pastures new. There must be something amiss, surely?
Well, there is. There’s a few gripes that just don’t sit well to herald this as a perfect game.
Out with the old country
One of Metro’s biggest draws, that really set it apart from other tactical shooters at the time, was its use of in game currency. As well as regular ammo, a higher standard of bullet could be found and used as both ammunition and barter tool. Do you use the bullets in a pinch, or scrape by to spend them on a much needed upgrade?
Well, that’s gone. In its place is a rudimentary crafting system, as most survival games now have. Much like The Last of Us, except boiled down into solid or liquid scrap, this is the bulk of Exodus’ inventory replenishment system. On the field, you can craft medkits, thrown objects or ammo for a gun that fires ball bearings in rapid succession. Whereas hoarding and taking back a workbench allows more scope, such as crafting more ammo types, new inventory slots on your armour or for repairing/cleaning weapons and kit.
It’s not a detriment to the game, as you are quite literally surviving on your own and there wouldn’t be merchants available. It’s just a shame there wasn’t a way to take that USP and turn into something similar/nostalgic to appease those older fans.
However, the biggest and most egregious changes are that there is little to no evidence or barest mention of the (SPOILER) supernatural/Dark Ones that were so prevalent in the last two games. Considering Artyom himself was an essential catalyst in the events leading up to Exodus, it seems all brushed aside in favour of the exploratory nature of the story.
But then, perhaps this again is 4A saying, “We’ve done that, now join us as we round out the story arc of Artyom and his companions”. I’m not suggesting that this is a terrible story direction, it just seems a bit blasé to push it aside and not mention it.
It does also bear that wiff of story retcon, given that we’re to believe that during the events of the first games that everyone ever is gone and you are all that’s left. It seems a bit of a rug pull to be all, “Oh no, it was totally just the sneaky government keeping you blind and deaf in Moscow”. It doesn’t undo everything the first two had established, but it does seem to retroactively undermine the gravitas of the series up to this point.
All in all, Metro Exodus is a bold new move for an established canon to take. It makes a few wobbles and stumbles along the way, but for all its faults it’s an insanely solid and enjoyable experience.
It’s still weird that Artyom never engages in dialogue, leading characters to spoonfeed you exposition and objective. It’s weird that Anna has gone from being cynical sniper bad-ass to token wifey support character in the span of one in-game year (don’t @ me, I’m just saying it’s jarring off the back of Last Light). It’s also still weird that you have to keep looking at your wristwatch, GoldenEye style, to see where you’re going.
But, get past those gripes and there is a competent, strongly put together first-person sneaker in there. Realised in some of the most beautiful locations to date, alongside a constant in game narrative with a ragtag team that is as adaptive to the change as you are, there is depth to Exodus.
Cast aside what you know of the previous trade mechanics and embrace the new ad-hoc scavenging system, which does take a while to start farming materials, and there is a enriching strategic shooter in here.
Whether we see more of the Metro franchise, or if this is a glorious swansong before 4A move on, it’s a fitting third part entry that I would put up with the examples mentioned earlier (the good ones, I mean).
Metro Exodus is available now on the Epic Games Store, Xbox One (reviewed) and PS4.
Developer: 4A Games
Publisher: Deep Silver
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a review code from the publishers. For our full review policy please go here.
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