Two and half decades after the bombs dropped you are finally able to leave the massive underground complex that has kept everyone you know safe from the radioactive fallout of nuclear winter. The world is much changed. Mutated horrors and the broken remnants of corrupted humanity populate the scarred earth. You will need to battle the elements, misshapen monstrosities, and scavenge for resources if you hope to stay alive. But at least there are people to talk to and not a single robot to be found.
Metro Exodus is the third entry in the Metro video game series based on the works of Dmitry Glukhovsky. Metro 2033 based on the book of the same name introduced us to Artyom one of the few survivors of the nuclear war who have taken shelter in the expansive rail network under Moscow. Artyom would return in the sequel Metro Last Light and makes his third appearance here in Exodus. After the events of the first two games, Artyom has become fixated on the idea that life remains on the surface, and that the only way for humanity to survive is to explore the world above and find a safe place to start over. That persistence will see him, and a contingent of Spartan Rangers leave the confines and relative safety of the Moscow underground and explore the great unknown above ground on a recently “acquired” coal-powered locomotive turned mobile base dubbed the Aurora.
I have loved this series since picking up Metro 2033 back in 2010. It was not as elegantly presented as many shooters of the time, but the cobbled-together nature of the world matched the presentation and user interface, it was a wonderfully janky experience and one I found immensely charming where others found it clunky and obtuse. For better or worse that remains the case in Exodus. There is no heads up display in the game for the most part except for a crosshair. All other information will need to be brought up by interacting with a piece of gear, or observation. This includes your ammo count, objectives, and even your health. There are no nice clean numbers here for the most part. This is an approach I really appreciate, but in a time where games love to have as much information on-screen as possible, it may be off-putting for some.
All of this, however, is aimed at giving you the player as immersive an experience as possible, and holy shit have 4A delivered. The world is bleak but exquisitely detailed. High quality textures, models, and animations present the broken and battered world in stunning detail. This commitment to detail carries over into every aspect of the game. Weapons are complex cobbled together feats of DIY engineering that look like actual functional firearms. Each upgrade from scopes, stocks, barrels, and more look and feel authentic, and that authenticity is reflected in their in-world performance. As a result, the guns feel great, even when they’re kind of shit. Upgrading them feels rewarding and being able to swap out parts on the fly means you’re never without the right tool for the job. Your sniper rifle with extended barrel and stabilising stock can be converted into a snub-nosed shoot from the hip automatic bullet-spewing death machine, or with a couple of tweaks can even become a near silent mid-range rifle when a stealthier approach is needed. From pistols to shotguns and the pneumatic powered Tikhar the amount of customisation is nothing short of impressive, and every iteration feels and looks the part.
Complementing all of this is the crafting and maintenance system, which is thankfully simple and relies on only two materials; chemicals and scrap. These can be used to craft ammo, consumables, and health packs. Chems are also used to clean your weapons ensuring they’re at peak performance when you need them. Weapon and armour mods cannot be crafted and are instead collected directly from any weapon found in the world or looted from a corpse. Looting any mods you already have will automatically convert them into crafting materials so you’ll never need to worry about managing pages of potentially useful (but mostly useless) parts on the off chance you can use it later. It’s an elegant system that takes nothing away from the near constant resource management that makes these systems so compelling and rewarding. Ammo is scarce, and your foes are powerful, so you’ll need to be alert and conserve your ammo while keeping enough med kits on your person when things do not go your way. And things not going your way is one thing you can rely on.
Metro Exodus is hard. Your ammo reserves will run out long before your enemies run out of fresh bodies to throw at you, if you go in all gung-ho. Stealth, flanking, and distraction is key to victory in most cases. That is when you’re the one doing the hunting. Sometimes you will need to make a quick retreat when a horde of mutated giant rats come stampeding towards you, or when the wails of the no-longer-human alert more of their brethren to your presence. Exodus knows how to build tension and fill the room with an almost unbearable sense of dread and then detonate it in a panic-stricken hail of bullets, expletives, and adrenaline as you are forced to fight against or flee a tidal wave of malice comprised primarily of teeth, claws, and unbridled bloodlust.
There is a lot to love in Metro Exodus, but it is not without its flaws. While the story and world building are great, this time around Artyom has lost his voice and cannot interact with NPCs directly. Instead, his presence will trigger a conversation or event that you cannot actively interact with. This seems like a massive missed opportunity and was a constant annoyance throughout my time in the game. While I love the freedom you’re given in the semi-open spaces, I can see others finding them too broad and the lack of direction an annoyance. The stealth system is functional but does rely on a little too much “I hope he can’t see me” rather than a clear system where you can clearly ascertain how sneaky you’re actually being.
There are also a few bugs that need to be squashed. There is a memory leak that caused my game to lock up and crash a couple of times, and some odd performance issues that took me from a solid 90+ frames per second in 1440p down to single digits for a second or two for no good reason. There is also no FOV slider which is unforgivable in 2019 and also no way to completely turn off my most hated “feature”, motion blur. As annoying as these may be, ultimately they did little to detract from the overall quality of the experience, but obviously your mileage may vary.
Metro Exodus is a stunning achievement. The art and sound design are best in class. Monsters, mutants, environments, and weapons are all stunningly detailed, and the world itself has a sense of realism missing from many post-apocalyptic settings we’ve seen of late. There is a gritty, grounded feeling here that perfectly sets the tone and keeps you entranced in its beautiful, brutal, and broken world.