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Metro Exodus

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Action
Publisher: Deep Silver
Developer: 4A Games
Release Date: Feb. 15, 2019


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PC Review - 'Metro Exodus'

by Cody Medellin on Feb. 13, 2019 @ 7:00 a.m. PST

The next installment in the FPS series, in Metro Exodus, Artyom and a band of survivors must flee the shattered ruins of the Moscow Metro and embark on an epic, continent-spanning journey across the postapocalyptic Russian wilderness.

Buy Metro Exodus

The rough patches in the Metro game series only lend to its charm. Thanks to the game's engaging world and purposefully subpar weaponry, players have embraced the Metro franchise and overlooked a few things, like its less-than-desirable frame rate and animation gaffes. Six years have passed since Metro: Last Light, and both that and the original title remain relevant thanks to both of them being remastered for the PC and current console generation. We finally have a true sequel in the form of Metro Exodus, and while most of the attention on the PC is on the last-minute, one-year exclusivity on the Epic Games Store, it's time to see if the overall hiatus was worth it.

Thanks to that six-year fallow period, Exodus starts off with a narrated recap of prior events, complete with a living mural of sorts as seen through the windows of a subway car. As the train car rolls by, you see that Moscow is doing quite well for itself and then slowly going bad as the missiles start to fall from the sky. The refuge of the Metro starts off peacefully before human nature takes over and wars spring up from the various factions that have formed. Despite the bleak picture, the montage ends with a sliver of hope for the days to come, something that becomes a running theme for the rest of the title.

Exodus takes place one year after the events of Metro: Last Light. You play the role of Artyom, the hero of section D6 of the Metro and husband to Anna, the love of your life and daughter to the leader of the Spartans. Though everything seems to be perfect for you, there's the nagging feeling that there's still a life beyond the Metro, something that drives you to go out every day in search of a radio signal despite everyone thinking you've gone mad. On one of the expeditions, you discover a train traveling through the ruins of Moscow, and that discovery leads you and the rest of the Spartans on a journey across the remnants of the country to find out what's going on beyond the subway systems of Moscow.

The beats you find in the story may feel familiar, but the perspective can feel a little different since your hero is Russian instead of American (e.g., NATO soldiers are viewed as enemies rather than allies). Still, the story is executed nicely thanks to the cast of characters at your side. There's a good sense of camaraderie between everyone in the group, including members who are still wet behind the ears, the gruff but fair leader, and the lone American. Through Anna, you can sense the loving relationship between her and Artyom without it feeling heavy-handed. Meanwhile, Artyom's monologues during loading screens convey hope or despair for each leg of the game, and that never feels forced, either. Like most good game stories, characters elevate the events, and this title adheres to that line of thinking.

You start Exodus in a way that's very familiar to fans of the series. A brief trip outside of Moscow turns into a journey back to the Metro, where you have to burn through webs that block your path and deal with the mutated animals. You're rescued by your comrades and wake up in a hospital where you can briefly see how life carries on before the screen fades to black. From here, the game pivots, as the rest of your opening journey takes place above ground, where you notice the mysterious train going by. The train chase leads to a kidnapping followed by a subsequent escape, where one of the pivotal narrative points is revealed. What follows is an escape that leads to a train hijacking, another big narrative reveal, and a significant change in gameplay.

While all of the Metro games released thus far have been linear affairs, Exodus takes a more open-world approach. Once the train gets moving, it becomes the spot where you can get mission briefings and talk to everyone on the squad. Each train stop becomes its own little world, including randomized weather patterns, a day and night cycle, respawning enemy types in certain spots, and no restriction on where to go unless it serves a specific part of the story. The worlds aren't especially large, but they're sizeable for the franchise, and the use of seasons gives each place more of a personality.

Each of the locales comes off as one of the more impressive things in Exodus, since the places outside of Moscow are vastly different from one another. Autumn finds you in a forest, complete with traps and wildlife. Summer at the Caspian Sea reveals a desert wasteland with very little drinking water and a warlord who doesn't want to negotiate. Winter at a fishing village reveals a fanatical cult that shuns you because they view electricity as a sin. There's also spring at a government facility, where things go completely sideways. In a way, the number of changes will remind you less of Metro and more of the modern iterations of Fallout — but with a Russian slant. The only difference is that you experience each situation separately instead of somehow having the cultists mix it up with the minions of the Baron.

Despite those big changes, the core game is still Metro, and that means all of the quirks that people have come to love from the series are in full effect here. Every gun is a makeshift device that works well enough, and all of the weapons are modular in nature, so can transform a pistol into a makeshift sniper rifle or improve upon the crossbow, the game's new weapon. Stealth becomes an important tactic, and your sneaking is amplified by the fact that you can cut off all light sources to put everything in the dark and make enemies easier to spot due to their use of lights. Flashlights and night-vision goggles are all powered by a battery that needs to be hand-cranked every so often, and your gas mask and filters are the most important tools since they're the only things preventing you from getting radiation poisoning in irradiated areas.

The difficulty level also dictates whether you should treat Exodus like a survival-horror game, where you need to conserve ammo and supplies or be more liberal in your usage. Also, the HUD is still purposefully omitted from the game, so while it feels refreshing to have to look at a clipboard for your map and main objective, it means that you'll get lost quite often, since there's no way to mark where you should be going on-screen.

One new addition to the gameplay loop is the ability to craft things using materials that are gathered from corpses, enemy soldiers, and the environment. Weapons can be dismantled on the fly. When out in the field, you can use chemicals and spare parts to craft some ammo for your guns, new gas mask filters, and healing kits. You can also change out the configuration of your guns with the pieces you've gathered. If you can find a crafting bench, you can do all of that in addition to fixing up or upgrading your equipment. The system is simple thanks to a reduction in material types needed, but it's an exciting new addition since you have to do all of this while the action is still going on around you — at least until you find a crafting bench in a safe spot.

The presence of crafting items and weapons means that there's no need for the military-grade bullet economy of the older games. It also means that all of the ammo you acquire or make is dirty, which goes a long way in explaining their reduced stopping power. The loss in terms of getting better bullets is noted, but you won't think about it too much when you realize that no one else is using better bullets, either.

The mixing of standard Metro signatures in a more open-world setting works quite well, as the variety of environments and more freeform approach in level exploration is a good trade-off for the scenario of exploring underground subway stations with occasional visits to the frozen surface. There are parts of the gameplay that lack polish and can't be explained away as quirks. There are times when the collision is broken, and you'll get stuck walking near a few objects. It doesn't help that your jump sometimes isn't very high, so it'll take lots of jumping to break free from something. The auto-saving is great, but there are times when some of the checkpoints catch you in bad situations, like being near a pit that requires a tricky jump to escape. Auto-saving also highlights the lack of multiple save slots, which doesn't become a big deal until you reach a bad spot that you somehow auto-saved to.

The change from the mostly underground environments of the first two games to the various outdoor locales in different seasons have given the team at 4A Games a chance to spread its graphical artistry, and the game doesn't disappoint in this regard. Every place you go to is vastly different from the other, with the only unifying theme being the constant state of decay. The effects used for things like smoke plumes, specks of radiation, water ripples, and the glow of mushrooms is well done, while the models for the monsters are improved, since they prove to be more gruesome than before.

Human character models are also fine, but they exhibit a few issues that were also present in past games. The movement animation is much better, but they still have some issues where mouth movement is barely noticeable when someone speaks, and everyone dies with their eyes wide open. There are a few other bugs, like some decorative elements floating off the ground, items clipping through solid objects, and a few enemies seemingly floating in the air. Their appearance is infrequent enough that it doesn't mar the overall beauty of the apocalypse in Exodus.

PC players may be wondering about the use of some features exclusive to the Nvidia GeForce RTX series of graphics cards, especially since Exodus is one of the early titles touted as using the card's technology right from the outset. For reference, we're using a GeForce RTX 2060 and a 1080p monitor, so while DLSS is a supported option, we really don't see a performance or quality difference between this and other anti-aliasing methods. Ray Tracing is perhaps the more notable feature from this line of cards, but to be honest, the effect used here isn't completely transformative.

It's perhaps a testament to how good 4A Games already is in its use of light and shadow, but when reviewing the game and trying out the same scenes with RTX turned on and off, the differences were barely noticeable in motion. This is especially true in the early levels, when the sun isn't the strongest. The benchmark barely shows any differences with and without the technology turned on. On the bright side, there's barely a performance hit with the technology turned on, so if you have any card in the RTX series, there's no reason to turn it off.

As for the sound, just about every aspect has changed rather dramatically. The music remains haunting but is used much more sparingly in Exodus. The soundtrack is heavily dependent on ambient noise to fill your speakers, and the change works well when you consider the direction the game has taken. Music now only appears during cut scenes, and when mostly human enemies are actively looking for you, the tunes are perfect. The voicework is still excellent, and the "talking over one another" aspect of the previous game still works very well, especially with the multitude of spoken languages at your disposal.

The fact that they still leave Artyom as a silent protagonist (except for the loading screens) can be annoying, as others are having conversations with you, and your lack of response still propels the conversation forward. It's something you learn to accept as unintentional humor in the story. The title does have some voice samples repeating for enemies, so you'll hear the same insults thrown at you in a relatively short amount of time, but that gets balanced out with some long, incidental conversations you hear from enemies who are unaware of your presence and the rest of your team trying to strike up conversations.

The sound effects have been pared back this time around. The sound of makeshift gunfire is still great, but some of the melee and knife attacks are much subtler, almost inaudible if you don't have the volume up high enough. Granted, getting stabbed or hit with the butt of a rifle isn't going to produce something audible like you'd have in the movies, but after decades of games including those things, it feels strange to have that go missing here. There's also a sense that other elements, like explosions and vehicle crashes, have their impact lessened thanks a reduced volume overall.

Metro Exodus is an absolutely solid, all-around experience. Although the change from indoor to outdoor scenery is striking at first, it allows the gameplay to breathe and feel different from previous titles. The signature makeshift guns are paired well with the new crafting ability, and their lack of stopping power makes firefights meaningful and stealth sections tense. There are still issues here and there, and the presentation could be tighter, but this is a worthy sequel to a game that has earned its cult status throughout the years.

Score: 8.0/10


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