Developer: 4A Games
Release Date: February 15, 2019
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC (Played on PS4)
Written by Rick Warren / gfn21
Metro has certainly been an interesting series, as it’s one of the rare entries in the FPS genre to focus entirely on singleplayer experiences. While it may not be at the level of Bioshock or Machinegames’ stellar Wolfenstein reboot, the Metro series has done a fine job of combining stealth and survival elements with an atmospheric setting. The second game in the franchise, Last Light, improved on the original game by bringing in a much more interesting narrative. While the brand-new Metro: Exodus may have a slightly less compelling story than Last Light, the third game of the trilogy continues the upward trend of the series and marks another step forward for Metro due to its quality gameplay.
Exodus differs from the other titles by taking players outside of the underground Metro system for most of the game, and before long it becomes clear why this decision was made. The diverse locations explored on the journey feel like a breath of fresh air for the series, and the open world levels spread throughout the game offer exploration opportunities that are incredibly rewarding. There’s enough variety in enemies and weapons to make combat feel great, and upgrades for gear come only to those who take genuine risks to find them. A brutal, entertaining Hardcore difficulty brings these elements together to make for one of the best survival experiences of the generation, and Exodus stands as a game that is better to play on its max difficulty level because of this. To be clear, however, the game isn’t perfect. One of the key issues from the previous games, a (mostly) silent protagonist that meshes poorly with a supporting cast that’s average-at-best, remains. It’s a flaw that makes for dozens of awkward conversations and caring about the results that come from your choices is harder because of it. Further, load times are much more bothersome in Exodus than in any other Metro game, as the bigger levels throughout the game’s 15-hour story take up to a minute to reload if you die. The positives far outweigh the negatives, though, making Metro: Exodus a worthwhile pickup for anyone seeking a challenging survival experience.
A Flawed Story
Last Light, the predecessor to Metro: Exodus, benefited from a unique choice to follow the bad ending from the first Metro game. Every action series protagonist Artyom took in Last Light felt like he was learning from his mistakes and working towards redeeming himself, and it was much easier to become invested in the game’s story because of that. The fact that the writers and developers succeeded at making us care at all is impressive, considering the issues surrounding Artyom. Most obvious was the odd design choice to not have Artyom speak in the actual game or in any of the cutscenes, yet still letting him recap events during loading screens. The other barrier to get over is the wooden cast surrounding Metro’s main character. While a few side characters were a bit less bland than the rest, none of them were memorable.
Sadly, Metro: Exodus fixes neither of these huge problems, and without Last Light’s strong setup a good story fails to materialize.
To be fair, Exodus doesn’t have a truly awful storyline; it just consistently wastes its potential. Artyom’s motivation, the search for life outside of the Metro and the hope that he and his wife can one day live on the surface, is understandable. A few interesting ideas are tackled as well, such as Artyom’s relationship with his angry step-father and the Russian government hiding the fact that life exists above the surface. At the end of the day, though, the emotional connection the writers are striving for is never established between the player and Metro’s characters, and both the main plot and the karma system suffer because of it.
As gamers jump from one plot point to another in Metro, tackling religious cults, monsters and cannibals as they move through each new area, they’ll be given numerous chances to do the right thing and improve Artyom’s karma. Knocking out cult members rather than killing them may earn the favor of the cult’s leader, and he’ll allow one of your friends to survive because of it. Rescuing slaves from their masters can lead to one crew member sticking around as opposed to going back to free them himself. The system itself works well, and the results from decisions sound interesting on the surface, but at the end of the day it’s wasted on forgettable characters that fail to stand out from any other member of the crew. Each character is built on only one trait, from the lady’s man to the gentle giant, and this keeps just about every member of The Order from being dynamic. Only Anna and Commander Miller feel somewhat developed, but they still aren’t all that memorable. It’s hard to really care about who stays or goes during the story since the characters are so flat, and it’s an issue that the writers need to improve on in the future.
As for Artyom’s silence, it’s no different than before; he still only speaks during loading screens. It does seem a bit more awkward this time, though. Smoking with a crew member or holding Artyom’s wife Anna while she talks about her life are moments designed to increase the emotional connection that the game is lacking. These moments with minor and major characters should be making the player care more about them, but they rarely do. A character talking to Artyom and asking him a question, only to immediately answer it themselves because he refuses to speak, is far more distracting than the developers seem to realize. The attempts to develop Metro’s characters are there and they are admirable, but they never truly succeed due to Artyom’s silence making every relationship feel fake or forced. This becomes a real issue when the ending rolls around, as Exodus opts for a quiet conclusion as opposed to a thrilling sequence of fighting like Last Light had. There is no final boss, with the last confrontation being an enjoyable stealth sequence that feels like the lead-up to the last battle rather than the last battle itself. Combined with a series of cutscenes that try but fail to be emotional due to the problems mentioned above, the ending to Exodus feels a bit unsatisfying. Had it delivered an impactful conclusion or a thrilling final battle that might not be the case, but it does neither.
Still, even with these notable story-related issues, Metro Exodus manages to be a great game due to its stellar gameplay and a new semi-open world focus.
An Enjoyable Exodus
While the above section may sound harsh, don’t get the wrong idea; Metro Exodus is still a great game despite its storytelling woes. Everything returning players love remains intact, but Exodus still feels fresh due to a welcome dive into open world territory.
While the open world trend is second only to that of battle royales, Metro’s foray into this territory feels planned out and natural as opposed to becoming open world simply because it’s popular to do so. The chapter format does remain and a few of the levels are linear, however Exodus really shines when it opens things up a bit. Getting out of the Metro system feels as good for the player as it does for the characters in the game, as sections such as a luscious forest and a Mad Max inspired desert offer visuals never seen before in the series. This newfound variety in playable areas is a great way to show off how gorgeous Metro games really are, but these large new locations prove even more beneficial for Metro’s gameplay mechanics.
The small open world sections in Exodus are packed with content, with side objectives like rescuing slaves from their captors or exploring abandoned outposts for loot. Players will want to do that exploring, too, as every locker looted and ammo box searched makes surviving Metro’s world a little bit easier. Taking the time to see what each area has to offer will lead to the discovery of gear pieces like night vision goggles and ammo bags, as well as some useful attachments for the devastating guns that Artyom can wield. While most of these weapons aren’t new, upgrading them completely does make them feel different from how they felt in the other games, and the weapon variety still gets the job done. As for those who avoid going off the beaten path and only do main story objectives, they'll be given far fewer chances to upgrade Artyom’s gear. Their progression through the main tasks will be much more challenging than it is for those who come prepared, making the looting in Metro: Exodus an important feature as opposed to coming off as something tacked-on late in development. The freedom you’re given to walk (or drive, in some cases) straight to whatever objective you’d like to tackle next is terrific, and the fact that whatever you do feels rewarding makes this level of freedom even more worthy of appreciation.
The day/night cycle in the open world levels of Exodus has a dramatic effect on the gameplay, with daytime increasing the number of human enemies present in the world and nighttime bringing hordes of monsters. Depending on the current objective, one time of day will be much more beneficial than the other. If the objective requires sneaking into a bandit camp, entering at night will often be easier since some enemies are asleep. On the other hand, fighting monsters in the day is easier, as spotting them is simple and their numbers are more limited. Both day and night have the expected effects on the strong stealth gameplay the Metro series is known for, and it’s refreshing to see the time of day have a legitimate role in a game’s action.
Even on a normal difficulty players will want to explore and keep track of time, but they’ll need to if they want to survive Metro’s hardcore difficulty. Exodus, like most survival games, thrives when it limits the resources of players and forces them to adapt, and hardcore does this perfectly. By stripping away the ability to quick save, drastically limiting the resources players can gather and decreasing the availability of workbenches used to craft items, hardcore stands tall as the most challenging experience the Metro series has ever seen. This difficulty always makes the game feel challenging and intense, leaving the player on edge for every single battle. Thoughts like “do I have enough ammo to beat these monsters?” and “I have no medkits, if I get hit once I’m done for...” will constantly be going through the head of anyone playing on hardcore. Yet, as tough as it is, at no point does it feel impossible; it only feels fun. Fighting the iconic creatures Metro is known for, such as the sightless gorillas called Blind Ones and the bat-like Demons, is better than ever when the monsters come off as a legitimate threat.
If there is one downside to the hardcore difficulty, it’s that you’ll be dying; a lot. This is obviously to be expected and shouldn’t be an issue, but thanks to some lengthy load times in the open world levels, it does become a small problem. Metro’s linear segments all reload quickly so it isn’t disastrous, but the lengthy loading in the bigger chapters is slightly annoying on hardcore. Regardless, the experience is so great on this difficulty that the wait to get back into the action is always worth it. Hardcore mode is, without question, the best way to play Metro: Exodus.
Metro: Exodus won’t impress gamers searching for a gripping narrative and lovable characters, but those who are more focused on raw gameplay will have a blast surviving everything 4A Games throws at them. With great stealth, a variety of beautiful locations and some incredibly rewarding exploration opportunities, Exodus is a well-handled evolution of the Metro series. Hardcore difficulty only serves to make the experience better (even if it will lead to lots of dying and load screens), and everyone seeking a challenging singleplayer shooter should look no further.
Brilliant open world levels with rewarding exploration and a clever Day/Night cycle +4.5
Hardcore difficulty offers a perfectly balanced challenge +3
Returning features (stealth, enemy types, weapons, etc.) still work perfectly +2.5
A mediocre supporting cast + Artyom’s awkward silence -.75
An ending that doesn’t succeed at being emotional/lacks a big final confrontation -.75
Lengthy load times in open world levels -.5
FINAL SCORE: 8