Metro Exodus presents itself with an emotionally powerful intro on how the world crumbled due to war. This intro plays out from the perspective of train passengers, as they witness nuclear warheads rising above Moscow.
Accompanied by a subtle narration and a melancholic musical composition, a woman desperately shields her child from the terrifying view. Moments later, a man’s shadow displays him praying in expectation of the looming end, as the train carries on with its monotonous movement. The intro transitions into an underground tunnel, with massive steel gates closing behind the train and civilians running for shelter right next to it.
It showcases how people adapt to a new life underground, establishing a whole infrastructure and even economy, but ultimately succumbing to the very same enemies: conflict and war. Eventually, after portraying years of struggle underground in a mere three minutes, the train exits the tunnel, opening its doors to a new chapter in the Metro series.
It took six years of anticipation since the release of Metro: Last Light for the 7th generation of consoles. Based on the third and final book in the trilogy, Metro Exodus continues the story of the Spartan Order after the bloody battle at D6 in the previous game. But this time, it takes players way away from the familiar underground tunnels and opens up multiple outdoor locations in post-apocalyptic Russia to explore.
Once again, the plot follows our good old friend Artyom, now more mature and resolute than ever before. Artyom stubbornly believes that the world outside of the metro did not completely collapse after the bombs dropped; that, indeed, it houses survivors. Especially after he briefly picks up a distress signal on his radio.
Naturally, no one believes him. No one, aside from his caring wife Anna, who supports his escapades into the dangerous outdoor locales. She does so reluctantly, but being an exceptional sniper, Anna wants to make sure that her reckless husband doesn’t meet an untimely demise.
Artyom’s suspicions materialize after the appearance of a fully functional train traversing the local rail line. But after meeting several survivors and revealing additional details about the outside world, the pair find out more than they expected. Not only do they unravel a government conspiracy and the fact that the world outside of Russia was not destroyed during the war, but are now deemed traitors along with their whole squad.
With the locomotive they subsequently name Aurora, the Spartans, led by colonel Miller and Artyom, are on the run. In search of answers and a new place to call home, well beyond the comforts of the usual metro tunnels.
Spending the time on Aurora, sensing the breeze all the while gazing upon dead landmarks around you, is truly a sight to behold. While on the train, Artyom has an opportunity to reflect or simply converse with his compatriots. The memorable cast of characters in Artyom’s squad makes each dialogue fresh and interesting.
Take Idiot for example who, contrary to his name, acts as a voice of reason and common rationale within the squad. Or Sam, an American soldier who due to circumstance, somehow sided with Russians after the war. And even the ever-grumpy colonel Miller displays hints of kindness from time to time. There’s a lot to like about almost every character.
Characters often have lengthy optional conversations which you can ignore, should you wish to do so. Alas, at the expense of losing an opportunity to get to know them better. These conversations greatly improve the narrative and add more depth to each member of the squad. They also provide Artyom with engaging side-quests on occasion.
I hoped for improvements in this regard, but like in previous entries, Artyom himself still doesn’t talk. It seems weird when he doesn’t express his thoughts or opinions whenever someone addresses him. Especially because he participates in conversations in the books.
This could be fine if Artyom had a vague personality; if his traits were whatever the player makes them out to be. But Artyom is already a person, with a painful past and an arduous future; with his own strengths and his own vices. He has experiences and relationships, as well as enemies. So it is odd that not even once does he ever convey this through speech, aside from brief explanations during loading screens, which sound more like an inner monologue or a slightly passive narrative.
Upon arrival at a new level, Metro Exodus opens up a small, semi-open-world environment, in addition to dark underground cave systems and tunnels. Levels are often preceded by rather lengthy loading screens — often between 2 to 3 minutes — but after that, the experience is almost seamless.
Crumbling multistory residential buildings, dilapidated architectural landmarks covered in snow and old burnt-down cars line city streets. And not just any cars, but authentic cars from Russian manufacturers, some of which you could easily see today. Ascending any kind of a far-stretching construction feels great; not just for the gorgeous view from above, but for hearing the cold winter wind howl in your ears. These little details make the environments truly breathtaking. Often, quite literally.
While, as it turns out, the air across the Russian taiga is mostly clean, some areas still contain radioactivity and poisonous gases. For this reason, each squad member, including Artyom, carries a protective gas mask. Whenever Artyom approaches a potentially hazardous area, the Geiger counter on his bracer informs him of that.
If exposed to lethal gas, Artyom begins to gasp for air and has the option to slip a mask on to avoid suffocation. Just be sure to remove it before combat, whenever possible, as it can be broken or become covered in moisture, dirt or blood. The already mentioned bracer keeps track of the remaining oxygen, in addition to other useful info.
Rural locales contrast with urban environments, offering a much more open area for exploration. Instead of high-rise buildings, you have a church or a small guard tower at best, with some tiny worn shacks scattered here and there. Derailed train carriages replace cars and most of the scenery consists of water and a large blanket of snow.
Bodies of water are traversable via boats scattered across the map, but doing so may be hazardous to your health. Monsters of varying size lurk underneath the surface. And when a particularly large one bumped into my humble boat from below, I could barely hold my scream.
On land, monsters range from oversized rat-like beings, winged demons, zombies and other similarly mutated freaks, and they often attack in large packs or alert others to your presence. Sneaking through dark, narrow tunnels provides Metro Exodus with a welcome dose of horror, especially when you have nothing but a dim flashlight at your disposal and hear an echoing growl in the distance.
Changes in day and night cycles, and weather conditions, like rain and blizzard, create additional visual challenges; both in terms of exploration and combat. Eradicating a lair of bandits or sneaking past a pack of zombies becomes much easier under the guise of darkness. And a small light on Artyom’s bracer displays whether or not he is visible. Likewise, scaling the side of a speeding train becomes even more exciting with the addition of a roaring blizzard right behind your back.
But these locations don’t exist simply for Artyom’s enjoyment. Decaying corpses of humans and monsters alike hint at previous battles, the sight of which often tells a story all on its own. And of course, bodies mean loot. Artyom collects weapons and parts for them, ammo, and crafting materials; diaries and recordings scattered around reveal additional, often gruesome stories about other survivors on the surface. Supplies are scarce though, and I was often happy to find a single shell for my shotgun, just to survive another encounter.
Gameplay remains fresh thanks to numerous combat scenarios. Imagine escaping from a church run by a religious cult, while snuffing out every light source along the way to stay hidden. Or ascending a small tower inhabited by a flying demon just to retrieve a little girl’s lost teddy bear.
Any scenario can be approached stealthily or Rambo-style, and either one is equally effective. While sneaking, Artyom can either incapacitate or kill enemies with a knife from behind, so long as he remains undetected. Based on these actions, conversations progress differently and the ending changes as well.
Of course, if you don’t feel like pretending to be a ninja, Metro Exodus offers a variety of different firearms.
When it comes to combat, Metro Exodus on Xbox One does not disappoint. Each firearm provides a nice amount of recoil, enemies stagger back after powerful shots and a cloud of dense smoke rises from the barrel after every round. Artyom carries a loadout of three firearms, including assault rifles, revolvers, shotguns and pneumatic weapons — all highly customisable.
Firearms require regular maintenance and cleaning. Grime and dust hinder performance, leading to jamming — though not nearly as bad as in Far Cry 2 — and even obstruct the scope if one is attached. Maintenance can be performed on numerous workbenches located across each map. Here, you can also craft ammunition, additional tools like throwable knives and grenades, or repair Artyom’s mask.
In addition to that, each weapon features a variety of upgrade parts. You can attach a longer barrel for more firepower, a silencer which decreases damage, but makes shots almost silent, or a scope for a long-range advantage.
Contrary to that, adding a second barrel to your shotgun results in an absolutely devastating close-range tool. Discovering and attaching new parts is a highly engaging process and you may easily spend a substantial amount of time creating the prefect firearm.
However, with so many different weapons, sub-weapons and tools, it becomes confusing to access any individual one. Options range between: pressing the d-pad, holding the d-pad, and pressing the d-pad while holding a bumper button just to access one particular thing. A keyboard would definitely be more suitable, but you do become used to it after a while.
Combat isn’t completely perfect and that comes down mostly to a lacklustre AI. At least on normal difficulty settings. Sometimes, enemies simply give up the chase, even when there’s clearly someone taking out their comrades. They react to sounds and light and go into alert if they discover a body, which prompts them to look for Artyom, but then they seldom ever find him. Worse still, they may just stand in place and look confused, giving you an ample amount of time to line up that headshot from the depths of darkness.
Lastly, for the especially valiant, Metro Exodus once again provides the infamous Ranger mode. Not only does it drastically increase difficulty, but almost completely removes any notion of a HUD. This mode might as well compensate for the previous flaws.
A few technical issues kept me from fully enjoying Metro Exodus though. Some character models oddly stutter when transitioning between multiple dialogue segments, and Artyom’s footsteps occasionally sound off or he becomes stuck between objects. And I did experience the game crashing. Worst of all, I encountered a bug which prevented me from saving progress and disabled the autosave. I managed to find a workaround to avoid it, but still lost well over an hour of progress. This issue seems to be particularly prevalent among PC players, and thankfully, developers are aware of the issue and are now working on a patch to fix it. Hopefully soon.
Metro Exodus may not be perfect; certain graphical inconsistencies, bugs and a flawed AI make sure of that. But a bleak post-apocalyptic world, along with a cast of memorable characters who populate it, lead to a definitive Metro experience.
As does traversing the country on an old train with trusty companions at your side. And the vast artillery of weapons, tools and customisation options ensure that you won’t ever become tired of combat encounters. Polished aspects of first-person combat, stealth and additional survival elements, make Metro Exodus a mandatory journey for fans of Dmitry Glukhovsky’s dystopian universe.