Taking a step in a new direction, Metro: Exodus attempts to bring the series onto a bold new trajectory. As a result of the claustrophobic, insular nature of their settings, the Metro games have traditionally been tight, tense, linear experiences that have struggled to diversify environments and gameplay mechanics, but Exodus breaks from this, utilising the diversity of a Russian wilderness wrought by the struggles of nuclear war to create a series of mini-open-world maps for players to explore and move around in. Mixing it up further, these open-world sections are punctuated by more traditional, linear sections that we have come to expect from the series. What we are left with is a genuinely interesting game that shoots for something fresh and engaging. When everything clicks into place, there are some great moments, but it’s just a shame that through stiff controls, bad storytelling, and a myriad of bugs, these great moments are too few and far between.
Set after the events of the first two novels that this series has sprouted from — Metro 2033 and Metro 2034 — Artyom now finds himself and a small group exiled from their home and propelled on a journey across Russia as they attempt to find the remains of the Russian government. Through the events of the first area, which is essentially the in-game tutorial, the group now find themselves in possession of a train, which acts as a central base as the player moves between areas that include snowy tundras, desserts, lush forests, and underground bunkers. The idea of having a moving base works excellently here, and for the most part, the pacing of Metro: Exodus is terrific. The areas of the map are large enough to allow for a great deal of exploring, but short enough that as soon as players become comfortable with an area, it is taken away and replaced with a vastly different vista that brings unique challenges for the player to come to grips with.
Players will constantly feel like they are battling environments, doing just enough to scrape by. This post-apocalyptic universe is hard and ruthless, and there is a real sense of struggle; players will rarely feel like they have enough provisions and ammunition to get them through the next encounter. Sadly, however, this well-executed sense of struggle is not carried into the narrative. The characters are supremely unlikable, often to the point that many players will have no interest in their fate whatsoever. They will be left blandly watching what was supposed to be heartfelt dialogue, possibly laughing as voice actors bemoan serious, life-threatening injuries in a manner that is utterly monotone. This element creates a sense of juxtaposition, in that the environments themselves feel detailed and lifelike, but every living thing inside them is utterly lifeless.
Still, it is the gameplay that will most likely keep players coming back for more. Players are constantly required to juggle and manage resources, which is usually accessed through a backpack that acts as a crafting menu. For many, this will be where the game really shines, as the player will constantly be on the lookout for materials, many of which are required for multiples recipes. An example of this is that med kits and bullets both need chemicals, meaning there will be moments where the player is be forced to choose between making a med kit or crafting much-needed ammo for their gun. This can be doubly perilous, as opening the crafting menu doesn’t pause the game, providing intense moments where players will have to find a quiet corner to hide so that they can make a health pack as quickly as possible before they are spotted and killed. When all of this comes together, Metro: Exodus can rival any game for tension, and because it never feels like there are enough materials around, completing missions is hugely satisfying.
As with the story however, these moments come apart all too often, marring the experience with anger and frustration. Control-wise, the game is frustratingly heavy. The player moves at what feels like a snail’s pace, meaning that they will very often be overwhelmed by enemies, left feeling like they were let down by the controls rather than anything they did wrong. This is compounded the enemy AI, which is patchy at best. Enemies will break your immersion by repeating the same bad one-liner over and over as they search for you, before apparently forgetting what they are supposed to be doing, then clipping inside one another as they blankly stare off into the distance.
At regular intervals the game will completely freeze, forcing players to reset their console or force a restart because turning a rowing boat in an unexpected direction might result in getting completely jammed on geometry. From time to time, Exodus will also simply kill the player. One particular bug saw me fired into the air from a moving train. I was then suspended there for a few minutes while NPCs had a conversation, before being dropped to my death and losing around forty minutes of progress. If these bugs were rare, they could be forgiven, but game-breaking bugs are rife, and I experienced a crash in almost every play session over the course of a week. Thankfully, there is a quick-save feature.
Metro: Exodus is at times a frustrating and confusing experience. The plot delivery — in particular the voice acting — is truly atrocious, and controlling the main character can be a laborious exercise that quickly leads to frustration. When this is also punctuated by a number of serious bugs, it’s hard to recommend this game to anyone. That said, there are some truly fantastic moments, and opting to have a plethora of smaller, more focused maps instead of the sprawling wilderness that so many games strive for for is a unique take that (for the most part) works really well. Overall, Metro: Exodus at its best is a tense, challenging, and enthralling game that will have players desperate to explore every nook and cranny for more crafting materials that might prove decisive in a fight. At its worst, it’s has a dull, un-engaging story with a poorly controlling main character blanketed in the constant threat that the whole game might break at any minute. There’s a fantastic game in there — it’s just a shame that it shows itself all too infrequently.