Russia has never been so pretty.
In an increasingly-saturated post-apocalyptic gaming market, Metro 2033 and Metro Last Light stood out as highlights of the last generation thanks to the series’ unique blend of survival horror and fps, while the setting perfectly epitomised what it must feel like to survive a nuclear apocalypse; hopeless and fearful. While other post-nuclear titles saw you exploring vast landscapes, the Metro series took place underground in the dark, dreary and mutant-infested Moscow metro, which, much like BioShock’s Rapture, kept the action tense.
I’ll admit, I was a little concerned about Metro Exodus taking the action above-ground into Russia’s frozen tundra. However, I needn’t feared, Metro Exodus manages to capture all the essence of the original titles, while pushing the series forward in what is easily one of the best shooters on the PS4 to date.
Set two years after the events of Metro Last Light, you take control of Artyom once again, hell-bent on proving the existence of life outside of the Moscow Metro. During the initial act, you help a band of Spartan Rangers commandeer a locomotive known as the Aurora and set out on a mission to search for survivors and hopefully settle down to a new life with now-wife Anna and your comrades. Unlike the previous entries, which required some knowledge of the novels upon which the series is based in order to completely understand, Metro Exodus’ story is much simpler, and newcomers to the series can easily skip the previous entries and feel right at home. That isn’t to say the story is boring; I was constantly engaged and intrigued throughout the twenty-hour journey, thanks to some excellent script writing that is influenced by how you play, and the diverse landscapes you visit throughout. I was a little concerned after a slow opening act, but Metro Exodus, set over an entire in-game year, really hits its stride from the middle-act, only slowing a little at the end. It’s worth noting that while a karma system is indeed in play here, it’s not as noticeable as in the previous titles, although it will influence how comrades interact with you.
Despite pre-release footage suggesting otherwise, Metro Exodus isn’t really an open-ended world like Fallout’s Boston or West Virginia – you can’t just wander across the barren Russian landscape, rather the game continues with the series’ traditional chapter navigation, with Artyom narrating before each chapter. Within these chapters are more expansive environments where you can undertake main missions as well as small side missions, although these side missions are nothing more than finding an extra item during a main mission quest. As the game draws to its conclusion these environments become more linear. I loved this mixture, as one minute I was traversing a dry, sandy sea, and the next, crawling through abandoned power stations and bunkers.
Like the previous two entries, guns are plentiful, but don’t expect much ammo to go along with them. Throughout the journey I often found myself running out of ammo just before a horde of ghouls attacked, or in worse cases, a boss fight – this made every fight feel intense, but often resulted in some rather punishing difficulty spikes, even on the normal difficulty. These difficulty spikes may put some newcomers off, but it just makes you plan your strategy more vigorously. Thankfully, pretty much all enemy encounters can be overcome through stealth, and, despite my woeful stealth ability (you should watch me try and play Assassin’s Creed), I persevered here and found the experience all the more enjoyable for it. Stealth also became vital as Artyom handles like he’s constantly wading through treacle; even with my sensitivity settings pushed up to the highest levels Artyom moves as if in slow motion! This made one particular boss fight very infuriating.
Like the previous titles, your watch shows whether you’re visible to enemies or not, and you can sneak around locations turning off lights to ensure you remain the master of darkness. Sneaking also means you can take down enemies without using precious ammunition. The game also features a full day/night cycle that changes how enemies behave, giving you a more varied way of approaching combat. If you wait until night, this makes human enemies easier to pick off, but at the expense of the more volatile mutants that roam the wastelands at night.
If you’re running low on ammunition or health, Metro Exodus has introduced a new crafting system, whereby you’re able to craft some by collecting some of the scrap lying around the world. The crafting system here isn’t particularly deep like you find in some of the Fallout titles, but there’s enough weapon customisation here that you can modify your favourite guns to suit your preferred combat style. You can also upgrade elements of your armour to help you take more hits, carry more ammunition or improve your ability to withstand the harsh radiation levels.
What surprised me the most about Metro Exodus was just how pretty the game looks. I was expecting a twenty-hour journey through a rather bleak snowy landscape, but the game takes you through pretty much everything. Gorgeous forests give way to arid deserts and frozen metropolises. More importantly though, these environments feel real and believable. To often, post-apocalyptic landscapes make light of what is a terrible world, and that’s fine, but with Metro Exodus, these environments needs to reflect the dark, gritty, and hopeless worlds the series is famed for, and they do perfectly.
Sadly, some of the character models aren’t up to the same level, with some looking a little plastic and rigid, but it’s only a small gripe. The biggest concerns with Metro Exodus were the loading times, which were extremely lengthy. When firing up the game, most loading screens took a good three to four minutes to load, while returning to the last checkpoint after a death took a good minute. The game also suffers from some screen tearing issues in the later stages, but this was infrequent and nothing but a minor irritant.
I was concerned that Metro Exodus would lose its soul by going into the heavily-saturated post-apocalyptic open world market, but I was thankfully proved wrong. Boasting solid gameplay and one of the most compelling stories I’ve played in recent times, Metro Exodus’ shift to the striking Russian landscape is not only a worthy successor to the previous entries, but one of the best shooters on the PS4 today.
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