The old Exodus book of the Bible is about several Israelites brought into slavery in Egypt, where they were freed through the guidance of Moses through God. Metro Exodus brings a similar story, though instead of Israelites, it’s the Russians of Moscow; the restriction of freedom not being slavery, but the irradiated world around them. The escape not being….all right, you got me. I know little about the story of Exodus, but I know about the story of Metro Exodus.
Artyom has been through a lot over the last two years, and is at a point in his life where he wants something more. Something better than living in an irradiated wasteland, tunnelled into the metro like a rat. This chapter of his life takes place with a small group of post-apocalypse Spetznaz called “The Order”, namely on a train “‘The Aurora”, looking throughout Russia for any sign of an active Russian command centre—and any location where The Order can live in a free irradiated zone.
There are a lot of things that separate Metro Exodus from Metro 2033 and Metro: Last Light, and it’s mainly based around the size and variety that the game offers that its predecessors didn’t. As you road trip through Russia, you navigate through different biomes in different seasons throughout the year 2035. You start off your frostbitten winter in Moscow, moving through to the migrating spring of the Volga River, onward to the summer and arid deserts near the Caspian Sea, then onward to a gorgeous, mountainous riverside valley in beautiful springtime.
What makes the game bigger is the fact that each new location is set in a fairly decent sized landscape enriched with environmental stories, hidden side quests, and what seems to be random encounters that feel natural and fluid within the world. I remember stories within the game that, despite whether they’re scripted, make it feel like a personal experience.
Finding a group of buildings in the desert, I decided to make my way stealthily into a big, rusty, old shed; there were loads of scrap metal and gear strewn across the place. As I dug in deeper, I found I was in a den of Humanimals (mutant zombie humans). They were dusty and covered in sand, like the rest of the gear inside. An amazing camouflage. I noticed too late. One charged at me and was quickly dispatched by the speedy and effective ball bearings of my pressurised Pneumatic Gun. Yet again, I was too late. It screeched as it charged and woke up the entire hive. I switched to my assault rifle, swiftly shooting head to head. They all fell down as I shot. Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop. Quick and calculated I took them all down focused on the task at hand. An engine sounded outside… Bandits exited the vehicle, shouting at me, thinking I’m a guy called Saul rummaging through their shed to steal from them. While I was there to steal from them, I wasn’t Saul…but that didn’t matter and, from what I could tell, they trapped me in this shed with only one exit. The front. Like a cornered animal, I readied myself for the coming battle. Tension was high… They still hadn’t seen me, so I had the next move.
Bandits aren’t mutants that you can pick from a distance. These are smart people with deadly weapons that could shred through you with only a few shots. Which brings me to my next point about combat and survivability.
Just like the other Metro games, you can’t just run into the fray, spray and pray. No, no! Every bullet requires precision. Every action needs to be calculated. Stealth is more often than not ideal. And being placed in an open world, when coming into the vicinity of the deadly monsters, human or otherwise, sometimes the best choice is to let them pass or pass them by. Sometimes for the sake of your resources, other times for the sake of your life.
Resources and maintenance are mainstays in the Metro series. It’s a harsh world out there, and you need to scavenge anything and everything that you can to stay alive in the world. You have two resources to work with (Chemical and Material), and you need to balance both and spend it wisely. You can use these resources to make medkits, bullets, and throwables, and maintain your weapons to prevent them from jamming. It’s a juggling act to keep you alive and, as long as you’re playing the part of caution and scarcity, doesn’t feel frustrating as much as it brings you deeper into the feeling of living in the world.
It’s the little things like repairing your gas mask when you’ve suffered too much damage, charging your flashlight when it’s running low, hand-pumping your Pneumatic Gun to the point of deadly pressure… When scavenging, you not only check the dead (recent or otherwise) person for materials and bullets, but you also scavenge the guns, stripping them of any attachments and metal that you may find for your own personal use. Even when approaching certain characters, they notice and appreciate when my weapon is holstered. Small things like this are what I absolutely love about the game. They bring you closer to the story, feeling, and the world that Artyom lives in.
Another point of immersion is how you handle the basic interface of the game. Rather than swapping out to a map away from the game, you pull out a leather binder in real-time to check your location. Your wrist also tells a lot without requiring an HUD on the screen. A blue light lights up whenever you’re in the light; a compass will point to the closest direction of interest and (if you get it later on in the game) a motion detector will point out enemies in your vicinity; when you craft, instead of being brought into the menu, you instead pull your bag off your shoulder to look at its contents. The only time that the HUD shows up is for ammo checking and general resource management. A minimalistic touch which shows that they know the right balance between realistic and irritatingly difficult.
This game gives off the feeling of so many other movies and games, and does them all justice. Sometimes it feels like a darker, harsher Fallout game as I walk through the wastelands; other times it feels like The Book of Eli as I stumble across a group of cannibals; one time I felt like I was in Vin Diesel’s Pitch Black, holding close to my flashlight which massive spiders hesitantly bite at, hoping for my flesh; and then there’s Mad Max, as I’m ambushed by bandits in a sandstorm, and then all of us are ambushed by mutants.
I feel like I’d be doing the game a bit of injustice if I didn’t talk about what it does with its characters. While the Russian-accented characters have some slight dialogue issues—pausing between sentences and replies, and occasionally talking over each other and cutting dialogue off—they genuinely feel like real people, with banter and stories being thrown around. They also feel like they have actual personalities to them: hopes, dreams, and wants. Colonel Miller is very military focused, wanting to meet and work with his superiors at Command; Duke is eager to go on missions, is always the first to volunteer, and is often taking risks to make sure the mission is complete—he wants to prove himself; Anna (Artyom’s wife) is conflicted, wanting you to be safe, but also understanding that you need to take risks, just as much as she does.
From every little detail that feels hand-stitched, the developers at 4A Games have definitely made the best Metro game to date; after finishing it, I can’t shake off the feeling of wanting to replay the other Metro games, or maybe even read Dmitry Glukhovsky’s books the games are based on.