Metro Exodus is a rare work of art. Visually stunning. Brilliant game design. Not afraid to embrace the best of “last gen” design as long as it works. Well paced. It even successfully says something about the human condition.
The best example of this is an early quest: a little girl asks you to find and return her teddy bear. Unfortunately said teddy bear has been taken by a winged demon to its nest. These winged demons are basically gargoyles that fly around the map. If you are not careful they can fly down and pick you up dropping you in their nests (which are at the top of water towers and oil derricks), feeding you to their children. These are NOT monsters you are equipped to fight. THIS IS THE FIRST MAP!
This giant winged gargoyle demon beast apparently thinks the teddy bear is one of its children and is sleeping with it in its arms in its nest at the top of an oil derrick. You have to sneak up to the top of the tower (which is sitting in irradiated water) and pilfer the bear from the sleeping demon’s arms. Of COURSE it wakes up and you have to make a daring, edge-of-the-blade escape sliding down a power line into a field full of mutant zombie dogs and giant crawfish.
Almost everything in Metro Exodus costs resources. Health packs are crafted with the same materials used to craft ammo, gas mask filters, and weapon/gear upgrades. Health doesn’t regenerate on its own unless you sleep in a bed which are about as hard to find as you’d expect in a post-nuclear apocalypse. Sometimes you have to put your gasmask on to avoid radiation which uses up your filters. All of your equipment also takes damage from use or being attacked and will need to be repaired using these same resources.
Retrieving the teddy bear (which was also completely out of the way of the main quest path, COMPLETELY) was a dangerous and costly endeavor (like everything in this game). The only reward? A smile on a little girl’s face. That’s it. No tangible in-game reward. No experience points. No new weapons or gear upgrades. Just a thank you from a little girl.
Literally every game in the history of games has given you a reward for completing even the smallest of tasks such as walking into a new part of town. Metro’s designers know this. By not giving you one, they set the tone for the entire experience forcing you to ask the questions: what am I fighting for? Is a smile on a little girl’s face enough of a reward for me? My answer? I think so.
The first hour or so of gameplay in Metro Exodus is some of the worst I have ever played. It tries to introduce you to the setting and mechanics in a pseudo-prequel-tutorial level and it fails miserably at everything it is trying to do. Unfortunately you have to slog through its utter dullness in order to be introduced to the proper beginning of the first open-world map. Why do so many pieces of media insist on boring introduction sequences? Just throw us in where the actual game begins and let us discover the past through playing previous games or reading a journal or something. If your story is so convoluted you need to have a 30 minute “cutscene” to explain it then you just need to rewrite your script. Everything after this horrendous opening sequence is incredible though, making it worth it.
The visuals in Metro Exodus are astounding. If you have a graphics card that supports ray tracing and an HDR monitor then this is the game to play to show it off. Real-time ray tracing is a new technology that has the graphics card render light particles and “trace” their paths in real-time. This means reflections are more realistic. When you look at water, the light behaves like it’s supposed to. It is crazy how much this affects immersion. The environment art is some of the best I’ve encountered in a video game. Everything is crisp and beautiful. In an early scene you are forced to paddle a dinghy through a swamp - something incredibly boring in a video game - and it becomes a magical, reflective😉 experience as you watch the sunset over the water in rural Russia.
Light plays a huge part in the gameplay so the inclusion of ray tracing feels especially appropriate. You wear a light meter on your wrist to help you determine whether you can be seen while sticking to the shadows. With HDR and ray tracing you don’t ever need to look at the light meter because it is represented so well visually. It is surprisingly rare in modern gaming that the visual representation matches up so well with the gameplay. In Metro, a game where the smallest mistake can cost you everything, where the menus are represented in-fiction without pausing, this union is key to the experience.
The gameplay oscillates between slow-paced large open-world exploration and tightly designed, linear “dungeons” echoing the series’ past. The Metro series has been all about dark, winding tunnels and high-stakes gameplay. Midway through the game you are tasked with finding satellite photos of the radiation.
They are deep underground in the archives of a satellite farm. This bunker is infested with spider mutants that are so sensitive to light it actually hurts them. Just shine your flashlight on them and they quickly run away. Easy.
Did I mention that your flashlight can run out of batteries? You have to manually pump a generator to recharge it. It is uniquely terrifying crawling through ventilation ducts with your peripheral vision limited by a gas mask hearing the skittering and chittering of these creatures unseen when your flashlight flickers out. Pump. Pump-pump. Pump. The light turns on a spider mutant inches from your face as it screams out in pain.
Normally I do not enjoy this type of experience. I do not like survival horror as a genre. Metro is something else though. It gives you something to fight for, a reason to put yourself in these horrible situations. You aren't just fighting for your own survival, you are fighting for the microcosm of Russia that is living on the train and your efforts have a tangible effect on those people.
Metro Exodus is as much art as game. It is not without its problems but it would be a shame to let them scare you away from one of the best experiences available right now. In an age of soulless AAA cash cows (cough Anthem cough), Metro: Exodus deserves your support if only to tell the industry we need more games like it—single-player, thoughtful, mature.