Visuals aside, the new setting makes for a brilliant expansion of the Metro world. Many of Artyom’s excursions on the surface directly apply the familiar, oppressive horror setup to tunnels and structures filled with monsters and enemies. But connecting them all is a sprawling and beautiful semi-open world replacing the dank old rail system, filled with new stories to discover, tough choices to make and horrific creatures to be tormented by.
My favourite thing about the previous two games is the dirty, scavenged, retro-future style, sold ingeniously through minimal and immersive first-person design and smart survival elements. And although you no longer use bullets for currency in Exodus, which was previously a clever way to sum up the games’ austerity, that vibe still lives on.
For example I love the needlessly complicated in-world solutions to things that are usually handled with text and metres in other games, like the fact that you check Artyom’s actual wrist to see the timer for your gas mask filters. It only adds to the incredible tension when you’re stuck underground and not sure you have time to get out.
Then there’s the extensive crafting system, where you can plop down on the floor anywhere, open your backpack and make throwing knives or explosives out of the scraps you’ve found along the way. You can also fit bits and pieces you’ve pulled off other guns onto your favourite weapons, like a night vision module or a new grip. Doing so does make your guns dirty and unreliable though, and you need to find work benches to give them a good clean.
As always bullets are hard to come by, which means you’ll really want to tune your guns to the situation to make firefights as economical as possible. If all else fails, you have a special pneumatic gun that fires ball-bearings you can make out of practically anything, but it needs to be pumped like a super soaker before firing to be effective.
These elements might all be new, and exploring a world in the open sunlight certainly is, but the limitation of travelling by rail combined with the sombre story and tense pacing means this still very much feels like Metro, which is a good thing.
Of course some of the series’ weakpoints have followed through to Exodus as well. For example the English voice acting is still bad, losing all nuance and emotion in heavy European accents. Switching the language track to Russian makes the whole game sound a lot less comical, although then you’ll be caught needing to read subtitles even while you’re fighting for your life.
I was also frequently irritated by the execution of Artyom as a silent protagonist. This is something a lot of first person games do, but in Exodus other characters are constantly talking to and interacting with Artyom, who says nothing in return, and they all act as though this is normal. It’s especially cringeworthy when the game tries to make us care about Artyom’s relationship with his wife Anna, despite the fact their every interaction is incredibly one sided. He’s very open and chatty in the diary entries that are presented during the (very lengthy) loading screens and he can even be heard reading these out aloud, so why make the in-game interactions so awkward?
A prevalence of bugs and technical hiccups also persists throughout the game. More often than not they’re quirky rather than frustrating — like enemies getting stuck in walls after you’ve killed them or guns floating through air — but I did experience several full crashes as well.
Small issues aside, this is the best Metro game so far and a superbly engrossing take on the horror shooter with a charming Russian apocalypse flavour. The presentation of the story and characters might not be as slick as the world-building and combat, but if grungy sci-fi survival is your thing you won’t be disappointed.
Metro Exodus is out now for Xbox One (reviewed), PC and PlayStation 4.
Tim is the editor of The Age and Sydney Morning Herald technology sections.