Remember the 2000s, when road trip movies were all the rage? Little Miss Sunshine, Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle, Road Trip. All of these movies were centered around the same basic premise: a group of people on the road, encountering amusing trials and tribulations en route to their final destination. Enter 4A Games’ Metro Exodus, a video game with a road (train?) trip type of story set in a post-apocalyptic world. While there are subtle moments of humor, the game is certainly no comedy as players venture from the tunnels of the Metro and travel throughout the Russian Wastelands in search of a safe, new home. Aside from a few technical issues and the game being fundamentally similar to the previous titles in the franchise, Metro Exodus is elevated by its narrative of finding faith and hope in an otherwise desolate world.
Metro Exodus picks up two years after the events of Metro: Last Light, with players once again taking on the role of Antyom, who is joined by his wife, Anna, as well as the remaining members of the Spartan Rangers who are led by Anna’s father, Colonel Miller. After discovering that the subterranean Metro tunnels of Moscow were not the only thing to have survived the nuclear war, the group manages to hijack a train called the “Aurora,” and use it to travel the countryside in search of a new home.
One of Metro Exodus’ best features is its refreshingly hopeful story. Whereas the previous games in the series were darker in tone, matching the tunnels in which the game was set, Metro Exodus opens up a whole new world above ground, bringing with it a sense of optimism that radiates throughout the Aurora’s occupants. Traveling from place to place allows players to take in the comradery of the Spartan crew, interacting with them in various ways to get to know them on a more intimate level. The nice thing is that this is by no means necessary, if you would rather prefer to take in the sights of the passing landscape.
Therein lies the other element that makes Metro Exodus special. Whereas the previous games involved traversing dark underground passageways with potential doom lurking around every corner, Metro Exodus opens up an above ground world that provides plenty of visually pleasing aesthetics. The scenery changes throughout the game, from wastelands, to forests, to (a personal favorite) the dried-out Caspian Sea. These settings aren’t necessarily anything new to the post-apocalyptic genre, but Metro Exodus does well to pull players in to really make the presence of each environment felt. Though the new landscapes generate hopeful enthusiasm, the looming, haunting feeling of desperation still undoubtedly hangs in the air. After all, this is still a Metro game, filled with mutants, demons, and other terrors awaiting Antyom and crew throughout the world.
The formula for fear that the Metro franchise has used is still at play in Metro Exodus, but in a different way. Expected jump scares still exist but remain effective enough to accelerate heart rates. However, with the breath of optimism, comes the dread that is endlessly felt throughout the game. Never feeling completely comfortable or in control is a constant weight that threatens the decision-making process (which ultimately affects the game's ending), regardless of Antyom being below or above ground.
Metro Exodus opens up the ability for players to explore the world a little bit more, rather than being a linear adventure like the previous games. The “open world” is still pretty limited in terms of exploration. Story-driving objective locations are marked on the player's map, but they can explore the surrounding area before visiting the marked location.
Along the way, Antyom encounters the typical combat situations that Metro players will be familiar with. Be it against human or monster, the battles are relatively mediocre and tiresome. Firefights against human enemies especially leaves a lot to be desired. Most such situations can be handled easily enough by waiting for an enemy to poke his head out and simply landing a headshot on the relatively slow-moving adversary. Metro Exodus also provides ways of utilizing stealth as an option for getting around full-on gun battles, but generally, Antyom is left to fight his way out of most situations. Though, don’t expect your NPC allies to provide much offensive support.
As was previously mentioned, interacting with the crew aboard the Aurora is optional. More often than not, this is a good thing. Other than the voiceover narratives that add context to the story, players have come to know Antyom as the strong, silent (and mysterious) type. Unfortunately, that means interacting with NPCs comes with being talked at, rather than conversing with them. Overlapping conversations often fill the speakers, creating overwhelming auditory chaos that makes interacting with any NPC less than appealing. Voice lines are also repeated depending on Antyom’s physical position. There were numerous instances in which moving forward and backward would start, stop, and restart the same NPC line, which kind of took away from the immersive experience of the game. Not to harp on the game’s audio too much, one final recommendation: consider utilizing the option to play the game using Russian voices. Metro Exodus’ English voice acting is pretty painfully awkward, again, taking away from the game’s immersive experience.
Metro Exodus brings new light to a franchise that has kept players in the dark until now. It could be argued that coming above ground in this third installment takes away from the dark characteristics of the Metro series, but that would be a shortsighted statement. There’s only so much you can do underground without becoming stale. Metro Exodus takes a natural step in its progression within the series and - depending on the decisions made throughout the game - closes out Antyom’s story in a predictable but satisfying enough way.
Of course, we would be remiss not to make some sort of mention of the drama that took place with publisher Deep Silver’s decision to initially release Metro Exodus on the Epic Games Store and not on Steam. As such, while Metro Exodus is not without its charm of wonderful visuals and a refreshingly hopeful plot, the game is worth waiting for, if you would prefer to play it via Steam when it releases on the platform next year.
3 out of 5 stars
A copy of Metro Exodus was purchased by TheGamer for this review. The game is available now for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.