As a series, the Metro games are unique and ambitious but never seem to stick the landing. This is definitely the case for Metro: Exodus, which manages to be completely engrossing yet somehow a total slog to play through at the same time.
That may sound harsh, but every time I found myself immersed in the world of Metro: Exodus, the game would throw something my way to make me roll my eyes and sigh in frustration. However, it’s only fair to acknowledge that it does have some highlights.
Metro: Exodus has many remarkable features. The game’s most exceptional achievement is atmosphere. Between the visuals, sound design and even minor gameplay elements, everything exists to serve the haunting ambience.
The game immerses players with ease thanks to desolate, highly detailed environments. Exploring the world feels lonely and uneasy, even in broad daylight. The graphics look a little dated on consoles, but the detail is hard to ignore. The level design alternates between linear and open-world, which keeps things refreshing.
The world of Metro: Exodus is dense with lore. After a nuclear apocalypse ravages the Earth, citizens of Moscow retreat to the subway tunnels and sewers where civilization is rebuilt. It is here that protagonist Artyom and his fellow Rangers live their lives. The outside world is full of bandits, mutant creatures, and all kinds of dangers that the player must be prepared to face when exploring.
However, the rich world’s enticements end here, because some players will struggle to experience them while standing behind NPCs. Many levels feature sequences where Artyom must follow an NPC to progress, and these are downright agonizing. Artyom must wait patiently while characters drone on for too long or while NPCs take him on a handcuffed walk.
While Artyom is mostly a silent protagonist, his supporting cast is anything but. Non-player characters talk so much, in fact, that you will spend a good portion of playtime simply waiting for dialogue to end.
It’s hard to enjoy the game’s world (or even other characters) while the supporting cast keeps the player on such a tight, restrictive leash. Also, the NPCs trigger glitches frequently — they freeze in place or get stuck on an object in the environment, halting their progress and the player’s by association. Be prepared to reload your game simply because an NPC impedes progress by refusing to move.
Thankfully, once Artyom is set free, the game begins to, well… feel like a game. Metro: Exodus looks and plays like Fallout, except with less role-playing and more survival elements. Think Far Cry without the power fantasy.
While you spend time scavenging for supplies and completing various quests, the player must be mindful of Artyom’s environment and his ability to survive its hazards. Segments of lonesome exploration are when Metro: Exodus is at its best.
Gameplay systems revolve around making it feel like a survival game without the intrusive nature of the genre. You won’t be maintaining meters that deal with hunger or thirst. Instead, the gameplay is much more immersive.
Equipment has to be maintained. Weapons must be cleaned. Players much watch their Geiger counters for dangerous radiation, and they have to be mindful of the air filters within their gas masks. Gas masks can even crack, requiring repairs on-the-fly. They even need to be wiped clean so that Artyom can see clearly.
Even the menus of Metro: Exodus feed into immersion. The map and objective screen appear as a notepad that must be removed from the player’s rucksack. It’s these little gameplay touches that make the player feel like they’re a survivalist on a dangerous journey. None of these elements feel like chores that distract from the core gameplay.
What does feel like a distracting chore, though? The rest of the gameplay. It’s a good thing that stealth is the preferred mode of combat, because every open firefight feels clunky and awkward. The gunplay is satisfying, but Artyom moves like a blundering Resident Evil character. He’s slow and tends to get stuck on the smallest environmental hazards. If you’re great at stealth, this can be overlooked, but open combat is hardly ever enjoyable.
Metro is a cult-classic series, but each entry feels like a project that was too ambitious for its development resources. Metro: Exodus is brimming with cool ideas and great ambience, but it doesn’t have gameplay that feels smooth enough to back it up.
Even after giving Metro: Exodus so many hours and dozens of chances, I just can’t recommend it. I can see its merits and the ambitious, passionate work that went into creating it, but I can’t see past the flaws.
If post-apocalyptic sci-fi is your niche, then you might enjoy Metro: Exodus. But if clunky shooters are your kryptonite, then stay away. The industry needs more games like this one — single-player, story-driven, and full of detail — but they need to feel a bit more polished than this.