Welcome back to Moscow, a city hidden from the outside world under a blanket of radiation and lies. Two decades after being forced to flee the surface, the inhabitants of the subterranean metro system live on in their cramped holes and communities, still trying to survive by any means necessary. All this while still living in constant fear of the monsters that lurk beneath the surface with them, both mutant and human.
The third installment in the radioactive series follows hot on the hazmat heels of the “Redemption” ending from Metro Last Light, and joins our protagonist Artyom as he tries to get to the bottom of a mysterious radio signal he’s detected while doing some surface recon. Naturally, half the people living in the dark confined space of the metro don’t believe him, and the other half don’t want to hear it because reasons. Not needing this kind of negativity, Artyom sets out to prove everyone wrong, and inadvertently triggers a series of events that will change the lives and beliefs of a handful of his fellow mole people forever. It’s a story that will ultimately see this bunch of tovarishches out of the Moscow underground, and across the blasted wasteland of Mother Russia in search of a new home. One where they won’t need to fear being eaten in their sleep or waking up to find that they all suddenly glow in the dark.
The exodus from the metro itself is quite a grueling affair, because preparations are super important. You need the basics, like food, water, and Geiger counter, and you’ve got to be able to defend yourself, so you need weapons, ammo and other gear too. So, it makes total sense that you do none of this. A much better plan instead is to steal a Soviet-era steam train and bust the hell out of there on what’s basically a whim, and just hope for the best, right? Well da, that’s about right.
And I thought it was a clever play as far as the story goes, because Metro is about improvising. As with the previous games, you still assemble your (ultimately) formidable array of interesting weaponry and gizmos from salvaged guns and scrap you stumble upon – or pry from the cold, dead fingers of some poor soul that chose to use you for target practice.
You must still maintain your gear, now more than ever because there’s so much wind and dust and dead skin on the surface, and you’ll have to make your own ammo if you’re coming up short while scavenging. Your mask, the thin layer of plastic and filters between you and certain death also needs TLC – like, a lot of it. And the only place you can reliably do all of this is at a fancy workbench that happens to have everything you need apart from the raw materials, which you must supply yourself. Besides the workbench on the train, you can occasionally also find workbenches around the locations you’re passing through, and I recommend you use it every time you find one. Because there is nothing like stepping into a fight, palms sweaty, reticle on the mutant’s forehead, only to have the fucking gun jam up on you, promptly followed by a brief lunch in which you’re the main course. You also have a handy backpack that you can use to switch out weapon parts on the fly, craft health packs and filters on the go, and manufacture certain kinds of basic ammo. IMPROVISING.
Artyom’s trip takes some unpredictable turns with the game’s introduction of open spaces (but even though our protagonists have escaped of the black tunnels of the Moscow metro, there are still some sections that revisit the creeping claustrophobia of previous games). Binoculars will help you find points of interest, if you know where to look from and what to look – … or listen – for. It’s still a very much a linear game, but you now also have the option of not rushing to your destination – and you shouldn’t. Exploring will reveal notes, post cards, and recordings with bits of information that help expand the lore of the area you are passing through, if digging deep for more of the story is your thing. Even if it’s not, there are more practical rewards to be found by scouring the landscape, such as materials, ammo, weapons, weapon parts and gear upgrades.
Oh, and if you decide to swap out a weapon while you are in the field, don’t forget to salvage all the bits off of it first because you wont get them back if you don’t and it’s a shitty lesson to learn the hard way. Just ask this guy.
Throughout the game there’s a lot of emphasis on stealth and you can kit up accordingly. Silent weapons are a must, and you’ll always have at least one equipped. Conveniently, there are several locations around each map where you can bunk down until night, so you don’t have to try slip into a well-guarded building or compound during broad daylight. And after you get your hands on a pair of night vision goggles, there really won’t be much point to wandering around in the sun at all. But if you belong to the school of thought that sees stealth as a gaming abomination BECAUSE GUNS, then that’s okay too. Life will be harder and louder for you, and your resources and ammo will deplete accordingly, but you do have the choice. You should keep in mind, however, that some actions during the game will affect the ending, so being a murderous Stalin and simply purging everyone, while being entertaining in the moment, could work against you in the end. Listen to what the other characters have to say because they provide the required guidance during the game, and what they say or want does matter.
My time with Metro Exodus was a lot of fun – I loved almost every moment of it, but it’s not without its faults.
I hate how the NPCs constantly talk over one another, for example, and if it wasn’t for the subtitles, I would’ve been completely lost. It feels like the scripted animations were done in another language where fewer words were originally required, the result being that a second character would often start talking before the first was finished. It almost feels like they are purposefully talking over one another, and my editor and I are still undecided if this was by design. The only thing I know about it for sure is that I found it annoying.
The loading times are excessive, some of them so long that I could almost finish a round of Into the Breach on my Switch while waiting. Loading times are significantly faster after the first, though, so I’ll kind of let that slide. Artyom also never speaks in-game, but he does on the loading screens and I honestly don’t understand the reasoning behind that design choice. Why not just talk when everybody else is talking? Like everybody else.
Metro Exodus is a what's what of things I love, including "sci-fi", "post-apocalyptic" and "eye-bleeding pixel sexiness" buttons. The initial load times and overlapping dialogue aside, 4A Games has produced an interesting, occasionally terrifying, but mostly gorgeous piece of radioactive art.