The Metro franchise has always thrived from its cult status. A brutish, hardcore single player shooter that, like the occupants of its post-apocalyptic world, has operated more in the dark and the shadows of the FPS genre than some of its mainstream relatives. Metro Exodus is developer 4A Games’ attempt at bringing the franchise into the limelight. With a heavy focus on narrative, the title aims to occupy a dormant space within its genre. Whilst Exodus does deliver a solid and merciless FPS experience, technical issues and narrative shortcomings mean that Metro is still destined for the underground.
Exodus continues the story of franchise protagonist Artyom as he grows tired of battling for survival in Moscow and longs for a life free of death and mutated monsters. As he and his wife Anna stumble into possession of a train called the Aurora, they embark on a journey that takes them and their comrades cascading around post-apocalyptic Russia.
Surprisingly, their odyssey is filled with beautifully bleak landscapes that are filled with detail. These environments give the player an open world to explore at their own pace, whilst the 4A engine presents them in extremely high visual fidelity. The switch to an open world format is a refreshing one for the Metro franchise, where the linear corridors of previous titles echoed an era long gone for shooters. Whether it be the winter-stricken marshes of the Volga river or the derelict and barren Caspian desert, Exodus delivers some of the most impressive visuals of this generation.
Furthermore, the intimate detail on character models and facial animation, coupled with dynamic lighting and shadowing help push the boundaries of graphical quality. It’s even more impressive that it runs at native 4k resolution without any faults on an Xbox One X, regardless that the game is capped at 30 frames per second.
4A have also placed intense focus on the weapon customisation in Exodus, another overwhelming positive for the title. The mechanic harnesses the ingenuity of post-apocalyptic science and puts it in the hands of the player. Every weapon can be sculpted into something different in the matter of a few button presses. This allows for dynamic scenarios where the player can adapt on the fly in firefights, depending on the situation.
Still, the indelicate and clunky feel to the weapons that has been a staple of the series hasn’t been eradicated. The ruthlessness of enemies replicates the hard-core FPS experience long term fans have lauded over since Metro 2033. But the gameplay still has its glaring faults; despite their savageness, enemy AI is utterly devoid of intelligence and seem to be oblivious to the concept of protecting themselves. It also doesn’t help that enemy hit boxes aren’t well defined, creating a deeply frustrating experience at times.
The sound design is considerably underwhelming as well. It appears as though some actions don’t have any sound to accompany them and it’s jarring to be thrown into a completely silent quick time event. On top of this, characters constantly talk over each other at the same pitch, making each cutscene an unwelcomed shouting match.
Narratively Metro Exodus disappoints as well. In an era of well-crafted story-focussed games, the title comes off as shallow and confusing. Characters are one-note and their dialogue is so very deeply annoying. It feels at times you are watching a cheap action film directed by Tommy Wiseau. This is even more disappointing considering the author of the original Metro book, Dmitry Glukhosvky, had a hand in crafting the story. This was a real chance for a deep dive into the wider lore of the Metro world and, whilst there are a few moments of interest, it feels like only the surface was scratched. This is partly because there are no side quests available in the multiple open world environments. Everything separate to the main quest line are just points of interest.
Metro Exodus is a prime example of unrealised potential. A game that offers so much versatility and graphical quality hinders itself in one of the most important aspects of a story focussed shooter, the narrative. Pair this with a handful of technical issues and it feels like the game could have used another coat of polish. It’s a guaranteed hit with existing fans but only time will tell as to whether Metro will hit the mainstream.
Image: Metro Exodus | 4A Games