Published on February 14th, 2019 | by Zorbz0
REVIEW: Metro Exodus
REVIEW BY: SNRUB
Summary: Metro Exodus is a fascinatingly uneven game, and longer than you might expect for a single player story-driven Survival/Stealth First Person Shooter. But is it good? Sure* – wait what’s with that asterisk?
Concept: Based on a Russian novel, and made by a Ukrainian developer with most actors trying their damned best at English, you play as the bafflingly silent protagonist (more on that later) Artyom; a man who thinks living in the underground train tunnels with his wife and disgraced military friends is the least fun way to spend the rest of their lives, hoping to find The Promised Land in some faraway place above ground where radiation and war is “slightly less of problem, haha”. Russian humour, that’s how the team speaks in this bleak post-apocalypse.
The game opens with a gorgeous moody cutscene showing a bunch of soldiers frozen in combat by snow, and asks to select a difficulty depending on your focus on either the story, or the challenge. I choose “normal”, like the indecisive dog that I am.
Now I’ve never played the other Metro games before, but I understand train tunnels have always been a really big focus point of the series since this game opens by making a point of getting out of one, only to travel by train to get the hell out of Moscow between levels for the rest of the game. There’s a lot of sometimes boring backstory told awkwardly through exposition dialogue about why everything is terrible and nobody likes you, not that you need more of that in your life, but the characters eventually bond in ways that scream “the nice ones are going to die, aren’t they?” and I won’t spoil any of that for you here.
Graphics: (Played on Xbox One X) I found it to be a mixed bag of amazing from a distance, and terrible up close. The focus here is on mini sandboxes for each part of the game: the snow level, the water level where I spent too much time figuring out where to row my boat, the desert level where I spent a lot of time wondering why I couldn’t use the dune buggies, the forest level where I wondered why people spoke in a piratey way matey, it’s almost like inspiration was taken from early 3D platformers for every scene. But it works.
In a remarkable way it doesn’t look anything like brown post-apocalypses like Fallout, although still feels like it at times. There’s plenty of vibrant colour seeping into the world of Metro Exodus, with subtle lights to guide your path almost everywhere you go. There’s no complex menus to navigate, just you, your gun makeshift gun, the open air, and your gas mask to protect you from the open air.
Where the graphics start to fall apart is up close, especially with the characters who talk directly at you with generally poor motion capture, bad lip-syncing, and unnatural animation loops that sometimes make the game feel like it came out about 10 years ago. Characters shuffle about, clipping through scenery and stare blankly at you as they repeat the same fidget every 5 seconds or so.
Mutants appear less realistic or more stylised than human characters which to me feels weirdly inconsistent:
Also after being spoiled by the realism of snow in games like Red Dead Redemption 2, it’s hard to look at the fuzzy shadows, and lack of footprints in Metro Exodus… there’s a blinding bloom and blur effect that often makes things over-exposed despite my gamma settings being darker than the game recommended.
Gameplay: First and foremost, this is not an open world RPG. This is a linear game that gives you 2 powerful guns and one pea-shooting air-rifle kids gun, and almost no ammunition. Metro Exodus feels closer to the original Splinter Cell or Bioshock games, or if the “guns blazing” approach to Wolfenstein The New Order didn’t work.
Characters smugly remind you to please not kill innocent people (the reward for which is, gasp, slightly altered dialogue later when you meet up with your team, but it adds a personal touch), and killing mutants can be a waste of precious bullets since they don’t have any items to drop in your favour. This is where the survival element comes in, and I wish I’d been ready to collect spare gun parts from the start, or knew how to use my backpack to make medkits & throwing knives, or generally be an adult and take good care of myself.
The lack of a HUD means exploration with the map and compass becomes key, and there’s a balance between risk and reward for every optional enemy encounter, although these limitations often left me wandering around for HOURS trying to figure out where I was actually meant to go.
After making a Magnum handgun inexplicably silent and attaching a scope when the story finally introduced me to my first workbench, I really didn’t need any other gun for most of the game (until the obligatory “let’s take away all your weapons and make you start over” bit). Sneaking up behind enemies with either lethal or non-lethal takedowns, and taking sneaky headshots which “I guess it was nothing” to the guy standing right next to them – but one thing that does make the gameplay different to other stealth-based games is… once enemies are alerted to your presence, they can stay alert forever. You can avoid line of sight, but you will easily be found if you get too close – and if you don’t reload your saved game once you’re spotted you’ll miss out on a few scripted moments between the mindless goons you’re meant to mercilessly kill if you weren’t given the option to graciously knock them out instead… and if you don’t have enough ammo, you’ll basically need to escape with all the medkits you can carry. In the sandbox parts of the game, you can also explore the full map in any order. I decided to take down a whole warehouse full of bad guys, and then when a mission actually took me to that area, I’d already done the hard bit. I also rescued a teddy bear from a mutant, and a guitar from some bandits, and it was satisfying to see them appear later on.
There’s plenty of levels that are less tactical, with narrow dark hallways (or empty train carriages, this game frickin’ loves trains) filled with spiders and scorpions that you just need to get through with sheer skill alone. There aren’t many jump-scares which is good, although burning cobwebs always plays an animation of spiders running up your arm, which admittedly did make me a bit uncomfortable every time.
So things shift from open world, to narrow hallways, to action sequences, to survival, to mild horror, to really climactic boss fights, followed by really anticlimactic “wait this isn’t the end of the game” moments while characters talk nostalgically about times I wasn’t a part of. It’s really hard to figure out if I love it, or hate it.
But then I also need to mention that the game crashed on me, sometimes during load screens, and sometimes during combat. At least 7 times in total, plus every time I suspended the console. So I probably hate it. But I’m still not sure.
Sound: I played this game on a 2.1 Theatre System, but the game’s system settings indicated this is geared for more of a Dolby Atmos environment. This meant I couldn’t hear what characters were saying unless I pointed my gun directly at them which felt frustrating and weird, and no settings could fix this.
Smacking enemies with my gun made a ridiculous cartoony “kpooch” stock-sound which seemed weird too, and there’s a lot of silence in this game other than enemies and movement for stealth reasons. On the train between levels, some accoustic guitar numbers do help set the mood, as well as one or two songs found on the radio, but those are little pieces that just provide comfort between the long silence, making the world a little more bleak, and a little more real.
Voice acting is unfortunately not great, as it’s obvious that English is a second language to most of the cast, but there are some decent appearances from what sounded like Steve Blum (Cowboy Bebop) as Sam in your crew, and Jim Cummings (Cat from Catdog) as a weird cult leader early on. They sounded great.
Awesomeness: the things that make this game awesome for me are the brave (foolish?) choices the game makes that sometimes feel dated, and sometimes add to the challenge, to be more linear than most other games, to really make you count your bullets, and maintain & upgrade your weapons without needing any skill trees, to consider which battles to choose, the moral dubiousness, and also the “Russianness” of it all, if that’s even a word. I just can’t picture a game like this coming from anywhere else. You even fight giant bears.
Some of the awesome uniqueness is a two-edged sword though, it’s hard to connect with characters like the Artyom’s wife when your character doesn’t say anything and just gives her an “affectionate” pat on the back. I said I’d come back to the silent protagonist at the start of this review and here’s why: it’s like the game makes a joke about it. Funny Russian joke, haha. They lose radio contact with you but how would they know? And they send you on missions to talk sense into people but you don’t say a word? The other characters just talk sense into themselves when you get there. It’s just bizarre.
Final Word: I really don’t know how I feel about this game. I spent so many hours with it, lost sleep over it, the first third felt like a chore, and then I found myself inexplicably enjoying it, and then it got to the point where I just really wanted to beat it. Hopefully reading this review will give you a better idea of whether or not this game’s for you. I’m out of ammo. The game wins.
Out of 5 Bugs!