I just finished Metro: Exodus, another game I played because of a video by Game Maker’s Toolkit that piqued my interest in the game itself. The things discussed in the video are definitely true, but unfortunately a little overstated for the whole package of the game, as only two of the six main chapters are these free-roaming open world style landscapes where you can really bring the game to bear, while the other four are far more linear. These two chapters are the longest in the game, but even with that it comes maybe to 50/50 between free roaming and linear sections. Maybe that is colored wrong by me as the chapter in the Taiga could also possibly allow for a bit more free movement, but I basically blasted straight through it.
But maybe I should start at the beginning. For those living underneath a rock, Metro is a series of video games (based on russian novels) that deal with a subterranean society in the subway system of Moscow after a nuclear war made the surface uninhabitable, filled with radiation and mutated monsters. Exodus is the third game of the series. I have not played the first two, but this game was good enough that I have bought the other two and plan to visit them over the course of the rest of the year, so consider this a stamp of approval for this one.
The player character is called Artyom, a soldier in The Order, a paramilitary group under the leadership of Colonel Miller, whose daughter Anna is Artyom’s wife. Artyom dreams of finding a place that survived the apocalypse and makes routine trips to the surface to try and find a radio signal, which earns him reprimands from his superior and pleas from his wife to stop. As the name “Exodus” hints at, in this game you are not trying to simply survive in Moscow, but escape Moscow by stealing a train together with your squad after they are basically forced out of the city after revealing that the russian military is actually isolating Moscow from the outside through a jamming device.
The journey takes you through various different locales in search of a place to stay, which is actually quite nice. As said above, a large chunk of the game allows you to freely roam through some interesting open-world sections. These are not littered with obvious markers on your map, but you have to discover them and any possible side-quests from characters yourself, which hides a lot of the artifice of other games of similar nature. All the parts of the game are also strongly differentiated by the types of enemies you face, with only one enemy type showing up twice (as far as I can tell).
The game play is very much focused on resource management, scavenging for crafting materials that you have to use to maintain your weapons and gear, make ammo for your weapons, health packs, and filters for your gas mask. Having played on normal I only once really fell into trouble though. This game also puts a large emphasis on stealth. While you have to option to storm in guns blazing (or fall back on that should things go sideways), sneaking up on human enemies conserves both your ammunition and health and preserves your ability to sneak up on more. The game is also in my opinion a bit unfairly punishing if you get spotted, as enemies seem to have a radar for where you are once combat has broken out. This unfortunately also entices a bit of save scumming, which I am not above doing. I also had an issue where I was never really sure whether I had to knock out or kill enemies or simply sneak past them, but that may be me not playing stealth games too often. The games in the Metro series are often classified as Horror, but wile the events and the setting are definitely horrific (and there is the occasional jumpscare), I don’t think it is really that as most of the time it is you who is stalking the enemies, rather than the other way around. There are definitely sections where there is a lot of dread and some moments of panic, particularly in the final chapter when the predator-prey dynamic is finally switched around.
However, the thing that really got impressed my from this game was the characterization. Between each main chapter there is a section where you are traveling by train to the next locale. During this you can roam the train and interact with the rest of your squad and other people you pick up along the way. This allows you to get them to know better and see that these are pretty well fleshed out characters and you, as a player, can actually feel connected to them as characters, which I think was very well executed. Unfortunately this is not flawless. For one, it is weird that Artyom is a silent protagonist. I guess this is to minimize the dissonance between player and character, but at times some characters will very much monologue on and on in your face as if it was a conversation. It is also weird because Artyom actually has a voice actor, who narrates the “what happened so far” when you load into a save game on first startup.
And then there is your wife Anna. She is characterized as a headstrong woman who can stand up for herself and is capable of fighting for herself when need be. The character relationship between her and Artyom is also the strongest built out. All of this is somewhat undermined by her being damseled twice throughout the story, once explicitly by being captured by enemies, and once more or less implicitly as in an early chapter she is exposed to a chemical gas, which gives her a lung condition that worsens over the course of the game with the final chapter being about you trying to find a cure from an abandoned city. In that regard the story is a bit paint by numbers.
The game is definitely not flawless, but I thoroughly enjoyed it and would recommend it to others.