For Its Third Game, the Russian First Person Shooter ‘Metro Series’ Takes a Bold Uneven ‘Exodus’ Into a Semi-Open World

Developer: 4A Games

Publisher: Deep Silver

Release Date: February 15th, 2019

Availability: Now Available on Steam and For Free with Xbox Game Pass

10 years have passed between the release of the original Metro 2033 and my completion of Metro Exodus. The series has never been a landmark, and it’s baseline visuals (except on PC) are seemingly dated. It is also not as polished as its western companion series Fallout, but it has plenty of character to spare.

This review is late. Way late, by about a year. I bought this game full price at launch, having unexpectedly liked Metro 2033 despite its rough edges, edges which its sequel, the first game I reviewed on this site: Metro Last Light smoothed out. Never to dwell in a place of comfort, the Ukranian, and now Maltese developer 4A Games has pushed the series into a new sub-genre: the open world. Bottle-necking at certain points, the game has at least two full blown open world levels with a unique flow and pace. Maybe it’s due to my older age but I have a growing impatience with open world design. Many series have pivoted to an open world structure; from Crash Bandicoot to Mirror’s Edge, but the game’s expanded options drag on the game’s pace. It’s tedious to go from one area to the next and they are never populated or interesting enough to traverse. As well, in the world of Exodus, travelling anywhere not on the marker always seems like an unnecessary risk.

I had to lower the difficulty after the first level when I ran out of bullets and encountered a bug that would not let me save and eventually lost me an hour of progress. [In New Game Plus mode I encountered a similar bug in the same level from a different location which froze the game.] From that point it was a constant worry that the bug preventing quick save would come back to bite me again. Even a year after its release these bugs have festered. Granted these bugs are common to the genre, the bigger the map, the more things that can go wrong, but even by open world standards Metro steps in it and sinks below those standards. In the same playthrough, at a later level, the game froze for over two minutes before resuming on a frame by frame basis. It was a steady enough problem I was able to snap a picture, captured below.

A game freezing bug. I usually don’t encounter many, in Metro Exodus I encountered 3 over 20 hours.

In the game’s defense it’s worth noting that this was the first Metro Game I completed on a different screen. The last two I completed on a standard CRT non-HD big screen. The majority of this game I completed on my personal 32 inch 1080p TV. It goes to show the drawbacks of HDTV’s that despite calibrating and re-calibrating the TV several times (to the point of eye strain) and changing the graphical settings within the game it never seemed right. I’m not alone on this issue, if you go to game forums, you’ll see the same complaints. As a result, I was never able to be fully immersed playing Exodus, despite immersion being touted as one of its high points. The world of Metro is grim and unforgiving, as a player scraping by I never dwell or want to spend the time to get to know my crewmates; apart from Sam, Colonel Miller and my wife Anna (from the last game).

Another point where Exodus falls short of its predecessors is the urgency of its story. The threats you face in this game are never immediate or overarching and the looney locals of each setting are interchangeable fanatics. Although I understood much of what was going on, the particulars of how the train can be fixed in The Volga level or why we stop in the Caspian Desert, along with the individual plights of the rest of the Spartan Rangers who are indistinguishable. These are discoveries for a second playthrough. I had no idea if I were meeting some man in the world for the first time or if they were with the crew all along. At least the female characters fair much better. It’s a testament to the strength of the first narrative that I remember callbacks from characters you meet in 2033. There is not a lack of story in Exodus, I just did not want to take the time to sit and get to know my crew, because there is no gameplay reason for it, and as all critiques of the game will state, the morality system of the game is its weakest aspect. Coupled with the inconsistent spatial audio cues and overlapping character dialogue that seem to go on forever, further investment in the game’s world is a boring chore.

Getting to the fun stuff, the weapon modifications are the best part of the game, and once I got used to the sophisticated controls I was having fun modifying weapons like a simple revolver that can turn into a laser-sighted sniper rifle, or mowing mutants down with a big auto-shotgun lug. I was afraid to experiment over the arbitrary two weapon carry rule. What if I get this fun gun and can’t find ammo for it? These anxieties can also be dropped on a second playthrough with many of the game’s flaws, minus the bugs. But Metro Exodus makes such a rough first impression it’s too tough to shake, especially given it’s the third game in the series. The visual inconsistency of the game; the video gamma rating never works, and the improbable soft vision glare does not go away. These are problems I did not encounter in previous games, so it’s either the fault of the overly customized PC community running away with the series or more likely the inconsistent visual standards created by High Definition Televisions.

I will say at the end of the journey I feel unable to let go. This review is therapeutic, as I debate whether or not to buy the two story driven DLC’s. I have finally spent the amount of time required with the game, and this pandemic ensures I’ll still have time after. I may go achievement hunting as you do. Best worth noting, the game coalesces around its most effective dramatic endpoint and even though I have as usual in this series a canonically bad ending it felt appropriately downbeat. For 4A Games, after the first two game’s were rentals, it was Exodus that earned the respect of a full $90 investment, and the benefit of the doubt. They after all have outlasted the entire game rental industry. Ironically the game is now available on Xbox Games Pass (Netflix For Games) which I had for the majority of the time I failed to complete the game. My affinity lies with the story of the first game, and the gameplay of the second. (Metro Redux makes for a great recommendation.) This installment gets points for ambition but with a muted sales reception, two story DLC’s and critical acknowledgement among its PC visual achievements, I’d say the Metro has proved all it came to do and perhaps should stay underground for good.

Rating: 7.7/10


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