I'M INFILTRATING A BANDIT HIDEOUT in an old warehouse in the middle of the Russian post-apocalyptic tundra, armed only with a few rickety guns cobbled together from rusty parts, and my wits.
It turns out my wits let me down before the guns, rusty parts or no.
I approach the compound at night. That's risky because the mutant beasts that roam these parts are more active after sundown, but there's less chance of the bandits seeing me. I'm lucky, and I make it in without being seen or becoming some radiation-addled wolf's midnight snack.
Slowly creeping through a partly-hidden entrance (because one doesn't simply waltz through the front door of a bandit hideout), I see a bandit in a dimly lit room. He's facing away from me, which is perfect. Crouching, I inch towards him, planning a silent takedown with my knife.
After that I'll douse the lamp and peek through to the main room, looking for more opportunities for stealthy kills.
Then I blunder into a row of tins hanging on a wire I'd managed not to notice. A simple trap, but effective in this case. "What was that?" The bandit yells, shortly before redecorating the room in a tasteful shade of my brains.
And that's a typical Metro Exodus mission.
In the game you play Artyom, a soldier who's spent his life in the tunnels of the Moscow underground, surviving but dreaming of a life above ground. After a few deft plot twists and turns he gets his wish, with mutant wildlife and bandits to boot.
There are fairly significant periods of exposition, with the story unfolding via conversations with your girlfriend, boss, crew members and others, which usually end with Artyom being given a mission somewhere in the wilderness. The missions can usually be completed either stealthily or in a guns-blazing kind of way.
I usually start off all Thief / Hitman, and quickly transition to Duke Nukem / Battlefield when it all goes wrong, and the game's no less fun for that progression.
Details of the missions are conveyed in conversation at the start, and the game does very little hand-holding after that.
You have a map you can refer to, but all it shows you is rough areas relevant to the quests you've been given. I quite often roamed an area with a few quests hazily in mind, not sure of which one I was technically trying to accomplish.
This field full of mutant nests, am I here searching for a lost teddy bear, blowing something up, trying to find a missing person, or activating some sort of mechanism? That's quite a tricky puzzle to solve whilst fending off mutant wolves, pterodactyl-wannabes and balls of lightning.
For the record the quest updated and the ‘x' disappeared from the map, so whatever I was supposed to do, I somehow did it.
There is apparently a way to check quest notes on the other side of the map, but I could find no way to view them. Perhaps it's easier on console. I played on mouse and keyboard, and certainly, it seems very much a console game at heart.
Quite often complex actions, like squeezing through a narrow gap, or crawling through a small hole are reduced to a single button press. Considering how much effort Metro Exodus goes through to promote immersion (sparse HUD, no obvious quest help, all cutscenes and exposition performed in-game), this felt a little ‘gamey'. But these are fairly minor quibbles.
What's more impressive is the atmosphere. The graphics and sound design carry real impact and genuinely convey the sense of a post-nuclear wasteland. Yes, it out-Fallouts Fallout.
The game that came to mind most while playing was Half-Life 2, and that's because of the strong narrative. Metro Exodus is telling a story and letting you romp around blasting mutants in between narrative beats. At times this can make it feel a little on rails, though that impression eases off as the game progresses.
It's also because of the emphasis on the game's other characters for emotional drama. The animation, writing and voice acting is mostly excellent, which again puts you right there with the group in terms of immersion.
Speaking of which, there are some great jump scares too. One huge, seemingly abandoned complex stands out for its design in every sense. Other game developers should study it as a lesson in how to do creepy. And when the thing that happened happened (no spoilers here), let's just say I regretted playing it late at night alone.
The guns and experience of using them is all fine. You can modify them using stuff you find in the world. There's nothing we haven't seen before, but it's competently done. There's a sense of scarcity in terms of ammunition, so if you're looking to run around riddling everything full of holes, you'll be disappointed.
Somewhat controversially it's an Epic Store exclusive, as the world of PC platforms further fragments, though for the time being Steam is the daddy and this release alone won't change that status quo.
We wouldn't expect this to affect sales much. People sufficiently interested in the game to shell out the best part of £50 won't be put off by the five minutes needed to install a new client (which incidentally regularly sports some pretty amazing free offers - hello Subnautica).
All in all, Metro Exodus a competent shooter, with a good story to tell and a fantastic world to explore. It gets better as it progresses, and minor gripes aside, I enjoyed my time with it. A definite purchase for fans of the genre, and the previous games in the series. µ