Hands on with Metro Exodus: Post-apoca-lovely
Exodus is the post-apocalyptic substitute for disappointed dwellers.
Though decades of gaming have desensitised me to violence and horror, Metro Exodus ratcheted up my blood pressure like a ghetto, pneumatic sniper rifle cranked to full. I challenge you not to feel the same when the scorpion-spiders come at you. Especially if you're in the pitch-dark, when your gasmask and lamp battery run empty, right as your ammo dwindles down to "harsh language only." The faint of heart will not want a ticket for this train ride.
Emergent moments like these elevate Exodus from a great shooter to a breathtaking one
The resourceful will. Even in your direst moments, Metro Exodus will always offer you the tools and mechanics needed to dig yourself out of the worst situations imaginable. In the above instance, I planted my kidneys to a wall and discovered I could not only keep the spiderlings at bay but also burn their movement-hampering webs with my lit Zippo lighter. This created a short window of time to hand-crank my batteries back to half power and shift back onto the offensive.
Choking on polluted bunker air, I made my last stand, burning the light-phobic beasts with my shoulder lamp. Once they were smouldering husks, my penultimate breath was spent crafting a new filter for my mask. I slapped it on seconds before asphyxiation took me. It's emergent moments like these that elevate Exodus from a great shooter to an (almost) breathtaking one.
And that's just the underground stuff I did (which is traditionally the bread and butter gameplay of this claustrophobic, subway sneaking series). Exodus will impress you, even more, when developer 4A takes the blinkers off and throws you topside. Anybody who keeps up with Exodus's E3 reveals will have already seen the vast, frigid sandboxes of irradiated Mother Russia; a cultist and mutant-filled snowbox that I happily traipsed through for my demo session entree. Admittedly, I didn't see many new things here, I just confirmed suspicions. Yep, the guns felt as meaty as the E3 footage suggested. Also, the stealth mechanics and AI were on-point, too.
Honestly, I only jotted down one concern in my notes. Though it's pretty much par for the course with the Metro series, the incidental English voice actors are still not amazing. This isn't a huge deal-breaker if you simply play with Russian voiceover and subtitles instead. Trust me, it feels so much more authentic anyway.
It's hard to gauge how good the car handling is right now
The second area I explored was the sort of post-apocalyptic dustbowl straight from George Miller's dreams. Picture an open environment that's wider still and supports a first for the franchise: drivable rust-bucket cars. Sadly, what was on offer was the skeleton of a Volkswagen Van. That's not exactly Max Rockatansky's Last V8 Interceptor, so it's hard to gauge how good the car handling is right now or how useful vehicles will be as a combat option in the final game. So yeah, my joy ride was acceptable at best. The physics are halfway between fun and utilitarian, though I did have a laugh when turning mutants into hood ornaments.
As my time in this old-world oilfield continued, I deliberately ignored my main objective to see what side dishes were being served up. Tucked away in a far-flung canyon, I discovered a beached slaver ship filled with a weird little BDSM cult of masters and underlings. My snooping was well rewarded with materials to craft with, creepy environmental storytelling, claustrophobic firefights and "the Captain's" gatling gun. It was a double-barrelled thing of beauty, I tell you.
Returning back to the main path, my time in this level wrapped with some classic underground Metro action, basically, the stuff mentioned in the intro of this piece. It's still super intense and gratifying dungeon crawling that rewards your resourcefulness just as much as it will your reflexes. Have no fear, traditionalists. Exodus may unearth you from your precious subway tunnels for a road trip, but its sub-level game is still top notch.
Jumping ahead, the final area of my session revealed a gobsmackingly lush forest/riverlands sandbox. Admittedly, it felt more hemmed in than the previous locale (because Artyom isn't much of a swimmer) and 4A decided to pull a Metroid on me by swiping most of my gear in a scripted event. Put on the back foot and forced to gauge the intentions of a local tribe of not-quite-bandits, I quite enjoyed being vulnerable again. When there are mutated bears fighting packs of irradiated direwolves around you (and all you're packing is a single shot crossbow), I guarantee you'll be on the edge of your seat.
For me, this small slice of gameplay confirmed that Metro Exodus is what I hoped it would be: a palate cleanser for the series, both visually and mechanically. That said, 4A has struck a balance and ensured that diehard urban explorers won't have too much cause for separation anxiety. When Fallout 76 came out recently and (nuclear) bombed, I felt robbed of a great post-apocalyptic experience. Metro Exodus is shaping up to be the substitute so desperately needed right now.
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