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Review: Metro Exodus is a haunting, gripping tale of the human spirit

DISCLAIMER: A review copy was provided by the publisher.
Platform: Xbox One, PlayStation 4 (reviewed), and PC
Developers: 4A Games
Publisher: Deep Silver
MSRP: $59.99
What happens when there’s nothing left yet humans desperately cling to any hope they can to stay alive? What happens when you’re seemingly one of the only ones left with morals and mental sanity? How much does it truly take to break someone’s spirit before they tap out? Metro Exodus is the third game in the Metro franchise and seeks to shine a light on these questions and concepts.

Acting as a standalone entry in the franchise and abandoning the more supernatural themes of the first two games and focusing on a more human story, Metro Exodus tells a gripping and harrowing tale that aims to show you a more real side of the nuclear holocaust.
While there are still some absolutely horrific creatures lurking in the wasteland, the threat comes from other humans. Exodus picks up with Artyom dreaming of a place far from Moscow, mostly untouched by radiation and the chaos of the war. He has a firm belief that not only is there habitable places still left in Russia but potentially other humans as well.

Metro Exodus

After pulling back the layers on a conspiracy, Artyom, his wife Anna, and a small group from the Metro embark on a quest to reestablish life above ground. Their journey takes them across many different regions via train where they encounter various groups of people such as crazy religious fanatics who worship a mutated catfish, cannibals, and more.
As you travel, you see how people are coping with life long after the bombs and most of them aren’t coping well. You see what could potentially come of your people should things grow too desperate, what could happen if you allow yourselves to be corrupted by greed or chaos.
The journey is long and it is tough but everyone grows together because of the physical and mental scars they all obtain in the process. The cast of characters is rich and you care about each individual person, so much so you’ll find yourself stretching your neck out to go and do very risky side errands to make everyone’s lives a bit more enjoyable.

Metro Exodus

In between levels, you can move around the train and talk to your friends, sing songs with them, drink vodka, and more. These small intimate yet crucial moments help you realize the stakes of the situation you’re in, there’s no good in this world anymore but perhaps if you succeed with your mission, maybe you can change that. Maybe there’s hope for a new and better world.
Metro Exodus also manages to find a way to blend the themes of the story in gameplay. Without spoiling anything, as things get more and more intense and desperate in the story, you feel that desperation in the way you play. Scavenging for any possible thing you can because you lack bullets or even a throwing knife, holding on for dear life as you burn through the air filters on your gas mask in a densely radiated city, the final act of the game showcases all of this beautifully and it’s nothing short of powerful.

The gameplay as a whole in Metro Exodus is quite good, not perfect but it’s good. Those who didn’t like Red Dead Redemption 2’s gun maintenance or Far Cry 2’s gun jamming mechanics may want to wade carefully into Exodus. Upkeep is very important, your ARs will overheat, jam up, and all your guns collect dirt and grime that needs to be cleaned off to ensure it performs at peak performance. This is a survival game after all but some may find this somewhat intrusive during really intense firefights.

Metro Exodus 
If you’ve played the series before, you mostly know what you’re in for. You’ll stealth around enemy bases and take down as many enemies as you can before having to go guns blazing. Carefully counting your shots and panicking anytime you waste an unnecessary bullet, making note of whatever you have before you enter an enemy encampment, etc.

This is all enhanced by the fact that there are no vendors or people to buy things from, everything is handcrafted so it’s no longer a matter of looting and saving up to buy a nice new gun, you have to make everything. Crafting is one of the best features in Metro Exodus because it’s done quite creatively. You have the basic crafting resources that you find but the attachments and weapons you unlock are all from picking them off other weapons.
Say you kill an enemy and notice he has a red dot on his gun, you can take that and add it to your gun. Maybe a guy has a double barrel on his revolver that makes it a powerful shotgun, take it and make it yours. It’s a neat twist and most of this goes into your backpack so you can switch attachments out on the fly as opposed to trekking back to a workbench.

Metro Exodus

If you notice you might want to use a long range weapon, deconstruct the parts on your current gun, add a longer barrel, a 4X scope, and a nice stock to your weapon and snipe away. While guns do have base classes like SMGs, shotguns, and whatnot, they can be manipulated to be more multipurpose due to the flexible nature of attachments.
In the first two Metro games, this wouldn’t have been super valuable as they’re much more claustrophobic. This is where Metro separates itself from the others, it’s semi-open world. There are several regions that you’re introduced to after each “level” in the story, all divided by a season.

You start in Moscow in the winter, end up moving to the desert in the spring, and so on. You travel by rowboat, rickety cars, and of course, by foot where you will be on constant edge. Now, I say it’s semi-open world because you’re still following a rather linear story.

Metro Exodus

There are only a few side missions in the game and the remaining side activities are clearing out outposts that you find around the regions you’re in. Of course, the whole point is that the world is desolate so it’s to be expected there aren’t fully functioning cities but it would’ve been nice if there was more to do as it ends up feeling quite large and expansive with not a lot of content to fill it.

That’s not to say it feels super empty, the atmosphere in Metro Exodus is second to none. Creatures stalk you as they prowl around, waiting for moments to strike, you can stare them down and stand your ground to invite a battle or cause them to flee from your confident and intimidating nature. There are loads of stories hidden within the environment through both collectibles and finding places such as the grim remains of a clinic treating people for radiation poisoning.
Even though there’s not a lot to do in the world, it captures a sense of neverending danger. There are few safe spaces, it’s infinitely predatory and nerve-racking.

Metro Exodus

Exodus even features changes in weather with snow, rain, and sandstorms, though it appears to be more scripted and comes at key triggers. That said, when it rains it’s absolutely beautiful and leaves an impact. The intensity of the storms feel dangerous yet you don’t want to hide from them due to their awe-inspiring presence.
Whether you’re in the confines of a dark abandoned building littered to the brim with freaky spiders or in an intense gunfight as raindrops create small rivers down your gasmask and lightning strikes the ground around you, Metro Exodus creates a captivating world worthy of your time.
My biggest gripes with this atmospheric survival game stem from many of the technical aspets. An unstable frame rate, poor audio mixing, long load screens, and more plague this game on the standard PS4. I can’t speak for other versions of the game but it wasn’t a super smooth experience for my review.

Metro Exodus

During more chaotic moments where there’s a dozen or more enemies on screen in a gunfight or 
various visual effects like weather or smoke, Exodus began to really chug. FPS would dip way below 30 frames and interrupt the flow of the action significantly, it’s not just once or twice either. It happens very consistently throughout the whole game and ruined some really great moments of spectacle by breaking the immersion with a sluggish frame rate.
The audio in Metro Exodus is also all over the place. Guns and standard sound effects sound pretty good but dialogue sounds really terrible. From bad line readings to awkward pauses in conversation to bad sound mixing, it was hard to listen to. Sometimes you’ll be standing a few feet from someone but the way it’s mixed makes it sound like they’re far away or in an entirely different room.

If you’re not standing in the right spot or looking at them from a certain angle, the audio may just come through one side of the speaker like 3D audio with headphones. When characters’ dialogue overlap in a cutscene because everyone is talking over each other in an argument or something, it sounds incredibly unnatural.

Metro Exodus

It’s very obvious no one is being recorded together, it’s a bunch of performances poorly stitched together. No one is bouncing off of each other from the energy of another actor and it comes off as incredibly awkward. It really deflates some of the momentum and emotional weight of specific scenes which is a shame because the writing itself is great but the performances don’t always highlight that.

The Verdict
Despite shortcomings like a rather by the numbers level of quality of side missions, poor performance both visually and audibly, Metro Exodus still manages to deliver a compelling experience. Thanks to its meaty crafting and gun customization, a beautiful character-driven story focused more on humans than the fantastical, and a world built around fear, desolation, and tension, Exodus will definitely be one of 2019’s most talked about games by the end of the year.

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