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The Metro series has always contained one of the bleakest and, by extension, most believable post-apocalyptic worlds ever created in the gaming medium. Forget Fallout’s V.A.T.S. system, forget chainsaw bayonets and especially forget the chaotic sun-dappled knock-around in fields of pink flowers in Far Cry: New Dawn.

In the world of Metro, you’re faced with bullet-sponge enemies, you’re armed with homemade firearms and stuck in a post-nuked Moscow that is divided into two equally dour environments – the above and below. The former is a claustrophobic nightmare, filled with scuttling creatures and nasty humans who don’t see the big picture. The latter is snow-blasted wreckage in which a stray bullet through your gasmask can prove fatal if you don’t have the means to patch it then and there.

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Metro Exodus pulls players out of Moscow’s clanking subway tunnels and into the gutted husk of the city above, sending them on a journey that is motivated by equal parts optimism and good old fashioned Russian pragmatism. Along the way they’ll encounter myriad beasts, horrors and skin-crawling revelations, but also camaraderie, bonhomie and the commodity in most short supply in the world that the characters inhabit – hope.

The plot kicks off with the series’ protagonist Artyom continuing to explore Moscow in the hope of picking up an elusive radio signal. He’s convinced that he and his compatriots below ground aren’t the only survivors of the nuclear war that put paid to civilization – much to the chagrin of his commander, Miller. Artyom’s wife Anna is prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt, and, on a surface excursion, her faith is restored when the pair of them come across a train, shooting through Moscow’s normally low-tech landscape.

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Without giving away too many details, the train turns out to be part of a conspiracy aimed at keeping Moscow’s survivors underground. In short order, Miller, Artyom and the rest of their ragtag band are heading out into the Russian hinterland in search of more survivors and information pertaining to Russia’s predicament.

As the train makes its way further away from Moscow, developer 4A Games’s ambitions go widescreen. Metro Exodus is still to a degree a linear corridor FPS, but the corridors here are massive, sprawling sandboxes. They’re also a lot more varied in appearance than the environments Metro veterans have experienced in past instalments.

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In The Volga, for example, players will find themselves picking their way across the partially waterlogged surroundings of a bridge, with decimated houses and an industrial port blotting the snowcapped fens. Once they reach the Caspian Sea – or at least the land it used to occupy – they’ll traverse a cracked, sun-dried wasteland in which harsh dust storms are a regular occurrence.

All of these environments are presented in swoon-worthy detail. Metro Exodus really is one of the most eye-poppingly beautiful games in recent memory, but without sacrificing the grim reality of the world it contains. For example, the crisp blue waters of The Volga look good enough to drink… until you see the mutated shrimp hissing and spitting in the shallows and hear the Geiger counter kicking off. The wind that whispers on the soundtrack creates genuine chills and when the storm hits, the snow shards and the howling squall make the player feel like they’re right in the thick of it.

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This is helped in no small part by the game’s lighting effects, which are some of the best in the medium.  They add a real sense of place to every environment the player walks through; the particles that hang in the air in an underground metro in the small cone of Artyom ‘s flashlight while all around is a bowl of darkness add to the sense of claustrophobia, while the mist and light skimming off the soupy water of a swamp convey the sense of uncomfortable humidity. 

Naturally, these destinations are filled with hostile lifeforms – both human and mutant – but they beg to be explored, not just for visual appreciation purposes, but because Metro blends survival horror with shooter action, which means players had best be up for some scrounging. Well, a lot of scrounging and asset management that is. Naturally in this world’s hostile environment, maintaining firearms and making sure one is stocked with the right resources is a given.

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Players can craft items and tinker with weapons at workbenches dotted about the world, but they also have a backpack they can use to make certain items on the fly. Players also need to be mindful of what they’re carrying and sometimes the odd tough decision is thrust upon them; some items that can be used to craft, like bullets for example, overlap with items that are needed to make a gasmask filter.

This analogue-like style of crafting and management extends to the core game experience as Metro Exodus offers players a pretty open-ended way to approach the game. Enemies can be tackled guns blazing, although if your weapons aren’t up to snuff, this can prove fatal more often than not. But players can also opt to take a stealthy approach; if a daylight raid looks too daunting, they can find a safe house and wait, taking advantage of the game’s day/night cycle and then approach under cover of darkness.

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Players aren’t faced with limited options even when right in the thick of it – they can simply sling off their backpack, tinker with their weapons and continue with, as it were, the right tool for the job. Metro Exodus does, however, contain a couple of quirks that may irritate some folk. Artyom’s movement, while not exactly slow, sometimes feels sluggish – especially if one is used to playing shooters featuring nimble characters.

This, incidentally, isn’t completely rectified by fiddling around in the aim settings. Sure it may add to the sense that Artyom is always on the back foot – dovetailing with Metro’s ‘survival horror’ component –but there are times when shooting and movement feels a little too clunky. The best feature in Metro Exodus, however, is the one players would rather a review doesn’t reveal too much about – the story.

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Over the game’s 20 to 30 hours of duration, what becomes apparent is that all of the mechanics, core experience and fantastic presentation work to serve Metro Exodus’s plot by immersing the player completely in both the game’s world and Arytom’s quest. This game deserves to do well; Metro Exodus is engrossing, seductive, heaps of fun to play and one of the best arguments in recent memory that the contention of certain game publishers that players just aren’t interested in single player FPS experiences anymore is a damn lie.

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Last Updated: February 22, 2019

Metro Exodus
Metro Exodus is ambitious, engrossing and at times genuinely disturbing. Above all it tells a fantastic tale set in a world that all the game’s superb aspects work hard to immerse the player in. While ‘the post-apocalyptic Russia’ may not sound like an appealing destination, Metro Exodus is well worth the trip.
8.5
Metro Exodus was reviewed on Xbox One
82 / 100

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