It’s ridiculous how many post-apocalyptic first-person shooters are out this year. In fact, we’re pretty sure they’re all post-apocalyptic: Rage 2, Far Cry New Dawn, Dying Light 2, Doom Eternal, Generation Zero, and Ion Maiden. Obviously, it’s a sign of the times. Nevertheless, from the few hours I’ve played of it, it’s entirely possible Metro Exodus will be the best one of the lot. It’s the third game in the massively underrated Metro 2033 series, and while we’ve already checked it out once previously, this time I got a hands-on with a near-final version of the spring and summer sections of the game. And it’s shaping up very well indeed.
Metro Exodus preview – All hail the Tsar-Fish
The idea behind the previous Metro games, based on the novels by Russian author Dmitry Glukhovsky, is that after a nuclear war, groups of people in Moscow survived by hiding in the underground Metro tunnels beneath the city. Various groups with different ideologies spring up, including Nazis, religious fanatics, and Communists, not to mention the mutants on the radioactive surface. Metro Exodus, on the other hand, is the first game in the series to leave the Metro tunnels behind and head out into the Russian countryside.
The spring section of Metro Exodus, also called Volga, is the first part of the game. It’s designed to introduce players to all the various systems it offers, such as crafting, stealth, radioactivity, and even rowing. It also introduces the game’s first faction: an anti-electricity cult that believes that technology has caused all the problems in the world today, and worship a godlike creature called the Tsar-Fish.
Yes, it’s literally a fish. Their goofy beliefs aside, this group can be quite deadly. They’re all armed to the teeth, and are not above sacrificing heathens to the Tsar-Fish. Which includes you. I got out of there fast using the game’s excellent stealth mechanics, even if I accidentally interrupted an old lady in the bathroom. Metro Exodus can get really dark, but there’s definitely humor here too.
Metro Exodus preview – In with a bullet
It’s vital to get the hang of all of Metro Exodus’ systems, since you’ll need to utilize them all effectively to survive the Russian wasteland. It’s probably closest to Far Cry 2, with its more brutal and unforgiving approach to open-world shooters, guns you need to maintain or dispose of, and overall map system. The big difference (especially compared to other first-person shooters) is that every bullet counts in Metro Exodus. While the use of “high quality” bullets as a form of currency, as seen in previous Metro games, has been removed, everything is now about crafting.
You will not get enough bullets to take on every enemy in the game, so you’ll have to choose your targets, use stealth, or search the environment carefully for resources to make new ammo and upgrades. While the majority of items have to be crafted at a workbench, a few things such as health items can be made from your own backpack inventory. You’ll soon learn to rely on the pump-up pneumatic rifle that fires ball bearings, since they’re the only ammo type you can craft in the field.
All of this forces you to think tactically in every encounter, and save your decent weapons (and bullets) for when you truly need them. It’s a fun challenge since it’s all pretty straightforward to learn, but feels different from any other shooter out there.
Metro Exodus preview – Open-world Half-Life?
The new summer chapter, also called Caspian, is wholly different from the other chapters in the game. It’s set in a more Rage or Mad Max-esque dustbowl area, with a devious and well-armed gang ruling the area. They’re led by a man called The Baron, who thinks of himself as some sort of god. I stole one of their cars early, so I had full freedom to explore the wide open area.
The open-world design of Metro Exodus is pretty clever. It’s not a strict full world, meaning it’s divided into sections you can freely explore (a bit like Dragon Age Inquisition), rather than one gigantic area like Far Cry. While there are no specific side missions, you can browse the area with your binoculars and the game will focus on places of interest, which you can then go to and explore. I always was rewarded for doing so, whether with loot, lore, or just a fun encounter. You can walk or drive all the way to the Baron’s base if you wish, or you can follow the road and get to it naturally.
Its newfound freeform structure was initially worrying. The previous Metro games are some of the few shooters to attempt a Half-Life-style linear experience, with a constant sense of progression and surprise. They got it very right, too. Metro Exodus, however, has absolutely nailed the design, at least as far as I’ve played.
While it was open-world, I never felt like I was straying away from the story or the action. I’d frequently hit the same sort of exciting set pieces I’d expect from a more linear experience, like an assault on a lighthouse by the Baron’s gang or an attack on my boat by a Jaws-like mutant fish. Metro Exodus often feels like how I’d imagine Half-Life would if it went open world. Providing the same movie-like thrills but with more freedom of exploration is a fine line to walk, but Metro Exodus seems to be nailing it.
Metro Exodus preview – Arachnophobia
One of the highlights of my playthrough was when the game stopped being open world and went linear for a bit and became more tense without sacrificing its excellent design. A trap-laden cavern was a vicious delight, making me feel like the Predator as I silently hunted down the Baron’s goons before emerging back in the sun and catching them in a crossfire by the aforementioned lighthouse. Then the lighthouse sniper, Giul, escorted me down into a government bunker in search of information on the local area, and it just happened to be filled with light-averse giant spiders. The good news is that your flashlight can kill them. The bad news is that there are a lot of spiders down there.
My playthrough ended with a full assault on a dockyards area, where my character’s wife, Anna, kept the sniper in the tower busy while I dealt with the enemies below. I opted to go in silently, slowly assassinating every individual gang member, and was doing pretty well until one spotted me and all hell broke loose. While this type of thing sounds similar to a Far Cry game, it was more tactical and cinematic. I didn’t have many bullets, and little in the way of long-range weaponry, so I had to choose my targets carefully.
I’ve only had a short time with Metro Exodus, but I’m already hugely excited for the final release. Metro 2033 and Metro: Last Light are two of the best linear Half-Life-style shooters around, and to see that style combined with Far Cry 2-like open-world gameplay is not only incredibly cool, but also a potential masterpiece of careful game design. If 4A Games pulls it off for an entire campaign, and doesn’t make it too overwhelming, then we could be honestly looking at a game of the year contender when it comes out on February 15 on PC, Xbox One, and PS4.