The Metro series are some of the most underrated, and finest, FPSs ever made. They’re some of the few that take true inspiration from Half-Life, and even manage to recreate most of the magic and constant sense of surprise of Valve’s shooter series. Well, it’s just a month to go before the third game Metro Exodus comes out, and we’ve got one last hands-on impressions.
In our final Metro Exodus preview we got a hands-on with the updated Spring level, Volga, and a lot of time with the new Summer level, Caspian. They’re very different, and they’re not the full game, but already we’ve got a feeling Metro Exodus could be the best FPS of 2019. Or at least, the best post-apocalyptic FPS this year haha just kidding they’re all post-apocalyptic. Still, Far Cry New Dawn, Rage 2, Dying Light 2, Generation Zero, and Doom Eternal better watch out...
The setup of the Metro series is also incredibly clever, and compelling. Based on the Metro 2033 novel by Dmitry Glukhovsky, the series is set in Russia after a nuclear war, where most of the population of Moscow were driven into the underground metro system below the city. While previous game Last Light had little to do with the second novel, Metro 2034, Metro Exodus follows the third novel (Metro 2035) as a group of survivors leave the Moscow metro on a train - in order to head out into the wilderness.
This basically means that main character Artyom, his wife Anna, her father, and a group of other survivors, travel through various open-world areas in different seasons of a year. In the little time I spent with them, the group was beginning to remind me of Dutch’s gang in Red Dead Redemption 2, with every character being important and having different personalities and takes on the situation. I personally liked the guy who was just called “Idiot” - he didn’t have any mental disabilities, he was just an idiot.
In terms of gameplay though, the idea is that Metro Exodus is leaving its Half-Life-style corridor-based linear FPS past in favour of something more open-world and Far Cry. You definitely have a lot more freedom, and the areas are actually very wide and open, but I was most impressed by how dramatic 4A Games managed to make the game. It still feels like Half-Life, with exciting moments happening, interesting scripted events unfolding, and the constant feeling that you’re in a great movie despite having freedom.
Metro 2033 and Last Light recaptured the feel of the underrepresented Half-Life style of FPSs well, but I was worried that going open-world would diminish what I liked about the Metro games. From what I’ve played, nothing could be further from the truth. In the Summer section, I was exploring these ruins while generally heading towards my objective, and first these mutants hiding in the sand attacked me, then a storm I was warned about a couple of minutes ago hit, then I used the cover of the storm to assault the lookout tower that was my objective, got into a furious fight with the guard - who was under attack by mutants - got the keys to the car outside, had to fight off another wave of mutants, then got to the car and drove off. That was the first 15 minutes of the Summer section.
Whereas the Spring section was clearly close to the beginning of the game, introducing players to some features such as crafting and the map. The map actually reminded me a lot of Far Cry 2, where you pull out an actual map with the objective scribbled on it and you have to work out where it is using the compass. Crafting can be done at workbenches, or simple things can be made via your backpack. You’ll soon learn to rely on the pneumatic pump-action rifle, since the metal balls it fires is the only ammo you can craft in the field. There are only two resources though - chemicals and junk - and while there are survival elements in Metro Exodus (like the gas mask) it’s all kept straightforward.
Spring was impressive enough, but Summer basically turned the game into Rage or Mad Max, except darker and less silly-crazy. One big dust-bowl filled with sand-hiding mutants, terrible light-averse spiders, and a gang affectionately referred to as the “Munai-bailer” by the asian sniper lady Giul who lives in the lighthouse. This gang has slaves working the mines, a lot of gullible fighters, and are lead almost religiously by the Baron - a man who loves the sound of his own voice, as it appeared on the radio every time we got near one.
While we seemed to have full freedom to explore this Caspian area, it all felt so natural as a linearly-progressing shooter, despite the wide-open area to explore. We freed slaves, dodged Giul’s traps, helped her fight off the Baron’s thugs, went deep into an underground facility filled with giant spiders, then slowly and stealthily infiltrated the Baron’s camps at the nearby shipyard. It was as epic as anything in a scripted shooter, and yet still gave the feel of Far Cry-like exploration. Quite a trick to pull.
Metro Exodus is due out on PC, Xbox One, and PS4 on February 15, in just a few short weeks.
There’s a lot to be excited about with the FPS genre this year, but even though Metro Exodus is the first one out in 2019 it could well be the best. From what I’ve played it seems to be deftly combining open-world exploration with the more structured, story and event-driven Half-Life-style experience of the previous games, and that’s no mean feat.
Time will tell if the whole experience will stand up to scrutiny, but we’ve played it twice now, and several hours of it, and we loved every minute. We haven’t even mentioned the entertaining dialogue, the every-bullet-counts gun combat, the religious fanatics who hate electricity and worship the Tsar-Fish, and the utterly incredible graphics - running on a PC with a GeForce RTX 2080 Ti it looked stunning. The moment I got hit by a tumbleweed (and grass covered my gas mask) was the moment I knew I was going to love this game.
It’s got story, action, stealth, set-pieces, entertaining combat, challenge, a cool mix of open-world and linear gameplay - yep, keep an eye on Metro Exodus. It’s only out in February, but we may be talking about it in the awards later in the year...