I love a good post-apocalyptic romp among vicious mutants and cutthroat brigands. I like it even more when my actions have consequences beyond the body count.
Games of the “Metro” franchise have delivered that quite nicely, and the latest entry is no exception.
“Metro Exodus” — developed by Ukrainian studio 4A Games for Deep Silver — uses a karma system that rewards you for taking the road less traveled. In gamerland, that means a road on which you don’t blow the head off everyone you meet. Of course, you can run through every mission with guns blazing, but there are ramifications for taking that course. In addition to gaining a better ending for your adventure, there are a few benefits that are best left unspoiled.
You play as Artyom, who has spent the past 20 years fighting for his life in the subways beneath the blasted and irradiated city of Moscow, the setting for the first two “Metro” games as well as the novels by Dmitry Glukhovsky.
Artyom is certain there is human life beyond the subway system. Thanks to an unpleasant encounter with a faction known as Hansa, Artyom learns that his suspicions are true.
It’s not long before Artyom, his wife Anna, a wizened engineer and a group of Spartans led by his father-in-law Col. Miller — short for Melnikov — head across Russia in a coal-fired locomotive they’ve christened Aurora. Since the circumstances surrounding their departure from Moscow were a bit complicated, they need to find a new home — preferably one with a minimal number of mutants and without lethal levels of radiation.
As the party spends the next year of game time exploring what’s left of the Motherland, “Metro Exodus” provides a combination of linear missions and open-world exploration.
The game’s linear missions offer interesting challenges, well-designed battlegrounds and aggressive enemies — including an abundance of mutants. Much of the time, they’re a guilt-free treat for those with itchy trigger fingers.
Three other adventures are set in large sandboxes that offer differing environments and inhabitants, which encourage the use of different tactics. These settings offer a variety of missions, some related to the overall story line and others that are optional. They allow you to explore, gather loot and fight a range of mutant critters — ranging from the familiar batlike “demons” of the previous games to enormous catfish and giant gorillas — and countless bloodthirsty thugs.
Combat is similar to the previous games. Limited ammo and the judgmental eye of the karma system are incentives for relying more on stealth and nonlethal takedowns than on running and gunning — at least when facing human opponents. Fortunately, many enemies aren’t especially intelligent, so it’s not usually too hard to get the drop on them.
The selection of weapons is wide enough to get the job done — pistols, assault rifles, shotguns, pneumatic rifles and crossbows. Each can be upgraded and customized to a good degree if you keep an eye peeled for new parts among your dead or unconscious foes.
You can upgrade your weapons and create some ammo on the fly thanks to a special backpack. However, if you want to craft bullets, shotgun shells or survival items — such as gas mask filters — or upgrade your armor, you’ll need to return to your workbench on the train or find one of those scattered around the battlegrounds. You’ll also need a workbench to perform maintenance on your weapons, important if you want to avoid jammed guns in sticky situations.
Despite the enjoyable gameplay, “Metro Exodus” doesn’t quite deliver an epic story to match the scope of its cross-country journey. The overarching story is very interesting, but it seems stitched together rather than a seamless whole. Also, epics demand compelling characters, and the game falters a bit here. The party members are a diverse lot with intriguing backstories, but the Russian-accented voice acting is rather stilted and frequently emotionless. Since the comrades spend a lot of time talking — if you’re willing to listen — that’s a big problem.
The graphics are good, but not great. The facial renderings are very good, but character animations are pretty stiff. Backgrounds can get repetitive, especially when the train is in motion. And visual glitches aren’t uncommon — the bodies of fallen foes gyrating on the ground, gear floating in midair and the like.
The controls are pretty efficient. Combat was always smooth, fast and rewarding. Oddly, movement outside of combat could be a bit clunky at times.
The game earns its mature rating because of violence, a few topless prostitutes in one scene and a exceptionally large dose of vulgar language.
Bottom line: B+ “Metro Exodus” offers the opportunity to take Artyom beyond Moscow’s Metro. It’s a journey well worth making.
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PCOnline: metrothegame.com