No more teacher’s dirty looks… because they all got nuked!
We visit 4A Games to go hands-on with its post-apocalypse shooter.
Leaving the tunnels of Moscow behind we expect to come faceto-face with drooling mutants, but a glassy-eyed deer licking our face? That wasn’t in the script. It’s our first tease that this Metro is doing things differently. A sunshine moment that’s as far removed from the depressed Moscow underground as we could get.
We’re 5,530 kilometres from Moscow’s tunnels, to be exact. The distance is revealed every time we restart, and we’re getting deer cooties because we’ve been dragged from a raging river by the mysterious Olga, and left to fend for ourselves in the wilderness.
We begin exploring. The shacks we discover are a treasure trove of clues – sexy sports model posters dated 1988 (a year before the USSR collapsed), scattered toys and cuddly bears… and decaying bodies. Pinned to their chests are notes with the words RAPIST and MURDERER scrawled in dried blood. Things just got very Metro.
SCHOOL’S OUT FOREVER
We push deeper into the ‘valley’. Ahead of us is a crumbling summer camp. After the nuclear war children grew up alone in the woods, and interpreted their ‘teacher’s’ fireside lectures into codes to live by – with violent results. It’s the Lost Boys meets Lord Of The Flies by way of Leninist propaganda, and they’ve begun to splinter into factions – Pioneers and Pirates – which could be bad for everyone.
“THE LOST BOYS MEETS LORD OF THE FLIES BY WAY OF LENIN.”
While not as open as the previous area of Metro Exodus we’ve played – we’re constantly forced forwards – this is still clearly a playground with multiple ways to reach the level’s end.
We stumble upon a bandit tied to a post, his fate that of the earlier corpses. He’ll share a route into the Pirates’ camp if we free him, but he also threatens to return with more men to put an end to the ‘Children Of The Forest’. We don’t like his threats so put an arrow in his head. The dev hints at a reputation system that will affect how NPC factions act towards you based on your actions – we’re guessing these bandits aren’t friendlies now.
The sun is beginning to set (the game has a day/ night cycle, which affects animal and NPC behaviour) so we choose to play stealthily. Like the multi-route environment there’s no one clear way to play. Your style is affected by your choice of weapons, time of day, and gear. Being able to customise guns on the fly via a backpack adds to the freedom.
Metro Exodus is like no other shooter to play; the screen is clean, with all vital info present in a practical way – a compass strapped to our wrist points the way, a blue light denotes if we’re visible, and there’s no HUD with blinking objectives. If you want to check for points of interest in Metro Exodus’ world then you need to grab your binoculars and look for them. We spy a building, and bonfires suggest guards.
Sneaking around in the dark dispatching enemies with one-shot kills from the Helsing crossbow feels good; there’s a solidity to the game that’s rare in shooters. As we spy a zipline, our route across the river, a body is found and all hell breaks loose. In a split-second the game’s tempo surges. NPCs can be heard shouting out our position, beckoning comrades to circle us.
Don’t we know it? As we flee on the zipline we can still hear the thick Russian accents of our pursuers. Falling from the zipline we pull ourself up just in time to see a pack of wolves appear from the misty woods. Gun loaded, we’re prepared. Then we hear a much loader roar and the pack scatters as a large, mutated bear, a raging ball of fur and muscle, pounds into view. Taking a breath we hastily put away the gun and go back to sneaking our way to the level’s end.
What follows are more freeform shootouts and stealthy escapes, overheard conversations, and some surprises – a pacifist bandit just wants to fish.
Replaying the valley over and over we discover new areas, hidden caves that can guide us past enemy camps, weapon stashes, captives to rescue that tease new info, and a workbench to make use of (you can customise weapons on the go, but some gear can only be created at a hard-to-find bench).
Yet no matter the route or style of play we take, every playthrough leads to one final confrontation with that irradiated bear. It’s a boss fight of sorts, set in the grounds of a crumbling church that’s about to get a whole lot more ruined. After hours of open world, cultured shooting facing a boss could feel regressive, but here it’s a culmination of a mininarrative that has literally followed us, growling at our heels, through the valley and out the other side. Yet another reminder that Metro Exodus is a game about the journey as much as the destination.
“IN A SPLIT SECOND THE GAME’S TEMPO SURGES… NPCS CAN BE HEARD SHOUTING OUT OUR POSITION.”
Above Everything in the game is designed to work in real life. 4A Games has even built replicas of Metro Exodus’ post-apocalypse weapons.
Above Not quite Paddington, this mutated bear, nicknamed The Master, lands hard hits rather than hard stares.
Above Sunshine, in a Metro game! Each season brings its own style of environment, enemies, and problems to overcome.