Hands on with Metro Exodus – Less Dark, More Larks (Preview)

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Metro 2033 has to be one of my favorite games of all time. And one of the most underrated, in my opinion. No other title has quite been able to match the same levels of immersion that Metro provides. The extreme claustrophobia of the subterranean train tunnels, the gruesome beasts twisted by radiation, the almost occult beliefs adopted and practised by the world’s inhabitants … there’s simply nothing like it. So I had high hopes for Metro Exodus (the third game in the Metro series) when I went hands on at this year’s EGX show.

Artyom reprises his star-role as the protagonist, but immediately it looks like he’s in a bit trouble. Well, quite a lot. As he’s drowning. And would have definitely died if it wasn’t for a helpful lass who belongs to a group known as “The Children of the Forest” (bit Game of Thrones-y, but we’ll let that slide). She pulls him on to dried land and resuscitates him before being called away by others in her group. We do gather one piece of intel as she’s talking to her group though – a friend of Artyom’s is being held in a nearby bandit camp.

So they run off, and we’re left alone to take stock of the surroundings. Playing on the Xbox One X, everything looks gorgeous. One of my only real criticisms of the past two games was that they were visually rough around the edges. None of that here. You can tell developers 4A Games have taken time to give everything a highly polished sheen. And it’s doubly noticeable now that Metro Exodus has us traipsing around more lush, natural landscapes. My only fear now is that what made the Metro series truly stand-out was how well the underground environments implied threat – from the multitude of ambient noises, to seeing distant beasties clearly observing you, but scurrying off when you got too close. Now we’re out and about in more of an open world, and I worry this feeling will have been diminished.

But it seems that these days, open world is the way to go. And to its credit, Metro Exodus doesn’t open things up too much. The objective in the demo was to make your way through the surrounding forest to try and find the friend we’d lost, who’s being held in some sort of bandit camp. There are a multitude of nooks and crannies to delve in to on your way there, where you’ll find components which you can use to craft a variety of gubbins – a mechanic which replaces the ‘Military Grade Ammo’ as currency system from the previous games. But there are also a scattering of elements that Metro fans will find familiar – the hand-held map, multi-functional wrist watch, cool weapons, and use of the gas mask (which many will be glad to hear you don’t have to use all the time when you’re above ground now, only in specific areas).

I also stumbled across an NPC tied to a post with a sign reading “bandit” nailed above them. It gave me the option to untie him, but I know how unfriendly these post-apocalyptic worlds can be. So I shot him in the face. Would he have helped me out if I’d have let him go? Who knows, but it’s nice to see that there are some choice-making scenarios in Metro Exodus.

Your chosen path will eventually lead you to the bandit camp, where a gang of weirdo Russians talking in pirate accents stopped me, warning me not to come any closer. After they’d turned around and left, I ignored their advice and tried to get closer. There looked to be a variety of ways to gain access to the bandit camp – zip-wire, underground passage, side-entrances … or simply bashing down the front door with guns blazing. I chose the zip wire, and stealthily landed right in the midst of the camp. As I started sneaking about, the sun went down and the skies began to darken. I was seeing the day/night cycle in action. And as darkness crept over the land, the behaviour of the enemies changed. There were less patrols walking around the camp, and more people sat around campfires. A very nice touch, and it will be interesting to see in what other ways this cycle effects the game.

And like with the previous games, you can immobilise enemies from behind (either by killing or knocking out), which I did with reckless abandon. Soon enough, a body had been discovered and the alarms were ringing out. I managed to escape detection by zip-lining from the top of a tower and out of the camp … but it was a case of ‘out of the frying pan and into the fire’. It looked like I’d triggered a scripted event as I landed, where the ground gave way beneath Artyom and he had to cling on to a ledge to stop from falling. But he stopped himself from climbing back up immediately, because a pack of grotesque animals being chased by an even bigger, grotesquer creature ran by. This was also something the previous two games managed to accomplish incredibly well – integrating scripted events seamlessly in to the action, and it’s been replicated (even surpassed) by Metro Exodus.

Unfortunately that was where my demo ended. But it left me wanting more. To be able to play a Metro game that retains the atmosphere of the first two whilst also allowing for more freedom of exploration is the perfect scenario. And after playing the demo, I am hopeful that 4A Games may have just achieved it. Metro Exodus releases February 22nd, 2019 – it can’t come soon enough.