2019 has been a good year for games so far. The Devil May Cry series returned with DMCV. We got From Software’s new Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, on top of Risk of Rain 2, Borderlands 3, the Resident Evil 2 Remake, and the Division 2. For promising new titles there are Hideo Kojima’s highly anticipated Death Stranding, coming out this November, and Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order later in the month. Shining brighter than all of these amazing new 2019 games is Metro Exodus.
What is Metro? Metro is not the most renowned or famous series. It’s a series of linear, single-player, story-driven FPSs developed by 4A Studios, based in Ukraine. As the story goes, in the year 2013, a nuclear war broke out between the United States and the Russian Federation. The population of Moscow was forced to evacuate into the biggest bomb shelter in the world: the Moscow metro. The series takes place 20 years afterward; you play as a young man named Artyom, who was five years old when the bombs dropped. I’m not explaining the other two games because we’d be here all day. But in Metro Exodus, you steal a train and escape Moscow with Artyom’s wife, Anna; his father-in-law/commander, Miller; and his squad of friends, members of the elite Spartan Order in the Metro.
The best way to describe Metro Exodus in one word is “immersive.” Even though this is a buzzword thrown around in the industry, it's a great way to describe my Metro experience. Graphically, the game is a beauty to look at. The characters, monsters, and environments look fantastic, even on a 2015 Xbox One. The heads up display is very non-intrusive, and only really appears when you need it. The animation quality is great too, and many of the actions you perform have animations, such as pulling out your backpack to craft items or rowing a boat. Some of the more gamey elements like turning off and on lights don’t get an animation, but usually, it's for the benefit of the gameplay. The music builds suspense and tension effectively. There's a moment near the end of the game that I genuinely think is on par with the Metal Gear Solid 3 ladder scene in terms of significance. By the time I had finished the game, I truly felt that I was Artyom.
Since Metro is a shooter game, the guns are important, and there are many great aspects to the guns in this game. The guns’ sound design is great, with a handful of different weapons to choose from. They are all customizable, and you can switch out attachments on the fly using the new backpack mechanic. The backpack allows you to not only change the attachments on your guns, but allows you to craft medkits, air filters, and even some types of ammunition. Crafting becomes more in-depth when using the workbenches. You can craft bullets, and some guns have different variants, like explosive arrows for the crossbow.
A new mechanic that you have to keep in mind is gun cleanliness. As you use a particular weapon more and more, the weapon will not function as well as it used to. It can jam, its fire rate can be lowered, and they can deal less damage. This makes resource management very important. There are only two types of crafting items in Exodus: materials and chemicals. You need to spend chemicals on cleaning your weapons, but also can use them to craft medkits, air filters, and many other things. Metro has always emphasized stealth over upfront combat. The value of human life is very important, and the series has always emphasized using stealth to avoid combat. This helps you conserve your resources for when you need them most, especially on harder difficulties. The harder difficulty also makes the game more immersive, with bullets doing more realistic damage, and some HUD elements taken away. With New Game +, the options for making your experience harder and/or more immersive are varied. Ironman mode means you have to restart the entire level every time you die, which can completely change the way you play the game. There is also an option that allows for the day and night cycle to be in real time, making those marathon playthroughs far more immersive.
One major change between Metro Exodus and its predecessors is that Metro is a semi-open world. The first two areas after the prologue allow you to free roam the environments, with plenty of side activities to do while you’re out and about. The last two environments are far more linear, but still don’t undermine the gameplay. All of the levels were designed with the idea that the player would rush through all the story objectives. There are only a handful of side quests, and their locations are often on the way to wherever your main objective is. Each one of them is interesting and helps build the world.
The story is phenomenal and was certainly my highlight of the game. The characters on your train, the Aurora, all feel like real people. In between each level, there’s a mini level where you can explore the train, which involves plenty of activities to do with the characters. You can drink vodka or smoke bad cigarettes with your brothers in arms, where you get to listen to their thoughts on things. There’s a radio you can fiddle around with that can play music as well as communications from the last area you were in, allowing you to see the effect you have on the world. There’s Artyom’s diary, which fleshes out Artyom’s character by including his thoughts on his family and friends, with monsters, weapons, and factions being added as the game moves on. (Note: Artyom is mostly a silent protagonist, but we do hear his thoughts about what’s going on before every level.)
Artyom’s friends are great characters, but the two main characters besides Artyom are his wife, Anna, and his father-in-law and commander, Miller. Anna’s very stubborn, and since Artyom never speaks in-game, she does a lot of the talking for you. I feel like getting Anna right as a character was the most difficult part for the story, since there are so many ways to get her wrong. Even though she loves Artyom dearly, she doesn’t act lovey-dovey all the time. There’s a good amount of her dialogue where she just vents out her frustrations to Artyom, who’s the best listener in the world. She does, in the simplest terms, serve mostly as a motivation point for Miller and Artyom, but it's done so well that it doesn’t disservice her character at all. Miller is very idealistic; he’s incredibly stubborn, and he believes heavily in order and chain of command. For a good portion of the game, he doesn’t treat Artyom like his son, and vice versa. This dynamic slowly changes as the game goes on.
There are some weaknesses the game has overall. As of the last time I played, there was no way to load individual saves, only the latest one. This was a huge issue for me because I got stuck in a wall in my New Game + playthrough, and the game autosaved while I was stuck, so I had to completely throw away my playthrough. Another issue I had was that you get introduced to Miller and Anna pretty early on, even though they were in previous games. The rest of Artyom’s friends are completely new characters, and the game shoves most of them in your face all at once. The rest of the prologue doesn’t differentiate these characters well, which was a bit jarring when I played through it the first time. Luckily, the game stabilizes itself and turns these characters into almost real people with the writing and voice acting.
My last complaint is with how the game handles Artyom as a silent protagonist. Artyom has been silent since the first game, only speaking during loading screens. This helps the player immerse themselves better in the world, and that isn’t absent here. My problem is that it's implied in some dialogue that he does speak, but we never observe this as we're looking through his eyes. If they made Artyom silent, and he communicated more with his body language than he already does, it would change Artyom’s relationship with his family and friends. Then, during incredibly intense moments, he could speak just a little, maybe even one word. That would definitely make those moments much more powerful.
Metro Exodus is currently my candidate for game of the year of 2019. It has a fantastic story, great writing, beautiful visuals, and some good hardcore gunplay; this game is definitely an experience I recommend. Despite its flaws, I love this game, and I think 4A Studios have truly outdone themselves. I’m thoroughly excited to play through the two upcoming story DLCs—The Two Colonels and Sam’s Story—and whatever else is coming.
Nate Beeler is originally from Hazlet, New Jersey. He is currently a game production management student at Champlain College. He loves FPS games and 4x games, and he's exploring modding Civilization V.