Hands-on with Metro: Exodus

Don't forget your Geiger counter.

Up to now, the bleak post-nuclear world of Metro 2033 has mostly confined us to the dark subway tunnels of Moscow. Deep underground and protected from the radiation of the bombs that fell prior to the story's start, these games created a tense and claustrophobic feeling where I never could tell what was behind the next corner. The games briefly allowed me onto the surface, but I never stayed up there for long... until now.

Metro: Exodus sends us out into the wilds as the fallout has finally died down, letting us travel a vast open Russian landscape aboard a heavily armored train. After a 40-minute demo at E3 2018, I am excited to see what these wilds hold, but the game definitely needs the extra time for polish.

The demo starts with Arytom and his team aboard a train, strategizing their next moves. Suddenly, a group of people living on the tracks open fire, paralyzing the train until a new fuel pump can be procured. So much for “heavily armored” train, I suppose. After the problem is diagnosed, I am sent into my first taste of the wilderness, pointed toward what looks like a church in the hopes I find some help. There are still some hints of radiation about, which I can protect myself from with my trusty mask, but eventually I find a small dinghy and must row myself into this church.

Right away, I can see the consequences of the war I’ve been hiding from, as giant mutated lizard-like creatures line the shores around this small river. They begin to dive into the water and cross into my path, but astonishingly they refrain from attacking me for now. As I approach this church, I realize my mission is not as simple as the game had me believe, as it sounds like the leader of church's residents is riling them up with words like “heretic” and “heathen” pointed at me. That’s... not ideal. Eventually my boat and I are trapped in some sort of cage, only to be saved by a woman and her child who wish to leave the cult. Thank goodness for these dissenters, or I might have been made an example of to the hordes below.

I can approach my escape from this church in two ways: stealth through and conserve ammunition or power through guns blazing. I elect the stealthy approach, sneaking past armed guards and silently disabling ones in my path with ease. The game does a great job of allowing me to play how I want, and that’s definitely appreciated. I find my boat has been conveniently moved to the front of the church and I am able to row out of there no problem, only a few bad guys taken down in the process. Feeling pretty proud I quickly row back to the other side of the pond... and that’s when things get hairy. 

See, those mutated lizards from the first trip down this watery way aren’t too keen on me coming back around these parts, and they decide to jump on my boat with their weird tentacle-looking mouths and take me on. Thank goodness I conserved ammunition earlier, as I’m now able to put these jerks away with just a few rounds. Also, the first one jumping onto my boat and taking a swipe at me was a neat little moment, as I truly did not expect that to happen after going through the first time unchallenged.

Back on the shore, I make my way back to the train, and new intelligence from the rescued churchgoers reveals the train part I need may be hidden in a building on the other side of the tracks... just past a bandit hideout. Obviously, I have no choice but to pursue it, so I set off on my own toward the location. As I approach the bandit camp I duck down, trying once again to be stealthy, and I get a taste of the hostile environment in action. Two mutated rats appear out of nowhere and descend on me, blowing my cover. It’s now me against a crew of bandits, and somehow they keep finding the exact spot and time to shoot me dead.

This brings me to one of my biggest concerns about the demo: the loading times were absurd. I understand this is a work in progress, the gentleman from 4A Games leading the session even stressed this being a beta build, but having to wait 50-60 seconds for the game to reload my checkpoint -- which was just after I killed the rats -- is far too long. This kind of thing will kill any interest a player will have in the game, particularly in a difficult part with a lot of deaths and restarts, so this must be addressed by launch.  There are some other technical issues to iron out, some odd shooting mechanics and the occasional graphical blip, but the loading times are a huge concern.

I finally dispatch the bandits with some well-timed shots, only to be told by the session leader that the demo time is up and the appointment is over. I wish I would have gotten the chance to see the rest of the demo, but thanks to those long loading times from the trio of deaths I suffered I didn’t get the chance. As I leave the demo I feel good about what I’ve played and I want to know what happens to Artyom and this world he lives in, but those small technical hiccups eat away at my excitement just a bit.

Don’t let my focus on the problems I faced mislead you, Metro: Exodus is shaping up to be a fun and enticing follow-up in the Metro 2033 universe. The two areas I visited in the open world were vastly different, though both still ended up being hostile to me, and exploring the desolation of post-war Russia offers some good fun. If the wrinkles can get ironed out and the loading times dealt with, 4A Games will have another winning Metro game on their hands. Without it I fear a lot of players will just get frustrated and give up, and this franchise certainly does not deserve that. Metro: Exodus is set to launch February 22, 2019, so there’s plenty of time to fix these issues and impress the entire gaming world.