With a fresh new Windows install, I’ve installed a couple of games from my Steam library. Mostly to play Ticket to Ride online with my family, I’ve also finally installed Metro: Exodus, the latest (last?) game in the Metro series. Here are my thoughts, keeping in mind I haven’t finished it yet, haven’t read the book for this one, and I finished the second game 7 years ago.
I was immediately put off by the story of Exodus from the beginning, I didn’t appreciate being thrown into a twist which undermined a lot of the best ideas from the first book. The Metro series has always had these diversions into philosophical questions about the post-apocalypse, and it only really works if you accept that there’s no redemption, no resolution. The nuclear war is done, the earth’s surface is uninhabitable, all that remains is humanity in its twilight, surviving underground in spite of itself. That gave the story added weight, a premise which works so long as you assume that humanity is teetering on the edge of extinction and on its way out.
Then Exodus introduces the revelation that the surface isn’t as deadly as you think. It’s a totally jarring shift in tone, because if there’s a serious possiblity of survival that changes the dynamic.
Still, I remember being confused by the second game. Looking back at other earlier reviews of Last Light, one of the common complaints is how the basic assumptions of the world shift from story to story, and that’s the same here. It took me a while, but I got hooked into the story eventually.
In Exodus you start from Miller’s idea that there must be a functioning government out there, and that Russia might be under some kind of foreign occupation. Without giving away the story so far, it doesn’t really work out like that. I don’t know where it’s going but it’s fascinating to see things slowly unravel.
The marketing for the game strongly suggests that it’s much more of an open-world game, and that was the main thing I wasn’t sure about. I’m about halfway through and so far it hasn’t diverted too far off a linear set of events. It feels more like an ‘0451’ immersive sim, and it’s not so much a bold leap into new game mechanics as a natural development of things which were already present in the earlier games.
While there’s a lot of room for exploration, the story itself is still tied to a fairly rigid sequence of events. I find myself eagerly reading the various notes and little in-game narratives. When this is a ‘well-written game’ it’s not just a well choreographed story, it’s actually enjoyable to read all the explanatory text which surrounds it. And I think this series is one of the few examples where it could do with more written explantion and less rich environmental storytelling.
As for the RPG mechanics, you can and do run out of bullets, resources are scarce. It nails the feeling that you’re never completely safe, and it flips around the environment of the first two games. The tunnels were previously a place of comfort and safety from the exposed irradiated surface; now it’s the other way around and the underground is hazhardous, dark, and claustrophobic.
For example, the outside lighting sometimes exposes harsh and almost blinding sunlight, it makes a lot more sense in terms of atmosphere. I also wish I could play this with raytraced lighting.
The section around the Caspian sea in particular managed to get much more atmosphere than the standard video game desert environment. You can feel the beating sun, the dust in the air. The desert is wide and open, you can see for miles, but there’s still an oppressive sense of danger. You feel like you’re being watched, and there’s always something lurking behind the nearest rock or sand dune.
I got very frustrated by the monster men who ambush you out of the sand, they jerk about and don’t go down easily with shots from the Tihar. I probably should have just got a shotgun for those enemies, I was trying to conserve a stealthy approach. Also, Anna develops a cough after the first chapter, which keeps being brought up as a significant thing. If I had to predict where that’s going, I suspect Anna won’t survive for a happy ending.