Whilst massive publishers, with development studios all around the world, and with budgets larger than the GDP of Tonga, release limp, buggy offerings to the gaming public, once again, Ukrainian outfit 4A Games, have produced a thing of wonder.
Metro Exodus is the third game based on the post-apocalyptic fiction novel by Russian author Dmitry Glukhovsky, Metro 2033. As before the game follows the adventures of Artyom, who grew up in the make-shift underground city that was once the Moscow metro system.
Having fought mutants, monsters and neo-Nazi both in the tunnels and on the irradiated surface, this new game opens the world up as Artyom and the crew of the locomotive Aurora, venture forth into world that they never knew still existed.
The previous games, Metro 2033 and Metro: Last Light were both visual showcases, on release, bringing even the most spectacular PCs to their knees. Those with the most elite PC builds were able to enjoy gaming visuals the like of which console owners would have to wait an entire new generation for. And they did. Both Metro 2033 and Metro: Last Light got a graphical overhaul with the Metro Redux package for PS4 and Xbox One.
With Metro Exodus, once again 4A Games have raised the bar. Whilst console owners can enjoy 4K visuals, PC owners are in for a visual treat, especially those with PC sporting one of Nvidia’s Geforce RTX 20-series GPUs.
Metro Exodus makes use of the real-time raytracing functions of the Nvidia’s RTX cards to increase the realism of the lighting model. Ray-traced global illumination and ambient occlusion, two attributed of lighting that are, for rendered animations, renowned resource hogs, are both handled on-the-fly. The result is a graphical marvel. Well-heeled gamers with top-of-the-range RTX2080ti GPUs should have no problem maintaining a stable framerate with all the game’s bells and whistles maxed out.
Gamers with one of Nvidia’s more budget-friendly RTX 2060 or 2070 cards, or 2080ti owners wanting and never faster frame-rate/4K maxed-out visuals, will be pleased to know that the game also implements DLSS. Deep Learning Super-Sampling allows RTX cards to use their advanced AI architecture, based on training algorithms generated on Nvidia’s super-computers, to “fill in the gaps” rendering each frame faster than conventional GPUs. This can result in jaggy-free images with a 40% increase in performance. It’s no to be sneezed at. There is a slight, noticeable, drop in visual fidelity, which RTX 2060 and 2070 owners will have not qualms about, but for the small performance increase with a 2080ti running 1440p, I could take it or leave it for the most part.
If PC gaming isn’t your bag, Metro Exodus looks the business on consoles as well, especially on the Xbox One. The game is Xbox One Enhanced, offering console gamers 4K, HDR gameplay very close to that of the PC visuals.
And what visuals they are. Metro Exodus is the best-looking game of the year (and possibly last year as well). Whilst Metro and Last Light both looked the business, the visuals were somewhat held back by the bleak post-apocalyptic Moscow-based setting. With more diverse environments, 4A Games have really been able to show off their mastery of graphical fidelity. No static image can really do the game visuals justice. Each frame is full of detail. The wide, open vistas are breathtaking, whereas the monster attacks, whilst visually astounding, are absolutely chilling.
Why has it taken Arytom and his band of Spartans until now to leave the Moscow underground? As the game opens our hero, Artyom, has a habit of going to the surface, searching for other survivors. It’s during one of these expeditions that Artyom and his wife, Anna, observe a locomotive travelling on the surface. As they investigate, they discover that the war is, apparently, not over. In order to protect the residents of the Metro, radio jammers have isolated them from the outside world. On discovering this, Artyom and his wife seize the opportunity to find out just what’s out there.
In a change from previous games, Metro Exodus opts for a more open-world style of gameplay. Instead of tightly curated routes though underground tunnels and surface paths, Artyon is free to roam as he chooses.
In saying that, you don’t have free run over the whole game environment. As the Aurora chugs across the Soviet post-nuclear wasteland, the train makes stops (or is stopped), along the way. This gives Artyom the opportunity to stretch his legs and go for a wander in the post-apocalyptic wasteland.
As the Aurora continues on its journey, additional carriages are added to the train. During his adventures, Artyom comes across a cobbled together car. The additional thrill of making enemies and mutants into roadkill adds some giggles to the game.
As with previous entries in the series, ammo is in short supply, so scavenging is key to survival. Landscapes are peppered with bandit camp ripe for the taking. One night in particular, I stumbled on an encampment in an old service station. With zero ammo it was kill with stealth or be killed. By slowly picking off the enemy one-by-one not only was it an exciting bit of gameplay, I also replenished by ammo and salvaged some neat parts for my weapons.
Guns and equipment can be upgraded using parts found in the field. There are also special upgrades, like night vision google and a motion-detector which, once found, are game changers.
Crafting and looking after your equipment is a big part of the game. Guns need cleaning and ammo, first aid kits and gas mask filters need crafting. Whilst the outside environments don’t need the constant (and tiresome) maintenance of your gas mask situation as in previous games, there are times when contaminated areas require you to put your mask on.
The game still has many spooky enclosed spaces and abandoned (or not so abandoned) subterranean installations to explore. The level of detail in the underground bunkers is extraordinary. With some of the sinister creatures lurking in the shadows, you are pretty-much guaranteed a fright at some point.
As well as the bandits, cultists and other denizens of post-apocalyptic Russia, there are plenty of mutants out there, especially at night. Public enemy number one are the humanoid mutants that have nasty habit of hiding and taking you by surprise. With the motion sensor equipped, these guys up the ante to a new level of scary as it enables you to spot them, lurking, sleeping and waiting up against walls, laying in the shadows even propped up against the body of some other, poor unfortunate soul.
If I had to level any criticism on the game it would be that some of the areas can be a bit tricky to navigate. A few times I found myself going around and around, completely missing the right path or the right level to pull. Maybe I’m just used to being spoon-fed in other open-world games that feature unsubtle visual cues highlighting the way.
The game caters for a range of player skill levels. You can play the game in a watered-down, virtually story only mode, with very easy opponents and plentiful supplies, right up to an unforgiving nightmare-level difficulty whereby every bullet counts.
Regardless of how you choose to play the game, Metro Exodus is a joy to behold with fantastic gameplay and a riveting story. For this third outing the developers have really hit their stride. In a similar way to CD Projekt RED with The Witcher 3, 4A Games have improved upon the two previous games to give us their masterpiece.