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Nelson Schneider's Video Game Reviews (386)

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Hob 3/5
Assassin's Creed Odyssey 4.5/5
Ittle Dew 2 4.5/5
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Xuan-Yuan Sword: The Ga... 3/5
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Metro Exodus 3.5/5
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Evoland 2 4.5/5
Burokku Girls 2/5
Finding Paradise 4.5/5
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Metro Exodus   PC (Steam) 

Railroading on the Railroad    3.5/5 stars

“Metro Exodus” is the third title released by Ukrainian developer, 4A Games, in the ‘Metro’ series, based on a Russian-language series of post-apocalyptic novels written by Dmitry Glukhovsky. “Metro Exodus” was released in February 2019, after a rather long development cycle, with its immediate predecessor, “Metro Redux” – a compilation of remastered versions of the first two ‘Metro’ titles – having been released in 2014. After this long wait, fans of the series who game on PC were shocked and appalled that 4A Games decided, a mere month before release, to sell “Metro Exodus” only on the then-brand-new-and-completely-untested Epic Games Store for a duration of one year, before returning the game for sale on Steam (the digital store where it initially garnered all of its marketing, hype, and pre-orders).

Patient being that I am, I was left largely unfazed by 4A Games’ dubious marketing tactics, as I had no intention of breaking the Unwritten Rule of PC Game Buying, which states that one does not – ever – buy a game until all of the DLC has been released and the whole enchilada is on sale for a hefty discount. Coincidentally, shortly after “Metro Exodus’” soft-relaunch on Steam in February 2020, the ‘Gold Edition’ of the game on Steam went on sale for an acceptably hefty discount, so I happily gave the developer and publisher my custom.

Going in, I was excited about the prospect of playing a ‘Metro’ game that would be able to shed some of its more cumbersome aspects as it emerged from the chrysalis of a slow, plodding corridor shooter into the bright sunshine of the Open World Sandbox subgenre. Unfortunately, the openness of “Metro Exodus” was greatly overstated in its promotional materials, and 4A Games’ experimentation with less linearity didn’t exactly pan-out.

Presentation
Usually when a game spends 5 or more years in development, it’s because the developer is putting a lot of time and effort into making it look, sound, and perform amazingly. That’s absolutely not the case here. “Metro Exodus” looks largely undifferentiated from “Metro Redux,” and runs on the same proprietary 4A Engine. Character models that looked pretty good, with a bit of dead-eyes and Uncanny Valley in 2014 look exactly the same in 2020, while other games by other developers have seen animations improve over that same timeframe. All of my other criticisms of the 4A Engine still apply, including lights that sometimes shine through solid objects (and mess with the game’s stealth mechanics) and an overly-minimalist default HUD which can, for reasons I will never understand, be removed completely via an option that doesn’t even show button prompts for Quicktime Events.

Audio is, likewise, very similarly done to “Metro Redux.” The voiceacting is done by heavily accented teams of no-names, but is well-performed and fully comprehensible… except for the fact that characters just LOVE to talk over each other and insist on all babbling at the same time in crowded areas or group conversations, which makes following what’s going on impossible without subtitles and difficult with them, since the subtitles tend to weave together incomprehensibly. The soundtrack is… there, I guess. There are a few tunes, but nothing memorable, thematic, or noteworthy.

Technically, “Metro Exodus” is, unsurprisingly, ALSO just about like “Metro Redux.” It’s got some bugs and glitches, and still insists on using the archaic system of a single save slot with ‘chapter’ saves at the beginning of each significant chunk of content. Fortunately, the single save slot now allows the player to save wherever they want while keeping a rotating stable of three auto-saves in reserve. The save corruption issues I encountered in “Metro Redux” have also, allegedly, returned in “Metro Exodus,” with numerous owners of the game complaining about the issue on the Steam forum, with the solution being to disable Steam Cloud Saves. I read about this before playing the game and disabled Steam Cloud Saves before starting. Because I never experienced any save corruption, it seems that 4A Games’ poor implementation of Steamworks features is indeed to blame.

Story
“Metro Exodus” is based (loosely) on the Glukhovsky novel, “Metro 2035,” and is a direct sequel to “Metro: Last Light,” and seems to assume that the ‘bad’ ending is canon. Our hero is, once again, Artyom, a 20-something Russian living in the ruins of the Moscow subway system (the titular metro) with some 50,000 other survivors, all of whom believe that they are the last surviving humans on Earth.

During the events of “Metro Redux,” however, Artyom heard a radio broadcast coming from somewhere outside of Moscow, and subsequently he becomes obsessed with the idea that there are other survivors out there, spending as much time as possible on the uninhabitable, irradiated surface, trying to pick-up another broadcast. He even ropes his wife, Anna, into helping him pursue this obsession, much to the annoyance of her father, Colonel Miller, the commander of the Spartans, a peacekeeping paramilitary group of which Artyom and Anna are both members.

However, Artyom’s obsession with finding other people out in the wasteland soon sees him getting into hot water, as he is captured by Nazis while investigating a mysterious train sighted traveling outside of the subway tunnels. It turns out that the official line that there are no radio broadcasts coming from outside of Moscow is bunk, as the Nazis are operating a series of radio jammers at the behest of the old Russian government… and the Spartan leadership knew about and condoned it all along.

After a daring rescue, Artyom, Anna, Colonel Miller, an old train engineer, and a handful of Artyom’s other friends from within the ranks of the Spartans find themselves on the lam aboard a stolen steam engine out in the wide, wide world. What follows is a travelogue in 10 chapters from Moscow to the Pacific Ocean, with a number of unexpected stops and events in between, and a whole lot of Murphy’s Law.

For the most part, the writing and character development in “Metro Exodus” is quite well-done. Artyom, however, is still a mute imbecile when controlled by the player, but incredibly verbose when writing in his journal. Maybe he has severe social anxiety… Anyway, the lore and backstory of the world of ‘Metro’ is expanded upon ever so slightly, and finally does provide some answers to some of my lingering questions that were unaddressed in the first two games (specifically, who attacked Russia – it was the NATO alliance lead by ‘Murrica, of course). However, other questions are still left unaddressed, such as the origins of the world’s various horrific mutants and paranormal phenomena.

Unlike “Metro: Last Light,” which featured fairly awful DLC that was barely related to the core narrative, “Metro Exodus’” two DLC scenarios – “The Two Colonels” and “Sam’s Story” – both tie directly to the main game. “The Two Colonels” provides an alternate look at the events that occur during the game’s dramatic conclusion, whilst “Sam’s Story” provides an epilog to the game, placing the player in the shoes of Artyom’s American buddy, Sam, who desperately wants to find a way home to California.

With the DLC added in, “Metro Exodus” clocks in at about 40 hours. This would be just right for a Sandbox game like ‘Far Cry,’ however, in spite of the fact that 4A Games heavily promoted the game as being open world in their pre-release materials, “Metro Exodus” is still a very linear experience, with points of no return between each of the chapters. Sure, some 3 of the chapters give the illusion of being large and open, with optional locations to explore and scavenge, while other chapters are positively claustrophobic and take place entirely aboard the train, but make no mistake, it is purely illusion, as the player is herded along in the right direction at the right time, and the only real ‘choices’ the player must make all involve whether to use violence on innocent people, and thus mess up their karma and get the ‘bad’ ending. And I’ll end on the cryptic note that there’s no way the ‘bad’ ending can be canon this time.

Gameplay
“Metrro Exodus” was supposed to be an open world take on the ‘Metro’ IP. But it’s not. Like its predecessors, “Metro Exodus” moves along in a linear fashion at a rather sluggish pace. While a whopping 3 out of the game’s 10 chapters are what I’d describe as ‘sprawling,’ they are never actually ‘open.’ There are always explicit directives given to the player, and specific locations to reach, and nearly every ‘optional’ bit of ‘exploration’ involves stops on the way between Point A and Point B. Where the previous ‘Metro’ games excelled in the structure of their shooting-gallery stages, “Metro Exodus kind of flops around, especially in the ‘open’ stages, where the player can expect to deal with randomly spawning groups of mutants and bandits that never stay dead for very long, resulting in an exploration system that actively punishes players for straying from the beaten path or retracing their steps.

Fortunately, the ‘open/sprawling’ stages aren’t completely disorganized, and the in game map system makes it perfectly accessible to keep track of where the player is and where they’re supposed to be. In traditionally minimalist ‘Metro’ style, there are no waypoint breadcrumbs to follow, but instead the player is given a map taped to a clipboard with a compass and a metal ring that represents the player’s location. Using a pair of binoculars acquired shortly after the start of the first ‘sprawling’ stage, the player can pan and scan around their location, taking note of interesting landmarks and adding them as scribbles to their map.

However, I can’t stress enough how very little of the game is ‘sprawling’ in any way. Out of the 10 chapters, a whopping 4 of them are story-based, and don’t involve any gameplay at all, aside from talking to people and maybe pressing a button to make Artyom take a puff off a cigarette or drink some moonshine when prompted. That leaves the remaining 3 stages as very typical corridor-shooting affairs that are nearly identical to the previous ‘Metro’ games. And, sure, the previous ‘Metro’ games were pretty good, but my excitement would have been greatly tempered if I had known that “Metro Exodus” isn’t about exploring a vast open world, but is actually about hopping a train from location to location and dealing with random groups of antagonists at each stop along the way.

The main thing I was excited about in “Metro Exodus” was actually NOT the allegedly open game environments, but the weapon modding system that was shown off in one of the game’s first promotional videos. While, yes, there is a modding system that allows Artyom to strip any weapon he comes across down to its basic version, keeping all of the fancy stocks, sights, barrels, magazines, and laser attachments for later use, I actually found the system to be somewhat stifling. The thing about ‘Metro’ games is that they tend to encourage a stealthy approach to most situations, allowing the player to sneak past enemies they might have moral compunctions about killing, and allowing Survival Horror fans to hoard resources and treat each bullet as a precious commodity. That means silencers are a pretty big deal. Yet there are NO silencers for either automatic rifles or bolt-action rifles, rendering their entire weapon archetypes largely useless. Furthermore, while it is possible to attach a reflex sight to any number of weapons, 4X zoom scopes can’t be attached to rifles, air rifles, or crossbows, but can be attached to pistols. What?! As a result, the player will be quite a long way into the game before they find a scope that makes the Tikhar air rifle (which still shoots head-busting ball bearings) useful in any way. In that same vein, I ended up using a pistol through the entire game because I could put a silencer and a 4X scope on it, which made an ideal short-range sniping weapon. Shotguns are likewise inexplicably messed up, with two models available (an over-under and a magazine-fed), but the damage output for the magazine-fed variety is so laughably low compared to the over-under variety that it’s inexplicable that they’re using the same shells! And that 4x4 rotating shotgun barrel that was in “Metro Redux”? GONE!

Even more tedious than the inexplicably missing and/or poorly balanced weapon modding options is the fact that the game takes place in the post-apocalypse, and things are going to get dirty. Instead of deteriorating and falling apart like the weapons in “Fallout 3,” the weapons in “Metro Redux” get dirty, and the dirtier they get, the higher the likelihood that they’ll jam-up and not fire when the player pulls the trigger. Thus the player will want to spend valuable chemical resources cleaning their guns whenever they stumble across a workbench.

While Artyom is free to craft first-aid kits, gas mask filters, shivs, tin cans (for distraction purposes… but really?), and ball bearings anywhere he can plop down on the ground and open his backpack, crafting ammunition and cleaning guns can only be done at designated workbenches. These are common enough and scattered liberally around the game’s stages, so it’s never a liability, but the fact that finding stuff on the ground and crafting are the only ways to acquire new stuff is kind of disappointing, after “Metro Redux” featured a commerce system. There are absolutely no merchants or traders of any stripe in “Metro Exodus,” so the player is free to spend all of their bullets killing enemies without fear of going broke.

However, the abundance of crafting materials is directly controlled by the difficulty setting the player chooses. I was extremely disappointed to discover that “Metro Exodus” no longer features ‘Survival’ and ‘Spartan’ modes as choices, but instead leans more toward the Survival side of things. Artyom is very weak and frail in battle, while even on Normal difficulty, human enemies can shrug off roughly 2-3 times as many body shots as the player (which is, colloquially, known as ‘bullshit’). At least on Normal difficulty I never had to worry about running out of supplies, since salvageable junk is quite common. Like the previous ‘Metro’ titles, there are also a number of hidden collectibles littered throughout the game. However, with its more ‘sprawling’ stage design, longer runtime, and less enjoyable core gameplay, I didn’t feel compelled to go back and seek them out just for a Steam Achievement.

Overall
“Metro Exodus” is a disappointing step backwards in a lot of respects. 4A Games’ lack of improvements in the core engine; the removal of the more gung-ho Spartan mode in favor of pandering to the stealth-only, no-HUD, perma-death portion of the fanbase; the shockingly disappointing weapon modding system; and the dumbfounding fact that the game is not actually an open world Sandbox left me feeling cold. Still, in spite of its shortcomings, “Metro Exodus” still has an interesting story to tell, and the sprawling, open-ish stages hint at great possibilities for the future, if only the team at 4A can get out of their rut.

Presentation: 3/5
Story: 4/5
Gameplay: 3/5
Overall (not an average): 3.5/5

 

 


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