Metro Exodus publisher Deep Silver invited us to have some hands-on time with their latest release ahead of its 15 February launch. The code was near-final and our playthrough was on Xbox One X hardware. Here’s how James got on...
While there’s a variety of DNA on display here, the strongest influences are probably Half-Life in terms of narrative-driven game design and Fallout in terms of the aesthetic and manual feel of the world. While Fallout 76 dialled back many of the more distinctive aspects of its namesake, Exodus relishes in the little quirks that make it stand out, like having to manually pump pneumatic weapons or clean and maintain items to keep them in good working order.
While these sorts of mindless tasks could easily become a mess of busy work, the team at 4A Games have managed to balance the elements so that they enhance the game experience rather than being a chore.
Many of the subterranean areas you do explore are radioactive, have air filled with toxins, or a deadly combination of both. Keeping an ear out for the familiar crackle of your geiger counter will handle the former, but for the latter you’re forced to cycle between gas masks which introduce a timed element to exploration, as most filters have only a few minutes of use before they expire (and, of course, you’ll need to manually swap filters once one runs down). This succeeds in pushing that pressure point and heightening levels of anxiety to induce an excited nervousness, which quickly gives way to panic as you near the final few seconds and are (as I was) frantically unable to find the lever to open the escape door.
Elsewhere, the lush green and breathable air of the autumn section affords you the opportunity to take your time and make use of stealth to get by, encouraged with the discovery of a handy crossbow nearby. Conversely, the harsh architecture of our introduction to the game (set back in spring) bangs the drum for the oppressive feel of historical Soviet archetypes.
While narrative was scarce in our preview time - a deliberate step from the dev team to avoid spoiling too much - the cast of Metro Exodus are genuinely compelling and interesting. Even with returning protagonist Artyom a near mute, you constantly feel involved in the story as narrative beats play out around you in real time.
Calling the game open-world would be generous, but there’s definitely scope to wander off the beaten path in search of crafting materials, which may lead to NPCs questioning you on what’s taking so long.
Crafting itself is fairly straightforward, in that you can strip down modified weapons you come across and attach a custom barrel or stock to another at a handily placed weapons bench. While many modifications are slight, the effects stack when put together to significantly boost damage and accuracy.
Gunplay in general feels well-balanced and satisfying, especially as you keep tinkering away and working towards perfecting your loadout. There’s a few gadgets to play about with as well, in particular a silent-but-deadly throwing knife which can be vital for thinning out larger herds of enemies.
While we’re still a month out from launch, the game is looking extremely polished, performing brilliantly in native 4K on Xbox One X (and the surrounding PC demo stations from what I saw), which goes a long way in bringing the world to life. Only a few wonky facial animations slightly let the otherwise stellar immersion down.
In all, from just a few short hours of play, Metro Exodus has shot up my list of anticipated games and could surpass anything to come out on its packed 15 February launch day. Considering that’s the date for my beloved Crackdown 3 (not to mention Far Cry: New Dawn and Jump Force), that’s saying quite something. Here’s hoping the final release delivers.