The Metro games have always endeavored to differentiate themselves from other post-apocalyptic titles. In comparison to the Fallout series’s emphasis on role-playing and exploring open worlds populated by idiosyncratic, darkly humorous oddities, the post-nuclear wasteland of Metro is grim, claustrophobic and depressingly believable.
That is, at least, until Metro Exodus, the third entry in Ukranian developer 4A Games’ series, which is based on Dmitry Glukhovsky’s “Metro” novel trilogy. Initially released in 2019 for the previous console generation and PC, Metro Exodus received a robust upgrade for the current generation titled Complete Edition on June 18. The package also includes the essential post-campaign narrative expansions and is available to owners of the original versions at no additional cost.
The first two games, Metro 2033 and Last Light take place almost entirely within the Moscow metro system some two decades after nuclear warfare has driven the remnants of the human race underground. The irradiated surface, now ruled by mutated creatures, is only seen in scant glimpses before players are driven back into the confinement of the dilapidated metro tunnels.
Previous gameplay was perfectly in sync with the games’ setting — in this harsh environment, players are just as likely to be killed by carelessness as they are by human antagonists or ravenous mutants. As such, players who scrounged the environments for supplies, conserved ammo and stealthily navigated around conflict were rewarded.
Metro Exodus departs — quite literally — from these series trademarks. Within the first few hours of the game, protagonist Artyom is awakened to the fact that there is human life beyond the Moscow metro and embarks on an epic, continent-spanning journey to find humanity’s new home. Much of the game is set on the treacherous surface and though the narrative is still largely linear, Exodus’ vast open-world sections give it a completely new identity.
Exodus is by far the series’s technical peak. Gameplay is far more responsive than previous entries, and though it sacrifices some complexity, it benefits greatly from the increased accessibility. On PlayStation 5, the Complete Edition adds DualSense haptic feedback and utilizes the adaptive triggers, making it even more immersive.
4A Games has also totally redesigned the lighting for the new consoles, replacing the already stellar static, baked-in lighting with even more impressive real-time ray traced global illumination. Combined with the new 4K textures, this improvement only heightens the bleak beauty of Exodus’ wasteland. Complete Edition also greatly improves load times, allowing players to spend more time in gameplay.
Exodus falls short in comparison to its predecessors, however, because it deviates so far from its survival horror roots. Ammo is much more plentiful, and players are rarely discouraged from taking a head-on, typical first-person shooter approach to combat encounters. Though the open-world stages contain some jaw-dropping spectacles, they also greatly harm pacing and make the game clunkier. The game’s most striking moments still occur during the pared-down, more constrictive segments.
The Two Colonels, one of the two expansions included in Complete Edition, also succeeds because it strays closer to the atmosphere of the first two games and adds a great deal of depth to the main game’s climax.
The first of two true bravura sequences in Exodus occurs when Artyom first comes across an operational locomotive, thereby expanding the series’s scope. Here, the action and survival genres are perfectly blended as Artyom attempts to commandeer the train and escape from the pursuing enemy forces. The second occurs in the game’s closing hours when players are taken to a new environment that recalls the claustrophobia of 2033 and Last Light, perhaps representing the pinnacle of the series overall.
Outside of these stellar sections, however, Exodus never reaches the heights of the previous games in the series. While everything in between is consistently enjoyable, it does not have the distinctive, original feel of Metro. Complete Edition makes Exodus one of the best-looking and best-running games currently available, but when Exodus neglects the series trademarks, it becomes something far more generic.
This review is based on the PS5 version of Metro Exodus Complete Edition.