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Metro Exodus Sheds Linear Levels For Open Areas – Hands-On

The screen fades into a train powering through an apocalyptic Russia. Destroyed buildings and crashed airplanes are covered in snow. All seems well as Artyom cradles his rifle, for once at peace with himself. Suddenly, your train crashes into a barricade. Alarms sound, workers run frantic, and a church bell rings out in the distance. The underground train tunnels are no more. In Metro Exodus, Artyom’s journey takes place on the surface of Russia.

During my hour long hands-on with Exodus, I learned that some levels are many times larger than any spaces we’ve seen in Metro 2033 or Metro: Last Light. This sequel features twice as much dialogue as both previous games combined. Areas are now open-world instead of linear.

As a continuation of Arytom’s journey, the Exodus demo tasks me with scoping out the area to find out who stopped our train. Once in control, the first thing I notice is how spacious the area is. 4A Games informed us that situations have many approaches. I chose to explore for a little bit, picking up materials and weapon parts.

New to the series is the crafting backpack. This add-on enables you to create health kits, oxygen containers, and weapon parts on the field – assuming you find a safe space to do so. The crafting is straightforward, with two types of materials. One tier is for healing items and such, while the other is for making throwing knives and other useful weapons.

Once equipped, I set off to the church. Anna returns as a key character, with her providing sniper support if necessary. Most of the trip takes place on a boat, where I see giant, four-legged slugs creeping into the water after me. There were no combat scenarios on the way to my destination.

Upon arrival, I’m welcomed by a peaceful yet apprehensive religious cult who believes electricity is the making of the devil. It’s all a trap, as I’m guided off the boat by a banished young boy heralding Artyom as his savior. The militant half of the cult is on their way, but Anna and I must somehow save the boy and his mother.

Here is the first real combat section of the game. For those who have played Metro, you know that gunplay is intentionally rough in some aspects. The reticle is difficult to steady, and Artyom can be slow to aim at times. All of that carries over in this entry, immersing you in the desperate situation Artyom finds himself in.

The church opens as a stealth section. You can silently take out enemies or go guns blazing. I chose the quiet melee route, not firing a single bullet during my escape. The difficulty must have been on a lower setting, however. I had no problems remaining unseen, and enemies seemed to ignore me even when standing in bright light. Going off of past experiences, however, Metro will provide plenty of shadows to hide from enemies.

I appreciate the verticality here. There are all sorts of windows to jump from, stairs to climb, and railings to vault over. On top of this, I skipped a ton of side paths to get through the demo, but you can be damn sure I’m exploring everything in the full game.

What also interests me is the return of the subtle morality system from the previous games. You can either kill or knock out enemies, which contributes to how the world views your character. Small actions affect morality throughout the game, and I assume this means there will be different endings as usual.

After the church, I experienced the legendary radiated creatures Metro is known for. The slugs from before attacked my boat, and I caught a visual of a bigger monster roaming the lakes. Once on land, I failed to sneak past a Hulk-like creature who chased me down relentlessly. It took all my ammo to bring him down before moving onto the next part of the mission.

Metro isn’t necessarily a horror game, but the titles often evoke feelings of tension. My new goal was to climb a fallen warehouse in search of a friend. While there were multiple paths to the top, the underground layer I chose was full of opposition. Zombie creatures ran rampant. I only had my silenced pistol and a rifle to protect myself.

I was discovered almost right away. A straggler must have heard my struggle with an approaching zombie, and an endless amount of monsters came after me as a result. I sprinted past.  My goal was to shake them off by climbing upwards. Either I wasn’t fast enough, or 4A Games put a ton of effort into the enemy A.I. As I climbed, the sounds of my would-be captives only got closer. The creatures were faster than me and traveled in packs. I’d sneak a look behind me to see them climbing up on all sides.

My demo culminated in an epic standoff on top of the warehouse. I used my precious seconds of safety to craft some health kits and molotov cocktails before the zombies found their way up. In minutes, all my resources were gone. I was stuck running in circles with attempts to land a melee hit. I honestly believed my experience would end in death when the NPC friend appeared on a crane above me and rained hell on the remaining monsters.

As the music calmed, I found myself physically tense and having to slow my breath to calm down. Metro Exodus is undoubtedly still the exhilarating franchise I know and love, only with more choice and open-world areas to explore. I came into the demo worried that the widespread regions would ruin the claustrophobic and tense feelings I enjoyed from the previous games, but so far it only serves to enhance them.

The open-ended design adds variety, with linear areas woven into the spaces to keep tensions high. At one moment you’ll be exploring a vast frozen wasteland. The next you’re trapped in a tunnel with creatures coming in at all sides. Of course, we’ll have to see if the full game can carry this momentum. That said, the hour I played has me reassured that Metro Exodus is a proper evolution for the franchise.