This week, Yahtzee reviews Metro Exodus.
The "Big Crunch" theory of the universe states that all matter will eventually collapse into a dimensionless singularity in a single point in space. I have a similar theory of video games called the "Big Arsing About in a Bush" theory, which states that all video game franchises will eventually gravitate to open-world games set in the wilderness with stealth and resource management, meaning that the gameplay will center around arsing about in a bush; bonus points if it's post-apocalyptic, as well. Zelda did it, Tomb Raider did it, God of War's giving it some funny looks, and those were all at one point from three vastly different genres. So what's next on the hit list? How about claustrophobic survival horror shooters about depressed Russians? And maybe after that, we could airdrop Cooking Mama into the Cambodian jungle, where she has to craft a bow and arrow out of her fucking salad servers!
Cue Metro Exodus. Metro Exodus is the third, and possibly last, game in the Metro 2033 series, in which the last remnants of humanity in a frozen, irradiated world eke out a claustrophobic existence in the metro tunnels beneath Moscow and must deal with political tensions, mutant monsters, and a subtle paranormal undercurrent. Now, take all the parts of that last sentence and arrange them nicely in a big bin, because none of them are true by the end of Metro Exodus.
Artyom - ongoing series protagonist with a highly-specialized anxiety disorder that means he can only speak on loading screens - is making a bad habit of going up to the surface and twiddling with his radio knobs while everyone keeps telling him he might as well be looking for chocolate raisins in a rabbit hutch, but he eventually discovers the hidden truth that parts of the world besides Moscow are still inhabitable and inhabited. In fact, most of it is, apparently, and Moscow has just been deliberately isolated by paranoid militants this whole time.
Now, I'd never be so hyperbolic as to say that this fundamentally ruins the Metro series, or pisses on it, or leaves its hollowed-out corpse in an alley with an asshole like a rusty tuba, but it does mean that if I get around to replaying the first two Metros, I'm going to feel pretty fucking stupid throughout as I appreciate the horrific, lonely atmosphere of a dead world and the uplifting moments of pure humanity in a seemingly hopeless situation, now knowing that there are fucking beach parties going on a half an hour up the motorway.
Anyway, Artyom and Mrs. Artyom and Mrs. Artyom's dad and most of Artyom's bachelor party steal a train and set out on an odyssey across post-apocalyptic Russia to find a purpose, a place to exist, and a nice bush to arse about in. The result is reminiscent of a lot of things, the least of which being a Metro game; well, it feels like Metro at the start before you get on the train, and again right at the end in the frozen city, like a schoolboy snapping out of a daydream and returning to the lesson, but over the in-between is a right pick 'n' mix. Some of the chapters are big, open sandboxes with side-quests; some are strictly linear tunnel excursions; one of them looks like an open sandbox, but you go through it like it's a tunnel, possibly as a test of all the skills we have been developing thus far.
Some of it reminds me of Mad Max, some The Last of Us, some Resistance 3, and I can't help thinking of what I said about God of War 4: "Here comes another franchise ditching what made it unique for the sake of being like everyone else." That aforementioned "subtle paranormal undercurrent" is now so subtle, it's stomped underfoot and buried beyond the whit of archaeology, 'cos it's mostly wilderness and bandit camps now. Oh yes, and remember using bullets as currency? That interesting mechanic unique to the Metro series that was not only a nice twist on gameplay as we had to think about how much of our offensive ability we were willing to sacrifice for the things we needed (although, admittedly, the thing that we needed was most commonly "more bullets"), but was also an effective bit of world-building that said a lot about this society where bullets were the most useful day-to-day commodity as opposed to, say, tinned food or bog roll? Well, you can stick all that in the bin as well, because who needs unique currency mechanics when you have, you guessed it, crafting!
Really simplified crafting with only two ingredients - metal and things that aren't metal - and every imaginable resource is made from some combination of the two, which rather undermines what Metro had previously established about ammo being valuable and hard to get when you can craft a fresh handful of 9-millimeters from a wire coat hanger and a brussels sprout. In fact, the very basic crafting undermines the whole "survivalism" thing, when, if we are dangerously low on something, the thinking is not, "What supplies can we spare for trade, and should we press on and hope to find a vendor or turn back and risk losing time?", but rather, "Let's find a roomful of corpses and rub all their tummies until prizes come out!"
Look, I'm not going to say that Abe's Exoddus, I mean, Ultima III: Exo--I mean, Metro Exodus is a bad game; I just think the gameplay's become rather painfully generic. Shoot the bandits or stealth the bandits, and then gun down a pack of fell humans that we very emphatically will not refer to as "zombies". "Oh, come on, Yahtz! Why do you always insist on things always being 'unique'? You never complain about having the exact same bowl of muesli and crafty wank for breakfast every morning." All right, fine.
One thing the Metro series does well is characters that come across as human as opposed to fleshy gun turrets with an emotional range that goes from "determined" to "determined and a bit cross", and Exodus still has that. I relished the between-mission bits on the train, where we can hear extensive dialogues and watch everyone hang out and see how their personalities differentiate these interchangeable Russians with heads like potatoes, although the dialogue has a bad habit of signaling upcoming twists. "We just have to get inside this one mysteriously silent bunker and everything will be fine, and then we'll get medals and free food and a pony." "Oh, I'm so optimistic for the future! If only I could, ahem, shake this conspicuous, nonspecific cough." Shit's about to get fuckyyyy! ...And it always does, but I don't like how the story never satisfactorily pays off what it sets up.
The overall plot is just a picaresque series of disconnected chapters that abruptly stops the moment it runs out of setpieces, but even the individual chapters are all lacking an appropriate climax. We're in an area controlled by a religious cult that worships a giant mutant fish. Are we going to fight the mutant fish at the end, or liberate the cultists from brainwashing? Nope; we just sort of bugger off. Then we're in the Mad Max level, where a bandit gang has enslaved a local indigenous tribe. Do we liberate the slaves? Not really; we do set the ball rolling on that, but instead of seeing it through, we just sort of bugger off. Then we're in the nice river valley level, where we were hoping to set up home, but find it crawling with weird survivalist forest people. Do we kill them all, or learn to coexist? No, 'cos then, we get to the end of the valley, and notice the dam's about to burst. Do we get to see it burst, or rescue the forest people? No! We just point it out to them, say, "Shit's about to get fucky!", and then bugger off. "You called?" I wasn't talking to you, Comrade Buggeroff.
- In Soviet Russia, the apocalypse is post-you: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- In currency trading news, rolls of toilet paper are down 6% against the bullet after a particularly bad night at the Mexican restaurant
- Time for a second bowl of muesli I think