This started out as a way to document in long form what I didn’t like about the game so I would be more coherent when presenting them to my brother Daniel. We already own the first 2 games so I want him to know its triumphs and shortfalls before dropping cash on it.
The game feels like a lazy console port.
When the game is running, I can’t access the windows key or any function keys. I can’t change the volume, which is really important for screamy jumpscares and quieter dialogue. This forces me to use my over ear headphones which has an inline volume wheel, but now I’ve got to charge that and it’s really hot to wear sometimes.
Furthermore, as someone who has multiple headphones and speakers connected, not being able to change the audio output by hitting Win or Win + D is really disorienting and frustrating. I have to use ctrl-alt-del to access Task Manager in order for my desktop to appear. Whereas on a console, hitting the PS button or the Xbox button is a surefire way to change settings via the pull up menu or diving into system settings.
It feels like my keyboard is locked and it’s only the first of many ways in which the game makes me feel like my agency is taken away from me. Just starting it up presents minor obstacles that detract from the mood.
Let’s dive into the settings.
I can’t even scroll in the settings. I have to use the arrow keys or move my cursor to an arrow to toggle up and down the settings. It wouldn’t be so bad if there were only a few options, but you can’t run away from that in advanced graphics settings which is always my first stop before playing a new game.
They did try to address this in keyboard bindings by subdividing controls into movement, combat, etc. But now even simple K/B settings are nested in multiple layers that I have to remember, and I like tweaking my controls. And why should the controls be divided between movement and combat anyway? We’re playing a first-person shooter — there’s hardly a difference between combat and movement. I’m a human playing a human, so I shouldn’t have to think about interacting. It should be fluid and natural.
Let’s talk controls. Specifically, the map.
There’s no 2 ways about this, the controls aren’t fluid. Now, we’ve always accessed map with ‘M’. OK, I get that. Now why can’t I exit the map using the ESC key? That just pauses the game. On a controller, that’s fine. You bring up the map using the touchpad (PS4) or menu button (Xbox), and pause using the Option button (PS4) or Start button (Xbox). But when playing on PC, the ESC key should back you out of in-game menus.
Next, flipping the notepad is cool. But why is it LMB and RMB flip and zoom respectively? Again, this makes perfect sense on a controller. The triggers are perfectly set up for this. But on PC, maps aren’t supposed to work like that. We use the scroll wheel to zoom, maybe even WASD to pan, and how about TAB or any other key to flip the map? Alright, fine, we can move and orient our character while looking at the map and the map shows which way we’re looking. But that’s not the important function of a map in a game. That is what the minimap is for. It orients you to the lay of the land.
A full-sized map is supposed to be a store of information. Humans write on maps. If we’re going to have a binocular game mechanic that automatically picks out areas of interest, that information should be scribbled on the map. It should say “sniper nest here”, “slave shipwreck here”, “monster nest here” etc. Like, basic survival information so I don’t confuse a zipline location or human enemy base (which contain ammo and guns and materials) with useless monster nests where I waste ammo and med kits on monsters which don’t drop anything.
In game maps have virtual legends which free up space on the map and translate what the in-universe character writes and understands for himself, into a language the player can understand. And in a game that is meant to break out of the linear storytelling format and provide sidequests spread across the map, why can’t I toggle which active quest I’m pursuing? Or at least tell me where to look! There’re just big white targets drawn on the map but I can’t interact with them, so I can’t tell which location is for which objective. And sometimes the quests don’t even show up at all, like the slave ship on the Caspian Sea.
Now, as a driver in a dangerous land, you should view your map in a safe place. That means climbing into your van and getting comfortable so you can have a good look at your map before setting off. So why does the game punish me for that by boosting up my camera about half a foot up after put away the map? I can’t see the road because all I see is the roof of the van. I’m forced to get in and out of the van to reset the camera and this animation takes a long time.
Let’s face it, without a minimap (which is fine) we have to check our bearings on the map as we go. Maybe I’m meant to trust the compass pointing me which way to go, but I often like to take shortcuts and offroad, while the compass sticks to the preset path (like all good GPSs should). And a compass that points straight to the objective (since I can’t set custom waypoints) is terribly useless because I’m in a van that can’t reliably traverse a straight line to the objective. (I got stuck twice, once when offroading my van was stuck in a ditch, once my kayak couldn’t make a 3 point turn.)
Movement/Open world implementation
Overall, the open world implementation was very poor. I liked the art style of the van, but the low roof combined with the bug really made exploration a pain. Kayaking was also extremely slow, which led me to give up on getting the teddy bear in the first region.
When navigating areas with water bodies, I often accidentally step into water. I don’t know if it’s intention of 4A Games, but it certainly feels quite restrictive. My rifles get gunked up very quickly in those areas, and I’ll discuss that below.
Maybe Artyom, raised in the Metro’s tunnels, never learnt to swim or tread water, let alone with heavy Spartan gear. But that’s a half-baked excuse, seeing as how Artyom survives numerous scripted events in water. My point, is movement is not fluid.
In a firefight atop some metal scaffolding, I edged into cover and fell through a hole in the floor. Yeah, maybe it’s realistic. But it’s no VR title, so our awareness is really quite limited. It’s not like the hole was meant to be a hazard. Its placement was an afterthought, included as part of the post-apocalyptic art style. It’s easy to get caught on surfaces, ladders, and have inadequate cover (fighting machine gunners from the sniper nest and the first slaver base you encounter) to the point that when you do find cover, it feels like you’re cheesing the game by exploiting tiny holes where the enemy can barely see you can you can murder them with impunity. While that may be realistic, I personally do not find that fun.
It could be that I was playing on Hardcore, but my kayak somehow moved faster/less sluggish in easy mode. I’m sure Artyom’s running stamina is much better on easier modes too. So, on the one hand, exploration comes at a really high cost, and on the other hand, you have to traverse the whole map multiple times to do the side quests to get the good ending. Combining the two, you make for a really encumbering experience.
Really, this section shouldn’t exist.
Picking up items and interacting with the world in general is stupid. Why do we need to press and hold the dedicated interact button? Even on console, this doesn’t make sense. This slows down looting crates, weapons (a different button but still), configuring machinery, etc. For example, one of the wheels to open a gate in the game had a uniquely long hold time which was confusing. I thought I couldn’t access the area yet, but it was actually meant to simulate the stiffness of the mechanism. Visually, Artyom wasn’t straining heavily and the audio cues from Artyom and the machinery just weren’t there in the crucial first seconds.
Even when reloading a save, the game requires you to hold ‘E’, for no reason. Again, games should strip away all the unnecessary button presses. It’s holding the gameplay back.
Reloading a save takes forever too. I think I was playing on a SSHD but still, they were at least 5-10 seconds long, and playing on Hardcore mode where players die easily, this is the worst. Console players definitely have it worse though, with PS4 players reportedly waiting a full minute.
Other game design aspects:
The art design really sings in some places. Colonel Miller’s legs are pretty awesome. In fact, the character models overall are really detailed and handsome. I like traveling with the crew on the train, and they really made it very homey and lived in, just like the bases in the previous Metro games. But the disgusting Metro tunnels at the end of the game are the real showstoppers. It’s safe to say they push forward the horror gaming industry. The slime looks like a cross between pale curdled vomit and chewed up gum. In places, it coats the metal lockers extremely realistically. The staircases are slick and Artyom slides back if he doesn’t have enough speed going up. The worms that spit on Artyom have the right amount of cooing and squelching, and they look really gruesome too. I cast my mind back to stepping through rice paddy fields and spelunking in watery caves, and I imagine myself wading through the swampy, slimy environment. Oh, that’s pretty good.
The lighting suffers in some areas. I’m not sure if it’s mitigated or exacerbated by RTX, but the sands on the Caspian Sea can get blinding, as do the lanterns on the kayaks (which is quite realistic honestly, but nevertheless annoying).
The mutants however, look quite poorly in the game. The Humanimals look particularly bad, like they were slightly modified assets pulled from a decade old open source library. The mutant bear seemed like a rip-off of every other survival game set in a forest environment. The Nosalises are smaller in the endgame, but they move faster and hit harder (perhaps because Hardmode), which makes sense as they might have mutated differently than from those in Moscow, but they seem less threatening, for sure. And the Blind gorillas in the end are pretty lame looking, nothing distinctive.
The voice acting is atrocious. Artyom sounds slightly different, and the accents in general are very obviously fake, with the exception of Sam’s generic American accent, which sounds straight out of Resident Evil. You get used to it, but it’s really disappointing.
Crafting and materials
I hate this system because it’s unfair and unrealistic. Why can’t Artyom remove scopes and configure rifles on the spot? Just carry a multi-tool! In fact, his giant Ranger knife practically is one. Why does he need a workbench to wipe down a rifle? Just carry a cloth in a ziplock! And if the Shambler and other rifles already use magazines, this is incredibly cumbersome. If you want to be realistic, you can let us remove and attach scopes freely (Crysis does this perfectly with no complaints) but deal with adjusting the sights.
And the workbenches are really few in every region other than the Volga. Coupled with how slow Artyom moves, this is really infuriating. Tomb raider does the crafting mechanic much better with much more frequent campfires, more weapon slots, and clear upgrade paths. While you can’t customise weapons, RDR2’s Arthur Morgan manufactures weapons, buffs and rests wherever it’s safe to set up a campfire.
Other than that, I find crafting a welcome edition to the series. As a Special Operations soldier and a 40-year-old, stubborn survivor of an post-apocalyptic era, Artyom should pride himself on being handy and being comfortable cobbling together useful items.
The gunplay is pretty good for the most part.
The pistol is nerfed massively, and its plight is reminiscent of Halo’s Magnum pistol. While I greatly appreciate the comically loud crack and boom of the long-barrelled pistol, it’s extremely low fire rate and 3 round cylinder (both unrealistic AF) make it a pain to use.
A single shot from the Shambler is again weaker than shot from the Ashot, but unfortunately that’s necessary for balance.
The Bulldog is the spiritual successor of the Kalash 2012, and it kind of make sense that it’s more powerful than the Kalash because the barrel is effectively longer for the same length of rifle, but the recoil is handled poorly. My crosshair doesn’t move when the Bulldog recoils, but the subsequent shots spray upwards, so it is very confusing to shoot.
The enemy and friendly AI is fine. They don’t do anything ground-breaking, but they aren’t bad either. The only problem is entering and leaving rooms where friendly AI just barrel straight into you and don’t let you move through the doorway. I much prefer Arthur Morgan’s “Outta the damn way!”
In summary, Metro Exodus was more of a showcase of Nvidia graphics than pushing the Metro series forward. Some of the higher level decisions like choosing to do open world and the inclusion of crafting mechanics were poorly implemented, and along with atrocious handling of basic PC oriented UI design made for a frustrating gameplay experience.
Great action games make action fun with realism and cartoon violence in sensible amounts. Some aspects, like movement and combat, should definitely be gamified a little, so that gamers don’t have to go through a painful learning curve that doesn’t fit other games. And other actions should become more realistic, so that it’s natural for humans to do. I just hope they do a better job for the next installment of the Metro series, if there is one.