E3 2018: First Hands-On Look At The Brutal Wastes Of METRO EXODUS - Dread Central
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E3 2018: First Hands-On Look At The Brutal Wastes Of METRO EXODUS

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I’ve always enjoyed the Russian approach to the nuclear apocalypse. While Western markets envision a battle royale of bondage gear and power armor, Russian apocalypses are just a slightly more, “regular Tuesday in a former Soviet Bloc country, but with moderately more mutants.” Here’s a handy guide to find out which apocalypse you find yourself in. Is your gas mask not purely decorative? It’s Russian. Do you style your hair into a mowhawk because it’s the only way to show off your sick skull tats? Western. Do you huddle for warmth at night because the fires attract the blood sucking mutant aliens? Hey look, we’re back in Russia. Does your gattling laser grenade launcher double as the key to your sick dune buggy? I think that’s probably Australia…

It’s this style of misery-porn Russian apocalypse tales that tickles my survival horror fancy. Trudging through the rainy and blasted landscapes, the fight for survival feels real. You can almost taste the desperation as you claw through a pile of rubble, desperately searching for the extra round of ammunition you need to make it through another night. Now previously, you had two options for experiencing this dank and depressing nightmare world. You could go the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. route, exploring the rich and varied open world and the vast multitude of game breaking bugs that inhabit it. Or you could go the Metro 2033 route, and make your way through a far more linear and contained world that actually works.

“Hey now,” muses the development team of 4A Games, “what if we had that open world of S.T.A.L.K.E.R., added the tense and memorable narrative moments from Metro, and just for giggles made sure the game actually works?”

“Why, that sounds like an excellent idea!” Said the executives at Deep Silver, pockets sagging and heavy with gold, “Might you be able to also polish it up to AAA quality with just, say, one boatload of money?”

And thus, Metro Exodus was born.

All of this would amount to nothing more than your typical games journalism trailer-wanking if I hadn’t had a chance to verify these claims. So when the good people at 4A Games sent me an invite to check Metro Exodus out at E3 2018, I was on that shit faster than extra guac on a Chipotle burrito bowl. The behind-closed-doors demo started with a brief intro from the developers, instructing us to pay attention to a number of the game’s mechanics that are likely more heavily tutorialized in the final product. “Hey, be sure to modify your guns, check your ammo, and craft some medkits iof you want to survive!” Real profound shit.

The demo kicks off with series hero Artyom conversing with his wife Anna on the bow of the Aurora, a modified steam train serving to quite literally chug you along the tracks of the narrative. After a brief discussion about how great it is that the air is now all breathable, the train is stopped by some meddling dudes that may or may not be just innocent civilians you accidentally ran over. Your best bet of figuring out what’s going on lies in a nearby church, so off you go to probably kill some fanatics.

Already in these early minutes of Metro Exodus, you can see the marriage between the classic Metro set-piece moments and the new open world design. Toppled train cars and dilapidated shacks coyly tease the promise of precious loot, while the obvious objective marker sits patiently at the docks. You discover that the distant church is suspended over the Volga river, so you hop in a small boat and start paddling your way over. As you make your way through the narrow canals, a number of weird crab-leech-bugs (can I just call them Mirelurks?) do their best intimidating foreshadowing.

Upon arriving at the church, the crazy fanatics turn out to not be the friendly kind, so you promptly teach them exactly how you managed to already survive two games of this kind of shit. Though the actual church itself was small, I learned some fascinating stuff about how Metro Exodus works. First off, the lethal/nonlethal dynamic from Metro: Last Light has returned with some significant upgrades. You can still walk up and knock people out with your stealth-fists of silent fury, but you now also have the option of forcing enemies to surrender. I wasn’t bothering trying for the non-lethal option on my limited playthrough, but after landing a few rounds into some skulls the rest of the enemies threw up their hands and begged for my mercy. I’m interested to see how this mechanic actually functions in the final product, as it brought a whole new level of personality and grit to a game already brimming with it.

Painted with a fresh coat of cultist blood, you make your way back to the Aurora to get your next assignment. Tempted by the delicious smell of gunpowder and victory, the Mudcrabs decide that now is the time to try and nibble on your legs. Now the monsters have always been terrifying in Metrobut as a general rule water monsters can go suck on a shotgun bong. I think the Half-Life Ichthyosaur did permanent damage to my sense of aquatic well-being. So when the boat tipped over and I fell in, I was about ready to turn off the demo.

But like a professional, I soldiered through. Up next was the more open-world segment of the demo. Now at the beginning the devs mentioned that dedicated players could easily spend 6-8 hours exploring each of Metro Exodus‘s levels, and having gotten to the meat of the game I fully believe them. Generally, open world shooters just mean more open space between hidden ammo crates, but the marshy waste of Metro Exodus was positively packed with stuff to discover. Since I only had about 15 minutes to explore, I decided to check out an underground bunker that was wedged covertly in some chasm. Clearing it out with the liberal application of bullets, I was floored to find that it extended all the way to a new area of the map. Popping my head up in the middle of what appeared to be a trainyard, I found myself in the middle of a pitched battle with some mutant zombie things.

Now this is what most open world games are lacking. Anyone can do a decent action set-piece, but stringing them together is often where the glue starts mucking things up. As much as I love Fallout, there’s no denying that the game is 50% walking and 30% trash-mobs. In Metro Exodus, each new location opened up into a series of interesting new combat and exploration opportunities. Each path you choose becomes it’s own series of thrilling challenges.

My demo ended before I could check out any of the other potential paths, but I’m eager to see the final product. From what it looks like, Metro Exodus seems to be the perfect marriage of the tight focus of the linear narrative games with an open-world exploration driven design. Going back to the Fallout analogy, it’s easy to make an individual location feel unique and compelling. What’s far more difficult is making all the space between those locations just as compelling. From what I’ve seen of Metro Exodus, the game is taking significant steps towards remedying this problem. From stalking wolf-rat-bat monsters in the marsh to fending off zombies in the cramped underground, it’s amazing just how tense and rich every minute felt. This is definitely one apocalypse I’ll be praying for.

For all our E3 coverage, make sure to follow our social media tag #DreadE3 and you can also read all our other coverage right here!

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