We've played Metro Exodus a couple of times already, and with the game set to launch within a month, 4A Games and Deep Silver invited us to try it one more time before it hits PC, PS4, and Xbox One on February 15. The new demo continues to roll with the seasons, and so this time we played a new section of the game set during the summer, a change of climate that puts even more distance between this third game in the series and the originals that are set underground in the old Russian metro system that gives this trilogy its name.
At the start of the demo, Artyom and his friends rolled into town on their rusty old train, an on-rails home from home which we've mentioned before. The gang are looking for somewhere new to call their own, but straight away this third biome isn't at all welcoming. For starters, there's sand everywhere, and it only takes a few minutes for the first irradiated storm to force us to put our trusty gas mask on. It didn't take us long to meet the indigenous population either, with mutated sand people ambushing us while we explored before we met a local who made us feel very unwelcome. At least we could loot the fallen humans; dead mutants don't have pockets to rifle through. Ammo is scarce in Metro Exodus (it always has been in this series) but despite their relative rarity, it doesn't take long before you're firing rounds into charging enemies in something approaching blind panic.
If you do run out of ammo you can craft bullets on the fly using your trusty backpack (there are also crafting benches in certain locations which give you more options, but we didn't have time to tinker with them too much). We made plenty of bullets and health packs, using up the resources we'd found along the way, but there still wasn't quite enough to keep us going and before long we were firing blanks and had to start pistol-whipping our opponents into submission. Some of the more physical enemy attacks are pre-prepared sequences that are dealt with via button prompts, but the rest of the time you're just thrashing around wildly, so perhaps the melee combat could have been a touch more dynamic.
Crafting gives you greater flexibility, and this new-found freedom is augmented by a complicated but pleasingly nuanced user interface. Metro's enduring strength is the immersion it offers the player, and apart from the aforementioned quick-time events, most of what you need to know is expressed on the screen in plain sight. Holding the left and right bumpers, however, brings up a couple of different menus that allow you to quickly charge up a battery or weapon, select your torch, and so on.
Once we'd felled a couple of dust zombies and introduced ourselves to the local faction (violently, we should add) we went about tackling the job at hand. Our mission, which we chose to accept, had us rescue a woman who was defending herself against the local thugs from the vantage point afforded her by the lighthouse she lived in. After pushing through a number of well-armed soldiers who were patrolling a series of tunnels we ended up flanking the enemies as they attacked the tower. With our new ally performing the role of the anvil, we acted as the hammer and quickly dispatched our adversaries before ascending the tower in a makeshift lift so we could meet our new buddy and get our next assignment.
This mission had us heading into familiar territory: deep underground. Metro Exodus might take place under the gaze of the sun for the most part, but there's still foraging to be done under the surface and so we went off in search of some plans and a personal photo as requested by our new bestie. It was then that we met the spiders. We say spiders, but these things were bigger than dogs and had tails that made them look more like scorpions. Either way, we didn't like them, not one bit. Luckily, they didn't really like light either, and shining your torch on them is almost as good as using a gun - in fact, it's better than shooting as it means you get to keep your precious bullets for later.
These light-sensitive beasties are quick to flank you and fighting them can be quite disorientating. The levels themselves are logically designed but you've got to explore each location rather than follow a glowing critical path, so keeping your wits about you is important. Once you start twisting and turning with your torch while giant man-eating insects attack, it can be hard to keep track of where you're going. The pressure cranks up even further when the filters on your gas mask start to run out. It was tense and relentless and we loved it.
While the gunplay is engaging, the sandbox enticing, and the graphics stunning, the best part of Metro Exodus is undoubtedly the atmosphere that veins through every aspect of its design, and after spending 90 minutes in its company, that was our main takeaway. We didn't get to see too much story (which, by the way, was pretty damn good in the last two games, thus making us hopeful about this one), nor did we get to see the full extent of the crafting mechanics, but we did get a good feel for the atmosphere that 4A is trying to bring to the third chapter in the series. If you hadn't guessed by now, we're eager to explore more of this increasingly-varied first-person adventure, and if what we've seen from this last look is indicative of the overall quality of the final game, this could very well be the story-driven post-apocalyptic shooter that we've all been hoping for.