Metro is back after a main series hiatus of almost six years and the Malta-based developer has taken everyone's favourite underground-dwelling protagonist to the surface with Metro Exodus. Following the previous games, the new instalment has players continue the story of Metro 2033 and Metro: Last Light, starting out on (frozen) solid ground. The series has been through some changes through the years, with Metro: Last Light straying from the original narrative and Metro Redux bringing the games into a new generation, but one thing is certain - Metro Exodus is Metro as we've never seen it before.
It begins, as these things often do, with mutants out for blood. After a near-death experience and later a familiar stroll through the massive underground metro bunker, our hero Artyom and his wife Anna venture to the surface above their home with a radio, trying desperately to get a signal when all of a sudden a train rolls by. It turns out that there's life on the surface of Moscow after all - and so begins the journey of The Order, having set out to find traces of civilisation, a potential remaining state leadership, and a place to finally settle out in the fresh air, leaving behind the dark tunnels they've been calling home since the war began.
Instead of exploring dank tunnels and underground facilities, even though there's certainly some of those areas in Exodus as well, Artyom, his wife Anna, Colonel Miller and the rest of the gang travel across an open-world landscape by train, through different seasons, along the way finding small societies of cultists, slave trader-run and slave-keeping colonies, and the occasional genuinely good samaritan. The various maps offer different methods of transportation for Artyom, such as boats for lovely rides on irradiated waters and armoured vans for Mad Max-esque dirt road action in the desert. For the first time, Metro has gone open world, with stunning landscapes, nightmare-inducing beast lairs, and full-on cities, all experienced during different stages of the year, with the different flora and fauna setting each one apart.
The different seasons are separated into chapters, so, while the game most definitely is open world, once you have explored the massive maps you can't return unless you choose to load the chapter via the main menu. As for the flora and fauna in each area, the different locations differ greatly both in terms of their surroundings and the enemies who live there. Players get to take on massive bears, giant catfish, terrifying leeches, and hordes of spiders that instil fear in the dark. The latter, which was our favourite beast encounter during our time with the game, is worth mentioning for more reasons than one. These particular enemies reinforce the importance of two of the many items of gear in Artyom's arsenal - the flashlight and the lighter. Various enemies react differently to light and darkness, with some hiding and avoiding confrontation until approached in daylight, while others display more violent behaviour in the dead of night.
Human enemies can also be taken down using the day/night cycle to one's advantage; by going into a base at night and killing the lights as you move forward, you can limit their ability to spot you substantially. The aforementioned spiders, however, reside only in dark places and swarm the player when no lights are around, making the experience of meeting them one of pure terror. One can force them away using either a flashlight or a lighter (or both), shining the light in their direction, burning their bodies and making them retreat back into the shadows.
The many options, both in terms of gameplay and your arsenal, make Metro Exodus feel much like a full-fledged action-RPG. If a player wants to go through the game mostly using stealth with a minimal kill-ratio, that's a viable option. Using the darkness to one's advantage, exploring and looking for nifty gear like night vision goggles and using the takedown option instead of the stealth kill option will not only change how you play the game, it will change the outcome as well. If you'd rather kill everything and everyone in sight, going in guns blazing with an extra bright flashlight and a ton of explosives on your upgraded belt will also change the outcome of your journey.