I’m bloody nervous. There’s a tangled forest around me, wisps of fog rolling across its base, the treeline silhouetted by intense moonlight. Luminous green mushrooms pick out spots in the gloom, but with memories of my parents’ many warnings and an unfortunate hospital visit echoing through my head, I elect not to consume any of them. Some torches burn in the distance, the flames dancing across a series of tree houses, each interconnected by makeshift wooden bridges and precariously narrow poles. Whoever built them needed to stay off the ground for some reason. Y’know, the ground that I’m stood on.
A couple of minutes earlier, a stampede of deer thundered past me out of the darkness, but it doesn’t seem likely that they are the problem. And while the marauding packs of large, hungry mutant wolves are certainly bothersome, they’re easily put down with some crossbow-dart-infused tough love. No, the issue at hand, I sense, is probably whatever is making that otherworldly howling racket from somewhere in the distance. I’m willing to stake my life on it, in fact.
It’s a remarkably spooky scene. Progress through it is achieved in piecemeal steps as I uncomfortably assess the defensibility of each point in my agonisingly slow journey. But it could have all felt very different: despite the fact that every part of this moment feels expertly directed, the nerve-shredding darkness is simply the result of the new day/night cycle in Metro Exodus. Had I arrived a little earlier, that monstrous howling would have been accompanied by birdsong, warming sunshine, and considerably less-upsetting lines of sight.
A bit of soothing daylight would also have profoundly altered the character of the faction camp I tackled prior to stumbling into these eerie backwoods. The camp belongs to a group called the Children of the Forest – a self-important bunch who seem to have taken an instant disliking to me after I freed some chap they’d tied to a pole as a warning. At any rate, they refuse to chat.
The darkness provides cover that wouldn't be available during the day
Reacting badly to being spurned, I instead find a gap in the perimeter of their compound – a collection of dilapidated buildings built around a now ruined bell tower – and begin systematically choking them unconscious. The darkness provides plenty of shadows in which to skulk – creating paths that would be more difficult to take advantage of during the day – and I manage a pretty long stint undetected before hubris gets the better of me and I’m spotted. At that point, an enemy dashes to the top of the tower, and rings the bell. Things get messy.
Instinctively, I switch tactics, and begin choking people from a distance. With bullets. The wrecked town buildings provide plenty of cover for both sides of the fight as the enemy digs in and tries to flank me. Before long, however, the majority of threats are down and the last few combatants surrender – presumably despairing at their hard-coded inability to land shots anywhere near as often as I do. Sticking to my code of honour, I choke them too, and steal their stuff before scarpering off into the woods.
During the Gamescom demo there’s no sign of the Aurora - the hulking train that carries Artyom and friends across Russia in Exodus - or the kind of sprawling open level shown at E3. Instead, the section I play demonstrates one of the game’s more focused levels - a linear but wide path that flares out and contracts into bottlenecks along the way. It also takes place in autumn, which places it roughly three quarters of the way through the game.Our Metro Exodus preview from E3
Which brings me back to that howling from earlier. I come face to face with its origin when I’m ensnared in a net trap laid by some more Children of the Forest. I can’t quite make out the details of the creature in the dark, but it’s big. Really big. It makes short work of my panicking captors and, in the confusion, someone throws something explosive which coats the area in the flames. The now whimpering beast retreats, making a huge racket as it bashes through trees, and I’m violently set loose when my rope prison gives out in all the commotion. That’s where my Gamescom demo ends, and I immediately want to try it all again in the daylight.
The Metro series has always built choice and variety into its encounters, but the option to tackle situations at different times of the day – it’s worth noting, too, that you rest to progress time – adds yet another layer of depth to 4A Games’ unconventional, unusually deep interpretation of the FPS genre. Metro has also always done a good job of conveying an epic sense of journeying, but the passing of time here – whether that’s the changing seasons along the way or simply the onset of evening – promises to make Metro Exodus Artyom’s grandest pilgrimage yet.
Want to know more about Artyom’s next adventure, the new crafting system, backpacks, weapons, and the Metro Exodus release date? Well, click that link and we shall provide.