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Coming up for air: how tunnel fatigue forced Metro Exodus to the surface

Metro Exodus open world

While the term ‘corridor shooter’ has inherited an air of sneering negativity in recent years, it couldn’t be a more apt description of the Metro series to date. Sure, 2033 and Last Light’s foreboding ‘corridors’ are the vast, usually circular, and always underground type (often referred to as, er, tunnels) but they represent some of the best in the business. The games’ miles of dank, abandoned pathways are an unnerving joy to explore, even if the reality is that you’re simply being funnelled to your next objective.

Keep up to date with everything we know about Metro Exodus here.

Metro Exodus is set to break away from that template, however, and introduce some vast, wide-open spaces to the series. Both 2033 and Last Light flirted with more open above-ground sections, of course, but nothing like this. When the team transposed the map of Last Light level Echoes over one of Exodus’s spaces, for instance, it was dwarfed by the new, roughly 10km squared stomping ground.

“When we started thinking about the third Metro game, the general feeling on the team was, ‘We’ve spent two projects in tunnels. Let’s add more air’,” creative director Andriy Prokhorov tells us. “Two of our artists came to us with ideas, one of which was, ‘What about a train journey through post-apocalyptic Russia?’ We all thought that was a good idea – it was /really/ important that the team was excited about doing something new instead of just more ‘tunnels, tunnels, tunnels’.”

Before you panic, that doesn’t mean there will be a lack of subterranean excursions. 4A Games have absolutely no intention of straying too far from the aspects of the series that made players fall in love with it in the first place.

Metro Exodus

“We were afraid that the people who liked previous Metro games would say, ‘Thanks for the freedom, but what are we going to do with it?’” Prokhorov admits. “We’re always thinking about how to keep the immersion of previous projects, and how to add freedom to that without spoiling it. I think we’ve got quite good balance [in Exodus]. You’ll encounter Metro tunnels, don’t worry.”

Despite the early rumours, Metro Exodus isn’t actually an open-world game, nor is it eschewing the linear adventure structure of its forebears. Instead, 4A are building on the existing formula by including a sandbox survival element that sees the game world balloon out into expansive areas that can be rushed through or lingered in according to taste.

“It’s not as open-world as people are maybe thinking, but we are able to offer the player a lot more freedom than in previous games,” executive producer Jon Bloch explains.

Metro Exodus

“The game mechanics are still there – combat, survival, exploration. You just get to do more of it. But the non-linear levels make the game much larger; there’s hours of gameplay packed into each one. There are elements that keep the story going and the pace going, but if you want to you can just wander around and explore stuff. You can spend as much time as you want absorbing the atmosphere and the environment.”

There will be a great deal more variety in that environment, too, thanks to the introduction of a day/night cycle – the gameplay specifics of which 4A aren’t yet ready to reveal – seasons, and a campaign which covers far more ground. “It’s not winter any more,” Bloch continues. “The story takes place over the course of a year, and it’s this epic journey across the continent – across post-apocalyptic Russia. You go to all these different places along the way, and you go through all the seasons in a year.”

While the scope is broader, you can still expect to encounter familiar sights along the way. There will be friendly and not-so-friendly factions, cobbled-together settlements, and lots of bodies from which to liberate air filters for your mask – while there are now some above-ground areas that don’t require a respiratory protection, not every location is safe yet and plenty of the underground network remains uninhabitable, too.

Metro Exodus

But arguably the most profound change, even more so than the introduction of those large non-linear sections, is the fact that returning protagonist Artyom has a home of sorts. True to his peripatetic spirit, however, it’s one that moves: the train featured in the debut footage of the game will serve as a base of operations for him and a small band of fellow survivors. It’s not just a fancily presented hub, however.

“It carries the player through the story and you return to it in between the linear and non-linear levels,” Bloch explains. “It’s the vehicle that carries you through, both figuratively and literally. Just like you’d expect, you come across different people, different creatures, and areas out in the world. Some are good, some are bad.”

“Previously we’ve had a lot of stations [in the Metro games],” Prokhorov adds. “The train will be your home station – it comes with you as the world gets bigger and bigger.”

Does that suggest, then, that we’ll be acquiring a larger crew over time? “I’ve got to be careful about what I say now,” Bloch laughs. “We’ll have to come back to that later… Right now we’re just focusing on the announcement.”