Metro exodus flees the underground and finds a violent wasteland.
Oh shit, a bear! I see It for the first time In a forest, silhouetted In moonlight. It scares away a pack of wolves with a roar, and then crosses the road to reveal Its massive, mutated bulk. It could eat a pickup truck. It vanIshes Into the trees, and I realIze that I’m about to go In after It...
There was a mutant bear in Metro: Last Light too, but this one is much bigger. In fact, everything about Exodus feels bigger. The game is moving out of the underground and into the wilderness on a four-season journey into the east. The forest this bear lives in is a wide corridor, full of squirrelly little side paths and elevated networks of wooden pathways. As I move up into the canopy, I hear the bear roar, not too far off, and then a crackle of rifle fire.
In the moment it’s tense. I spend the rest of the zone crawling through the dark and trying to escape the bear’s attention. However when I repeat the area a few times the sounds play out the same way regardless, and no matter how much I explore I can’t find the shooter or the bear until later when the creature shows up in a cutscene.
Metro Exodus is an odd hybrid. Sometimes it’s a claustrophobic corridor shooter like the first two games, sometimes it opens up into wide sandbox areas, and sometimes it’s an amalgamation of the two, combining exploration with the sort of smoke-and-mirrors trickery you find in a linear story-driven shooter.
This forested area does a good job of suspending my disbelief for the first playthrough. I happen upon some secrets hidden down side paths, and always end up moving organically to the next section. On repeat runs I notice the way the game is shepherding me into a zipline or cave trail that serve as area transitions.
It’s accomplished level design, but it was a tricky balance to achieve for 4A Games. Executive producer Jon Bloch says it took the team two years to get there. “When we first started we were experimenting with different ways to do that with these open environments, and we went too far in one direction. Then we came back in the other direction and it was too much of the same old thing we did before. There was a lot of back and forth.”
The team determined early on that the game should be driven by a strong linear story, but typical open world structures that rely on quest-givers are a poor fit for that. An open field doesn’t have a natural beginning, middle, and end, and 4A still has an instinctive urge to control the pace of your experience, even in open zones.
“Where we’re able to set pace, we have to think about what pace we want the game to play out at,” says Bloch. “Where players are able to set their own pace, we have to think of ways to give them different experiences that aren’t the same thing over and over again.
“Things have to be moved around and positioned in different ways from a design perspective in order to allow players to not get stuck in too repetitive of a loop. When players have freedom they have freedom to potentially create an unpleasurable situation for themselves. We’ve tried to account for that in our design.”
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