As became quickly apparent in a hands-on demo with the new Metro, running is often the worst possible idea.
The survival shooter franchise has always leaned to a more careful style of play, something that's bled through to all aspects of its design. Ammunition wasn't just scarce in the previous Metro games, for instance: it was also the player's main mechanism for buying and selling items.
But Metro Exodus is an open-world game, unshackled from the rails of the Russian underground. So 4A Games has had to build lots agency and mechanics in their world to accommodate that — and a lot of the pathways to that are fraught with uncomfortable surprises.
The Gamescom demo, which was set in autumn — the second season players will experience in the game, although developers declined to outline precisely how long ahead in the game that was — had two essential parts to it. The first chunk essentially set the stage: after being revived in the middle of a swamp, you're situated outside of an abandoned shack. Inside, there's some corpses hanging from the ceiling and hoisted on the walls.
"THE SAME THING WILL HAPPEN TO YOU," a note on the walls reads. The second corpse is outed as a rapist. Shortly nearby, a signpost marks the spot: a children's camp one kilometre away. Upon entering the camp, a letter was left on a table from Larisa, an eight-year old.
"I'm eight and I was a good girl — I killed and skinned two deer and wounded one bandit in the leg," the letter read.
It was a letter to Santa. Her wish: a letter back from her parents. "I miss them something awful, and I don't need any other presents."
The imagery was more harrowing than the reality: the camp itself didn't have any threats, and I wasn't posed with any problems making my way through. On the other side of the camp, a series of bandits hovered around, which offered an opportunity to see how the AI responded as a group.
On that front, the NPCs were a little too static. There was no attempt to encircle or close in on my position, which would have been opportune: Metro Exodus was all too keen to let me jump through a window into a room, but it wouldn't let me jump back outside.
Ideally, you'll be taking the stealthy approach wherever possible. That's made abundantly clear after ziplining to the other side of the tower above, where you're at the base of a mountain. The surroundings are filled with mutated wildlife, and the more sound you make, the more you put yourself at the risk of stampedes and wolf attacks.
So, it's best not to run. Run as little as possible. For one, it gives you more opportunities to appreciate the outdoor world 4A Games has built. It's a stunning game, particularly as the game's day/night cycle circles. But it'll just generally give you more room to breathe: the more you keep your options open by moving around slowly, the easier a time you'll have saving ammo.
You'll also find more salvage that way, which fuels the game's crafting system. There's two main currencies — chemicals and scrap — and a combination of the pair are used to improve, repair and clean your weapons, armour and accessories. For instance, you need to use chemicals every so often to clean the grime and grit from your guns. Putting it off for too long will result in your weapon degrading completely, making it unusable.
Scrap can be found in some interesting places. Outside of the orphanage, for instance, two tin cans hanging by a thread were placed in front of the doors as a rudimentary alarm system. It's a neat little trigger — wander through it mindlessly, and you'll trip the AI off.
You can modify the barrel, stock, sights and attachments on systems, and the trusty Metro mask has some customisations as well. It's worth pointing out that there's actually a tonne of things you can do in any given moment. If you're playing with mouse and keyboard, the keyboard alone has 27 separate binds, ranging from holstering weapons, to pulling out a lighter, swapping filters on your gas mask, wiping your gas mask, pulling out binoculars, and so on.
The Exodus devs nearby mentioned some of the game's branching narratives and lack of fetch quests, although none of that was on display in the demo I played. We'll hopefully see more of how that pans out before February 23, when Metro Exodus launches for PC, PS4 and Xbox One. If you are on PC, it's worth noting that Exodus will also support Nvidia's fancy ray tracing effects at launch.