Open your eyes and let me tell you this,
Exodus, movement of Jah people,
Exodus, movement of Jah people.
And so on and so forth.
It's weird how real-life tragedy inspires art. If the atom bombs hadn't dropped on Japan in 1945 would we have had Godzilla? Without 9/11 there'd have been no Cloverfield. And without the Chernobyl disaster we wouldn't have had Dmitri Glukhovsy's novel Metro 2033, which inspired the Metro video game series.
When I visited Chernobyl 10 years ago, I was surprised by how much it affected me, particularly walking through the eerily empty city of Pripyat. It was clearly the perfect setting for a video game, despite being ground zero for an unspeakable tragedy.
Weirdly, one of my overriding memories is of a heavily pregnant dog wandering around outside the crippled, decaying, power plant, while we took in the scene and posed for photos. It was surreal and disturbing.
Quite by chance, my trip coincided with a competition being run by Marillion - yes, ha ha, Mr Biffo likes Marillion - to win VIP tickets to one of their bi-annual Marillion Weekends; you had to take a photograph of yourself wearing one of the band's t-shirts. Naturally, I donned a shirt featuring the cover of their 1998 album Radiation (which I had to beg off a fellow fan, as I didn't own one; it's a horrible design).
Sort of inevitably, I won the competition, got the VIP tickets, met the band, and told them of my trip.
And then a few years later, their guitarist Steve Rothery released a pleasant instrumental solo album called The Ghosts of Pripyat. Was I directly responsible for that? I like to think so. Even though when I told him about my visit, the most overt response I got was a slight nod, and perhaps a mumbled "Oh right..."
But those cogs must've surely been turning in his head...
The Metro series has always had a more measured pace than most first-person shooters. In fact, Exodus is really a survival horror wearing a pair of ragged, FPS, trousers.
Between the limited resources, the exploration and foraging for raw materials, the steady decay of your equipment... punctuated by sudden, tense, shoot-outs with zombies and other monsters... which often dissolve into frantic fist-fights, as you run out of ammo mid-battle...it walks a line between being a more bombastic Resident Evil and a Fallout game without all the RPG guff.
Unfortunately, melee is the one element where combat doesn't have a nice heft to it - feeling like you're swiping at fresh air, rather than making contact with something's face.
Somehow, Exodus manages to maintain the distinct Metro flavour while opening up the series; this is the first time you've gone beyond the claustrophobic tunnels beneath Moscow. The initial missions find you stealing a train - which unfurls the rest of Russia before you. Yes, there still seems to be a lot of stalking through bunkers along the way, but there's a pleasing open world element, which never outstays its welcome.
True to the title, you continue to flee Moscow, ending up in a succession of maps which function like miniature versions of the huge omnilevel you might get in a Far Cry or Assassin's Creed, peppered with missions, side-missions, and secrets. Left to your own devices, you strip enemy weapons for parts, crafting med packs and ammo on the go via your portable workstation, and have a pleasingly varied array of encounters with nasties and weirdos.
With the train acting as your hub, each of those areas also succeeds in being being visually distinct - from frozen, flooded, tundra, to scorching desert - ensuring you never get too bored of any of them. Yes, there are mountains and forests, which are fast becoming the new "lava level" of modern gaming, but the post-nuclear, survival horror angle puts just enough of a spin on things to keep it fresh.
The bulk of the "action" is really scavenging, finding the constituent parts to repair, refill, or upgrade your equipment. As with its predecessors, there are areas which are irradiated and require you to don your gas mask, and it's this constant, nagging, sense that you could die at any moment which - ironically - gives Metro Exodus its momentum.
If there is a complaint I have with Metro Exodus, it's that the script and performances don't really match the carefully-wrought tension elsewhere.
The acting is broad - with cartoon Russian accents - and the scripting is rather route one and lacking any real subtext or subtlety. The characters are thinly-drawn, a mixture of bland archetypes; gruff, driven, commander... interchangeable soldier boys.... friendly, slightly wacky, engineer... little girl who wants you to find her teddy bear... your character's overly loved-up wife, who has a slightly unfortunate habit of repeatedly needing to be rescued while insisting she's just as capable as the men...
It's a shame, because it pulls away from the gritty, oppressive atmosphere. More mature, layered, storytelling would've greatly helped sell the world, and once again underlines just how far games still have to go.
Overall, though... Exodus is exactly what the Metro series needed; bringing new ideas and scale right at the point the whole tunnel thing risked getting tired. The lack of resources, the knife-edge combat, can make it feel like a chore at points, but that's the whole idea - your character is struggling to survive, and this is what sets it apart from most of its gung-ho, FPS, peers.
SCORE: 2033 out of 2402