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I'm a diehard STALKER fan, so I had gotten -mildly- hyped about the idea of Metro leaving the tunnels and moving into the open, especially after hearing that each level would be a sandbox on its own.
Being the nutcase that I am, I picked the highest possible difficulty for my playthrough. Exodus stays faithful to its predecessors in this regard: ranger hardcore is unforgiving, very rarely allowing you a second mistake. A few shots at most will drop Artyom, if not the first hit outright. On top of it, enemies being very alert and perceptive means you have to play it as a stealth game if you want to make any progress at all. The dearth of ammunition and resources available in this setting also forces you to avoid open combat whenever possible, and much of the fun lies in picking your fights wisely.
Once the game moves out of Moscow and into the wastes, the sandbox part kicks in. Or it would, except that it's no sandbox, it's just large open levels. Exodus assigns objectives to you in a linear fashion, and once you've visited an area and achieved your goal there, very rarely will you be returning there if not on your way elsewhere. This is Metro, not STALKER, however much I want it to be. But except for the fact that almost nothing happens without your intervention, it's not bad news. Exodus is an absolute blast to play and a sight to sore eyes. It rewards exploration and subtlety with goodies you won't find otherwise. You'll find new mods and upgrades fairly frequently, almost always accompanied by a tangible sense of accomplishment.
There are a few situations where sneaking is not an option and you must fight it out, and they're exhilarating. Gunfights in Metro are chaotic, frantic and deadly. Weapons pack a punch: you go down in a few hits, but so do most of your enemies. There is something to suit everyone's tastes here, but after having tried every gun, I would suggest not to give in to the temptation of lugging around a large caliber sniper rifle. There are almost no situations you can't solve with either a Bulldog or a Kalash instead, not to mention a well maintained Tikhar or Helsing.
The atmosphere of this game must be experienced to be believed. One can tell the devs had a hand in STALKER because it evokes the same dread. Rusting machinery, crumbling buildings, and dead cities paint the same picture of a world gone. Exodus reaches its zenith in this regard on Novosibirsk - it goes to long lengths to prove that there is life outside Moscow, but this husk of a metropolis is hell on earth, a feeling that only intensifies the urgency you feel to complete your mission before the place claims your life.
Exodus is one hell of a journey. You're not saving the world, you're out to find a place to live in, somewhere untainted by radiation and your fellow man. Other urgencies crop up as the plot unfolds, but that does not change the soul of the game.
If you're a Metro fan, this game delivers the same winning formula of previous Metro games: a solid core of stealth and shooter mechanics coupled with gorgeous atmosphere and a compelling story. With the addition of open-world levels to spread things out, the game loses some of the dank and dismal nature of the cramped tunnels of previous games...but that is replaced by more than enough creepiness and awe to make up for it.
If you aren't already a Metro fan, a few basic pointers: don't kill needlessly, scavenge everything, and explore as much as you can.
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