In addition to our main Game of the Year Awards 2021, each member of the PC Gamer team is shining a spotlight on a game they loved this year. We'll post new staff picks, alongside our main awards, throughout the rest of the month.
The past year has left me precious little time for new games. Vast unfinished pile of gamer guilt, toddler, baby, house moves, yadda yadda. I'm still basically playing catch up on the huge swathe of great PC games I've yet to play from the past few years, let alone keeping on top of everything that launched in 2021. But Metro Exodus Enhanced Edition put the creepy post-apocalyptic shooter back on my radar again, forcing me to confront the irradiated nightmare of apres bomb Russia once more.
And I'm so glad it did, because I can now see every detail the devs packed into it without having to resort to the tired cliche of the FPS flashlight. And I'm with Hitchcock on this; the suspense and horror is more tangible when you can see what's coming for you.
But there's something almost counterintuitive about a game like Metro Exodus—a historically gloomy first person shooter—making a big deal out of improving the lighting. Without wanting to sound too ridiculous, everything 4A Games has done with the Enhanced Edition has only improved the darkness.
In a world of remakes and reimaginings, the Enhanced Edition is purely that, a technically reworked version of the exact same Metro Exodus, except this time with ray tracing as standard and more fully worked into the gameworld itself. The original game, released back in 2019, introduced some form of half-baked global illumination to the 4A Engine part way through development, but 2021's Enhanced Edition completely replaces all its canned lighting in favour of far more realistic ray traced effects.
And it makes the world of difference. Though you may not think so playing the game in isolation, but only because the world now looks like it should. Flipping back and forth between the original and enhanced versions, you can see how artificially dark the game was with all of its pre-baked and faked lighting effects.
But now, when I'm roaming the abandoned sewers and tunnels of Moscow in the early game, or exploring bunkers around the Volga, I don't have to wind up my flashlight to be in with a chance of illuminating the ground two feet in front of me. I get to see the gloriously detailed gameworld the developers lovingly created, with the glow of whatever mutated flora is sprouting out of the floors and wall shedding new light on the mutated fauna that is inevitably out for my blood.
In a fast-paced shooter you don't always get to see a lot in the heart of the action, when the bullets are flying and the claws tearing, but in those tense moments before you pull the trigger the new light with which you can see your antagonists just makes them all the more real.
Outside, in the baked air of the Caspian Sea, under that solitary glowing orb in the sky, the impact of the lighting changes is inevitably less pronounced. With a single light source doing all the heavy lifting there is precious little difference between the original and enhanced editions of the game. But the detail is all in the shadows.
Sure, it's a bold move for a two year-old game to release an update that has ray tracing capable hardware as a minimum requirement—especially at a time when bagging a brand new graphics card with said capabilities is… tough, to say the least—but as a free upgrade the Enhanced Edition is the only way I want to play Metro Exodus. And I've happily started my depressing rail trip all over again.