Editor’s Note: This review contains some light spoilers for the main storyline of Metro Exodus. If you would prefer not to be spoiled, come back to this review of “The Two Colonels” DLC after finishing the main game.
It’s surprising to think back on the fact that Metro Exodus released a whole eight months ago. With the constant cycle of new game releases in the past month alone, last February feels like it may as well have been five years ago. But even since I first played through it last winter, Metro Exodus has continued to leave a mark on me thanks to its bold attempts at expanding on the series’ world and sense of exploration, and through its recent “The Two Colonels” DLC, I was only reminded of those facts even further.
“The Two Colonels” is the first of two major story expansions for Metro Exodus, and for those that finished the base game, it provides a hefty amount of backstory to flesh out some of the original’s story beats. Namely, this time around players trade the role of Artyom (the series’ longtime protagonist) for that of Colonel Khlebnikov, the doomed father of Kirill; he’s the young boy who players will most likely remember from the end of Exodus.
Playing as Khlebnikov, “The Two Colonels” takes a bit of a different approach from what players saw in Metro Exodus narratively as it unfolds between two different time periods. This in effect makes it both a prequel chapter and spin-off of sorts, as the storyline progresses with Exodus’ Colonel Miller revisiting some of the original game’s final segments, to then flashback to earlier points in time that the player experiences through Khlebnikov’s eyes in real-time.
The mirrored storyline as Miller experiences the final moments of Khlebnikov’s life are often pretty powerful, and though it’s a fairly short DLC at about three hours long, “The Two Colonels” doesn’t waste its time in telling a satisfying, thoughtful story. Though Exodus by no means was lacking in its story, “The Two Colonels” has the right mix of a more focused experience and an engaging, developed character to make its story compelling, despite its shorter running time. A large amount of that connection comes from the fact that Khlebnikov is fully-voiced unlike the silent Artyom. It’s an incredibly simple improvement, but it makes a substantial difference in relating to Khlebnikov as a character while playing through the DLC, especially once his tragic backstory begins to be revealed and its implications for what ended up happening in Metro Exodus.
While “The Two Colonels” is meant to fill in some of the gaps narratively from Metro Exodus, what really makes this first piece of DLC stand out is the fact that it brings players back into the fold of Metro 2033 and Last Light-style gameplay. Instead of the more open environments and structure that Exodus offered, “The Two Colonels” returns to the tight corridors and dark subway tunnels that the Metro games have called home for years, and has arguably been the series’ strong suit.
That isn’t to knock Exodus and its gameplay changes, though it’s easy to see how some series fans might have been turned off by its more open environments and sometimes prolonged narrative. Instead, “The Two Colonels” very much feels like a successor to the tighter level design that made the first two Metro games so tense and engaging, and is sure to make series fans appreciate its more focused, narrative-heavy experience.
“The Two Colonels” is also helped by the fact that it features some truly unnerving moments and enemies to make the experience of crawling through its post-apocalyptic Russian subway tunnels all the more frightening. Metro has already excelled when it comes to atmosphere and building tension, but that is especially the case in “The Two Colonels” with the introduction of a deadly slime infestation, adding a new wrinkle to exploring the tunnels. In response, Khlebnikov comes armed with a new flamethrower weapon, which not only acts as your primary way of burning away the slime-covered walls, but also provides illumination for navigating through each environment.
As much as Metro has made me feel unbearable tension before in the previous games, the new slime-covered environments of “The Two Colonels” were especially effective in just feeling downright gross and unnerving. Though the flamethrower proves to be an effective way to ward off the slime infestations, it has its limits by needing to be pumped after a certain amount of uses, adding a different tension while exploring these environments and praying you have enough fuel to make it out alive, especially when flesh-eating worms are involved.
In many ways, “The Two Colonels” is both an affirmation and a rebuttal of what made the base experience of Metro Exodus so engaging. Where Exodus took risks by expanding what the series could do on a larger scale, “The Two Colonels” is virtually its opposite by going back to the confined horrors that made the Metro series so compelling in the first place. Though this comes at some costs to action and experimentation, “The Two Colonels” still offers an excellent, concise piece of storytelling that not only complements the grander scale of Exodus, but brings us back (briefly) to the tense, atmospheric terrors that have made the Metro series so memorable.