OPINION: Metro Exodus Is An Inflection Point In The Industry

There have only ever been three games which have completely blown me away with their graphics and visuals: most recently Battlefield V, last March’s Kingdom Come Deliverance, and perhaps most importantly, 2007’s landmark Crysis.

Each of these games were massive leaps forward in their technical makeup, bringing forth new technologies to push PC hardware to the limits. They recognized the massive increase in horsepower a PC offers over console, and had the guts to push those limits to the absolute breaking point.

Crysis introduced physics simulation, ambient occlusion, and parallax occlusion mapping — features which still don’t appear regularly in today’s games. Kingdom Come Deliverance made extensive use of voxelized global illumination to stunning effect, earning my top spot for Best Graphics last year. And last November, Battlefield V became the first game to introduce real time ray tracing, leveraging the technology to create beautiful reflections, the likes of which were never seen before in real time rendering.

Each of these games on PC stand leagues above their console counterparts. This isn’t to say the console versions were bad. But when compared, the PC versions are clearly a generation ahead. Each developer recognized the potential of PC hardware and pushed the bleeding edge to the limits.

Even today, twelve years after its release, the original Crysis on PC still holds up. It looks far more modern than many other titles from that time, and even compared against games from just last year.

Today, in 2019, we have perhaps the single most important game to have released in the last twenty years to join this pantheon of landmark titles. An already good looking game on console, Metro Exodus on PC brings with it real time ray traced global illumination (GI), technology which just as recently as a year ago was thought to be the stuff of dreams.

The use of this technology to heighten the atmosphere, to amplify palpable tension in already tense gameplay, and to usher in a new era of real time rendering is nothing short of a watershed moment.

Put simply, Metro Exodus is the best looking, most forward facing, industry leading, most important game I have ever seen.

Not only is it an amazing game in its own right, it is a major inflection point for the entire gaming industry. It is a glimpse of tomorrow’s norm made masterfully possible today by developer 4A Games. It is a showcase of the innovation only possible on PC, and clear dedication to push this vision forward, dragging the entire industry with it. It is a generational leap, far beyond what is possible today on consoles, and is a clear vision of the way forward.

I know there are many skeptics and doubters of ray tracing, eager to write off this technology as a gimmick. To put it bluntly, I honestly have neither the care nor worry for such individuals. The only constant is change, and I find peace in the fact that such naysayers are slaves to it as we all are. Feel free to disparage ray tracing. It’s not going anywhere.

Real time ray tracing has long been the Holy Grail of real time rendering ever since computer generated graphics were made possible. I honestly thought this technology was still ten years out. Oh how happy I am to have been proven woefully wrong.

Battlefield V’s implementation was excellent. As the first game to ever showcase this technology, it was done beautifully. DICE deserve a lot of credit for their work. Metro Exodus went another route. 4A Games leveraged this technology for global illumination.

I cannot begin to describe just how blown away I am by the results. Paired with 4A’s bloody excellent PBR (physically based rendering) materials, the effect is immediate. One thing to understand is that PBR materials are based on real world properties of those materials. For example, it’s why the leather looks and behaves like leather. This leather then looks and behaves differently than the metal on your gun.

But these real world properties are inherently based on the way light behaves in real life. Meaning, while they still look good with traditional rasterized methods (non-ray traced), they weren’t actually physically correct under those lighting models.

With ray traced GI, these PBR materials are brought to a whole new level, appearing much closer to their ground truth properties. This true GI implementation allows the dust on long decaying corpses to just look that much more ancient, the scuffs on my leather gloves to look that much more worn, and the grime on your gun to look that fetid.

This ray traced GI also bathes interiors of structures with a stunning realistic glow which takes on the color properties of the materials in-scene, made all the more impressive when you realize the only thing lighting the scene is the sun. I’ve been in awe when I noticed the lighting change in one such train car and thought it was some graphical bug, only to then realize that the cloud cover outside had shifted, thus changing the property of the sunlight. I was speechless.

The darkness of underground sections is truly dark. For a game all about monsters, high tension, and fear, ray traced GI is a poster child for technology greatly amplifying gameplay. When the only source of light is your small lighter and you hear mutants’ footsteps around you, the genuine fear and tension aided by this ray traced GI is astounding.

For someone like me who relishes in the technical aspect of gaming — indeed it’s the thing I love most about gaming — Metro Exodus is giving us a glimpse of the future of real time rendering. It is spectacularly stunning. And it’s available today.

Metro Exodus is the most important game to release in the last twenty years. It’s a genuine generational leap in real time rendering. It is a true watershed moment for this industry, and a technical masterpiece.

It is a showcase of the power of the PC and testament to the innovation only possible on this platform. It’s a reminder of the unending, unyielding, unrelenting, and unapologetic progress only offered on PC, and of the developers who have the vision and guts to take us there.

I applaud 4A Games for pushing the best of the best to breaking point, for recognizing the future of real time rendering, and for having the gall to drag us to new horizons. 4A Games should be damn proud. This is a true step-change. Metro Exodus is nothing short of an inflection point in our industry.

Written by
A highly opinionated avid PC gamer, Poorna blindly panics with his friends in various multiplayer games, much to the detriment of his team. Constantly questioning industry practices and a passion for technological progress drive his love for the video game industry. He pulls no punches and tells it like he sees it. He runs a podcast, Gaming The Industry, with fellow writer, Joseph Bradford, discussing industry practices and their effects on consumers.

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