‘Sam’s Story’ Sends Metro Exodus Off With A Bang And A Harmonica

‘Sam’s Story’ Sends Metro Exodus Off With A Bang And A Harmonica
Image: Metro Exodus

“Sam’s Story,” the second of two planned DLC episodes for Metro Exodus, lets you do this thing where, if you come across select chairs dotting its rotting landscape, you can sit down and play harmonica. You, as Sam, will just jam over some grimly scenic vista. You can play for as long as you want. There are even additional songs to collect. There is no point to this other than to do it. It is quintessentially Metro. I love it.

That’s “Sam’s Story” in a nutshell: It’s the Metro series, especially Exodus, distilled. Similar to Exodus’ first couple areas, you’ve got a large, dense landscape to explore, irradiated wildlife to contend with, bandits to bop (or stab or shoot), and no small number of NPCs who will talk your ear off for eons if you let them. Sometimes you can smoke or drink at your leisure while they talk at you, because unlike previous Metro Exodus DLC “Two Colonels,” “Sam’s Story” leans into the series’ strongest moments: The pace takes its time simmering before bursting into a full-on boil.

Sure, you can sprint between main story objectives and shoot everything that moves, but you’d be missing the point. Sometimes, you just want to stop and smell the pustule-covered roses.

Not that you’ll find many roses on what is essentially the grave of Vladivostok, Russia. The setting of “Sam’s Story” came out the other side of the apocalypse and a bunch of tsunamis looking far worse for the wear, resulting in a locale that’s half-dilapidated cityscape, half-swamp. You traverse large portions of it in a dingy little motorboat, which serves to put you in a headspace that Metro Exodus’ main campaign leveraged to great effect in its best moments: You are small and vulnerable, mucking about in a world that no longer belongs to humanity.

Nonetheless, Sam will stop at nothing in his quest to return home to America, even if he has to move heaven and earth to do so. He’s obsessed with getting back to San Diego, a city I’ve personally been to enough times that I can say, with certainty, that it’s not worth the trouble, my dude. But after decades living in subway tunnels beneath a bombed-to-oblivion Moscow, Sam just wants to see his dad one last time. So he decides to tentatively strike a deal with the only other American he’s met in multiple decades—a businessman-turned-local-warlord named Tom—to get a nuclear submarine up and running in exchange for a trip back to the States.

What ensues is a semi-open journey through Vladivostok’s many ruined buildings and giant-snake-infested canals. It harkens back to Metro Exodus’ first couple areas, which felt more akin to the STALKER series of open-world-ish PC survival shooters than the first two Metro games. “Sam’s Story” is not super difficult, but threats abound, giving the environment a convincingly hostile vibe.

To put it another way, I stealthily crouch-walked everywhere at all times even though, strictly speaking, I probably didn’t need to. I became thankful for the moments when I could just play some of those sweet harmonica blues because it meant I wasn’t tiptoeing through minefields, choking on unbreathable air, or getting torn limb-from-limb by overgrown lobster monsters. That said, on normal difficulty, “Sam’s Story” loads you down with too many supplies and tools to capture the exhilarating desperation of Exodus’ first area. It’s kind of a bummer, but that’s what harder difficulty modes are for, I suppose.

“Sam’s Story” is more linear than it appears. Your ability to progress into a couple areas of the map is gated by story events and a recurring boss fight. This is largely fine; the map flows organically and functions as a smorgasbord of Metro’s greatest hits. Before the end of this DLC, you will have: killed or KO-ed countless bandits, blasted a veritable school of zombie-like ghouls, gingerly crept through one of Metro’s tensest spider levels ever, donned your gas mask to narrowly survive some seriously gnarly irradiated swamp terrain, and grounded a giant bat who attacks by suffocating you with giant clouds of smaller bats.

Bat boss fight aside, you won’t encounter much in the way of new enemies, and to be frank, the bat fight is the sort of rote, go-through-the-motions encounter that would’ve exited my memory moments after I completed it if not for the fact that I had to do it two more times afterward. Map aside, there’s not much of anything new to discover, except a handful of new weapons and the aforementioned minefields. “Sam’s Story” is also heavy on the series’ trademark jank, so expect some glitches and a handful of moments where you can see what the developers were going for, but it just didn’t quite pan out.

That said, many portions of “Sam’s Story” are like watching a virtuoso paint within the lines. It might have taken a few tries, but you get the impression that the development team has its formula dialled in at this point. This is a more focused, refined Metro Exodus—a dissertation after multiple semesters of lessons learned.

And it’s funny! Surprisingly so. The Metro series has always had a strain of dark humour running through it, but “Sam’s Story” opts to be downright goofy in places. Minor spoilers ahead, but there’s a first-person drunken shenanigans scene that uses jump cuts and time skips to tremendously entertaining effect, and there are side missions that involve truly bonkers characters like two brothers fighting over ownership of a car dealership in a world where nobody drives cars anymore because they’re all rust-covered junkyard husks.

Oh, and get ready for some very Russian jokes about what Americans are like as well. “Sam’s Story,” like other Metro tales, is ultimately about a character trying to find his place at the end of the world, but it feels like more of a victory lap than a desperate sprint.

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