NOTE: This product was reviewed on a PlayStation 4. It is also available on Xbox One and PC. A code was provided for review purposes.
Created by a team including former Hitman and Payday developers, Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden is a tactical adventure game combining the turn-based combat of XCOM with story, exploration, stealth, and strategy. Extreme climate change, global economic crisis, a lethal pandemic, and increasing tension between old and new superpowers lead to nuclear weapons being used in armed conflict. Mushroom clouds rose from east to west before the dust settled. Now it’s over and the Earth is still. Nature has invaded ruined cities. Scavenging through the remains of civilization are the Mutants, deformed humanoids and animals alike, searching for salvation or even just food. To survive, you and your companions must venture out to explore the Zone. Take control of a team of Mutants navigating a post-human Earth, in search of the fabled Eden.
My first 6 hours of Mutant Year Zero: Road To Eden were fantastic.
A dark and secluded atmosphere. A lonely and dangerous world, especially for our two mutant Stalkers: a title for scavengers in this world tasked with bringing back scrap metal and supplies to the Ark- the last haven for any sane survivors of this nuclear apocalypse. This game has a great introduction as it slowly eased me in to its combination of stealth and tactics reminiscent of the Xcom series and other old school classics. The character banter was witty and interesting, the music sold the harrowing and underlying sci-fi themes perfectly, and the game had me hooked on the stealth focused strategy gameplay. The game had me immersed in a way I haven’t experienced since the days of Fallout: New Vegas. Simply put, Mutant Year Zero had me invested.
However this was not my first taste of Mutant Year Zero. My interest was piqued in this game from the start; dating back to a brilliant announcement trailer that immediately captured my imagination with it’s the eponymous mutants- an anthropomorphic duck and boar (Cutely named Dux and Bormin). Okay sure, it sounds ridiculous and I’m sure this emphasis on two somewhat cartoon protagonists might have turned off some players. However, I found that these unique and frankly weird designs stood out starkly against the cavalcade of boring cookie cutter apocalypse scenarios and indicated that the developers might have crafted an interesting and nuanced take on the apocalypse: something the genre has sorely needed for a while.
The game never truly lives up to either of these great first impressions sadly.
Don’t get me wrong, Mutant Year Zero is good! Not fantastic or a game changer by any means but a charming Strategy game that eschews many of the RNG the genre is known for. Weapon accuracy is rounded up to increments of 25%, plenty of abilities give you the chance to act twice or hit multiple enemies a turn, and stats and gear bonuses nigh on guarantee a critical hit at the start of every turn.
Permadeath is present but the game gives you an ample time of to revive your characters and never once in my playthrough on Hard did any of my units ever die. The game combines these and the ability to pick off stragglers from stealth without alerting the rest of the map to craft a simple turn based strategy system to hang the rest of its hat on. It’s not Xcom levels of complex but it has enough difficulty and tactical complexity to make a 30 minute encounter feel immensely rewarding.
Unfortunately the strategy gameplay starts to show its cracks the further you progress in the game. Firstly stealth becomes a non-factor as the game slowly ramps up, enemies health bars increase and suddenly your silenced pistols that hit for no more than 6-7 damage are useless as the enemy health bars climb to the mid 30’s,even if you have your entire team focus fire at one enemy. True, you could use your abilities to disable an opponent for a turn and take potshots from there but then you’d be wasting your abilities (Which only cooldown after a set amount of kills) on a meager enemy instead of using them for the main fight.
Enemies are often positioned in a way that makes conflict with 3 or more unavoidable and abilities often meant the difference between life and death for my team of Stalkers. So as the game progressed I found myself using stealth less and less and eventually forgot about it all together in favor of starting a turn focus firing on a powerful boss character who had too much health to ever be taken out in stealth.
Unfortunately stealth is not the only area in which the gameplay has issues. The game’s difficulty starts off challenging but enemies rarely evolve to meet your ever growing posse of playable characters. Sure the enemies will grow in level and equipment but in terms for your human opponents, they rarely ever switch up tactics. This would be fine for a large cast of enemies with differing behavior patterns that play off each other but generally their tactics are incredibly predictable.
Pyro’s throw Molotov’s every second turn, Hunters keep their distance, Tanks, Butchers, Zone Dogs, and Marauders charge your position, Shamans call in reinforcements, and that’s it. That’s the way they fight for the rest of the game. Occasionally the game will throw in the odd Nova Sect priest which is the only opponent that poses a true challenge with their ability to negate damage every other turn and to mind control other characters and chain lightning off of your party but more enemy diversity would have been greatly appreciated. In other words, the games difficulty is front loaded.
The game later does, in fact, throw in a new enemy type: Robots. They behave mainly the same as ghouls however they have much more armor on them which absorbs a certain amount of damage. Even later they start throwing in giant ED-209 esque robots that are awesome! Unfortunately these are trivialized by EMP grenades which are purchasable from the games hub with the loads of scrap you will accumulate easily if you’re looting enemies or exploring the environment.
The game could have also benefited from a ‘Reset Turn’ feature present in games such as ‘Into the Breach’ which would allow you to reset a turn once per battle. This would have cut back on the inordinate amount of ‘Save Scumming’- the process of reloading a save to the start of a battle or turn, which I often had to do to survive some encounters.
Now these are all nitpicks but this along with shoddy performance and a camera that is frankly a pain in the ass at times during battle, had me feel like I’m simply going through the motions at times. This would all be easily forgivable if there was an engaging world and story to play through. Unfortunately as I touched at the beginning of the article, it does not.
Let me give you the premise of Mutant Year Zero. The Ark’s mechanic has been kidnapped by an evil cult to reactivate a nuclear bomb so they can destroy said settlement. That premise could be easily dropped into any Fallout game without batting an eye, in fact Fallout usually goes out of its way to keep its quests from being so mundane. The plot feels like any post apocalypse scenario from the eighties and I suppose that makes sense, taking into account that Mutant Year Zero is based off of a 30 year tabletop RPG.
However nowadays something as mundane as an evil cult trying to blow up the world can be found in any other post apocalypse fiction and is now consider bog standard. The story attempts to throw in a few wrinkles here or there- mostly near the end with the titular ‘Eden’ but it hardly has any real impact and the story ends on a rather abrupt note.
The Mutants in ‘Mutant Year Zero’ suffer the most however. While all of them are cutely written with cheeky remarks and banter, they all suffer from the same problem- underdevelopment. The game hardly ever stops to take a moment and focus on the characters and provide them with any real depth. They feel like their merely along for the ride as they are taking part in events that have nothing to do with them or their origins. Never does the game pause to have its characters discuss where they came from, their likes, dislikes, or anything that might give the player more to latch onto.
These Mutants are alone in the world, nothing else looks like them, nothing else is like them and that has potential for great storytelling that is never capitalized on. Like I said, the game abruptly tries to turn its focus towards them near the end but at that point it feels out of left field and unearned. I can’t say for sure whether any of the Mutants throughout the game changed or grew by the end, and for a game that initially hooked me with the allure of the characters and the world; that’s a shame.
What also is a minor disappointment is the range of cast members, despite the game selling me on its mutant designs the game only ever features one other animal party member, the others are filled up by human characters that failed to capture any interest. I suspect that’s because the animal character models are among the most detailed in the game and that the two human characters are evident of the fact that they might have ran out of budget to create such beautifully crafted character models so they simply repurposed what they had.
The game’s world fares a lot better. Environments sometimes run together but are defined by landmarks familiar to us but foreign to the game’s inhabitants, which are often the point of speculation and clever remarks from the game’s characters. Locations are named the Metal Field, the Iron Serpent, the House of Bones, Lair of the Horned Devil, and often have payoffs that had me nod my head in acknowledgement. It’s a cliché sure, but one that made me smile more than once.
What also made me smile was the game’s cleverly written banter. Oftentimes the game uses the characters clearly defined personality to bounce off each other as they argue and debate what the ‘Ancients’ used such mundanities such as a Boom Box or a Telescope for. These items are also used as collectables that can be traded in for insanely useful buffs and perks from the Ark’s resident black market dealer. This system flows together nicely and incentivizes exploring optional areas, which I often focused on whenever I could instead of the main story.
A nice choice by the developers is the decision to not have enemies respawn after you clear an area. This allows backtracking to collect scrap, equipment, or weapon parts hassle free and gives a sense of permanence to an otherwise static world. Exploring is not without its flaws however, as the game lacks a sprint option or a minimap and can make covering areas at times, incredibly tedious.
The game could also benefit from a more involved hub. The Ark itself is just a menu for you to cycle through, you can trade in artifacts at the Pub, buy grenades and weapons from the weapons lady, or upgrade weapons using weapon parts from the gunsmith. The characters that run these shops have their own personality but are primarily surface deep, occasionally dropping a line of dialogue that hints at actual depth but are never actually followed up on. An actual hub town to walk around in with citizens to interact with would have made the games world much more immersive and involved, as you would maybe actually start to care about what’s at stake as you progress in the main story.
Mutant Year Zero is a good time despite its inherent shortcomings and jank. It reeks of a game constrained by its budget and developer size. Despite that, it manages to craft solid, satisfying gameplay with likable characters, a great and immersive score, with clear love for its source material from its developers. I hope the game sells well enough for a sequel as with a bit more polish, and perhaps a better writing team, Mutant Year Zero could have stood out among its contemporaries.
Would I recommend it at its current budget price of 34.99? I wish I could say yes but I can’t. While it’s amazing what the developers achieved here, for those who are interested in a compelling post-apocalyptic world, I would sooner recommend games such as Fallout or Horizon. However if you’re hankering for some solid strategy action gameplay and can forgive the lack of a compelling narrative, Mutant Year Zero is worth a look.Follow Us On Social Media