The Xbox Game Pass has always been appealing. I mean, what’s not to love? For one cheap costing subscription, you’re getting hundreds of hours worth of diverse games, right in one place. Though, despite the wide selection of titles available, only a handful of them truly stand out. Let me save you some time. Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden is easily one of the best games in the program, and arguably one of the best games to arrive this month. The game takes elements from a wide range of genres, and effortlessly blends them together to create a new breed of brilliance.
The game takes place in the future; a war-torn climate-challenged Earth. In this version of a post-human world, every nation that’s been nuked has left behind but traces of human existence. Together, stray survivors have built a haven that resides far from the evils and terrors that spread the lands, a haven known as Ark. One man rules the Ark, and is often referred to as the Elder – known to be the last true human alive. The Elder watches over everyone and keeps them safe and united, ranting and teaching that anywhere outside of the Ark is both dangerous and daunting.
Those that set foot (or flapper) outside of the Ark will be faced with many a creature that lurks in the dark, ready to kill, or worse, without hesitation. Only the brave Stalkers may venture into the unknown. The tough-nuts that head out in search of scrap, water, and food, for the people of Ark. It’s a wildly interesting setting, which says a lot about a game with a post-human theme, especially when we take into account that post-anything has been done, time and time again before.
Whatever the case, the world is in the grasp of nature’s reclamation, and, by and large, any form of civilization is split into two factions; ghouls and mutants. The key to any good post-apocalyptic story rests solely on acquisition and uprising, and Mutant Year Zero is no exception. You see, legends tell of a place known as Eden – a location that’s described as the ancients’ haven in the middle of hell, one that, according to the stories, holds answers. That’s the game’s general premise, and as lightly alluded to above, it’s one that’s setup and laid out magnificently well.
The game initially throws you into the roll of Dux and Bormin, a mutated duck and boar, respectively. This duo serves as your starter crew, and if you’re anything like me, you’ll keep these with you throughout the entirety of play. What immediately sets the game apart from its peers is its layer of freedom. Here, you’re able to walk around freely and do whatever you want to in regards to exploration. There’s no limits to this aspect of play, further lending the game a degree of depth that isn’t matched by any game of its kind, or at least one that’s taken from recent memory.
It’s great being able to explore all of the game’s areas in detail, with an added incentive that you may oftentimes be treated to some additional lore for your troubles. Whilst exploring the zone, as it’s called, you’ll locate useful resources to aid you along the way. This includes the likes of scrap metal – the game’s currency, weapon parts – necessary for upgrading your firepower, and collectible goods – weapons that can be swapped around, so long as you’re not engaged in combat, and, useful tidbits such as med-kits. The latter doesn’t really need much of a description.
Whilst you’re out and about in the vast death-trap that is Mutant Year Zero, you’ll have no shortage of enemies hunting you down. Due to the fact that there’s usually more than one route that you can take to fulfill any given objective, many fights can be tackled however you see fit – or not at all. This fluidity is sensational for game of this type. It allows for a dynamic approach to each situation throughout. Fancy flanking your foes to gain the upper-hand? Get right to it. Prefer the balls-out guns-high approach? You can do that too! Or, sneak by them undetected for swifter progress.
Several times did I find myself picking off a group of foes by taking out the stray wanderers first, only to move in for a heavy all-out assault on the few leftover enemies that were still oblivious to my presence. Make not mistake about it, Mutant Year Zero is top-notch action, and thanks to its depth, it rarely gets old. The AI behaves wonderfully too. They’re excellently balanced – constantly adapting to how you react. That said, I found that stealth was a design choice that’s been pushed hard by the developer.
Enemies will often overpower you in their masses, sometimes unfairly so. The game is clearly supposed to be played with stealth and tactics in mind, which isn’t a bad thing by any stretch of the imagination. Simply an observation. General rule of thumb? Play it safe and play it carefully. It’s not fun having your duck’s ass handed to you for sidestepping. With that in mind, I give the game high praise for how well its systems feed into one another. Its exploration and its combat elements marry together in extraordinary fashion, making this one hell of a distinct experience.
You’ll not only need to be mindful of your enemy’s line of sight, but their radius of hearing too. Naturally, if you’re taking out a stray grunt with a loud and thunderous shot, nearby enemies will come to aid. However, throw a silencer on the end of your gun, and you can go about your business undetected. Find yourselves being detected, on the other hand, and you’ll need to go full hog. This isn’t Borderlands in any way, shape, or form, but the sheer level of weapon variety on offer here is through the roof. There’s absolutely no shortage of firepower to get your claws on.
Even much later into the game, I was constantly treated to new tools and toys to try out. Many of the game’s weapons are distinct, and although some of them share similar traits, there’s plenty of tools to select from to help you find your signature style. What’s handy is that each of your team members will be able to take two different weapons along for the ride, allowing you to swiftly adapt to each situation. Combat itself is relatively accessible. Like most top-down turn-based games, you move and you fight, before the enemy mirrors this with their own outputs.
Each character on your team has 2 AP each, which is spent on the likes of movement, reloading, going into overwatch, hunkering down, using acquired mutations, lobbing grenades and of course, shooting. Doing anything but shooting an enemy will cost you a single AP, whereas going in all guns blasting will cost you both. This is where the tactical side of the game rears its gorgeous head. Whilst indeed going in gung-ho will see you through, it’s hardly a winning tactic on its own. It pays off to set your team up correctly, carefully using your turns to strategically get the upper-hand. Once you’re set and sorted, let the action roll in any which way you see fit.
If any game of this kind could be described by using the phrase ‘there’s more than one way to skin a cat’, Mutant Year Zero would be it. The game’s depth sits well with its varying mechanics, which again, thanks to how differently you can approach any given scenario, only goes on to produce a robust, worthwhile adventure. Further to that, each character and enemy remains diverse throughout – housing unique behavioral patterns and pros and cons. I particularly enjoyed observing how specific enemies will act when in close proximity to others.
For instance, the zombie-like dogs don’t like ghouls, so when nearby, they’ll attack them frequently. If anything, this truly highlights how devastating the zone is, giving players an extra degree of insight as a result. Throughout your adventure, you’ll meet a wide range of new and interesting folk. Whilst you’re only allowed to party three characters at once, there’s a meaty selection of characters to select from, should you want to switch things up in a pinch. On top of that, each character houses their own unique mutation for you to make use of.
Following each fight, your whole team will earn XP that (as expected) goes towards your next level-up. When you do level-up, you will be able to upgrade each member of your team. There’s some repeated unlocks here, but that’s easy to overlook in the face of everything that the game gets right. Regardless, and back on track, each character offers some pretty damn cool mutations. These arrive in several different flavors; passive, minor and major mutations. Irrespective of that, these mutations can alter the course of a battle at the drop of a hat.
You’re only able to use one major and one minor at a time, but the things that these mutations can do would put Professor X on the edge of his seat. Take, for example, sprouting wings to gain extra height advantage, or, taking control of your opponents to make them kill their own teammates. This, believe it or not, is tame. Nevertheless, the variety is impressive and it all works together very well. I also want to talk about the game’s difficulty. During my many hours with Mutant Year Zero, I’ve yet to come across a single enemy that’s underneath my level.
To me, this is fantastic. The game is clearly forcing you to stay on-par and keep your shit in order – rarely allowing you to get too comfortable. Once you chart enough ground, you’ll unlock a (kind of) fast travel that will take you to Ark. Here is where you can upgrade your weapons, modify them, or break them down. You can also hand in relics that you find to gain passive perks, as well as visit a shop to spend your hard earned scrap on additional gear. The Elder is on hand too, offering useful info that may well aid you as you draw closer to the end game.
Touching up on the game’s visual and audio design, this gets another thumbs up from me. The game does well with its assets to ensure that you’re constantly treated to new, well detailed, interested surroundings. The same can be said about the audio design, which brings a soundtrack that’s pitch perfect for the game’s theme. The voice acting is also highly commendable, with some amazing vocal work backing up the game’s daunting, yet darkly comedic tone. When all is said and done, if you’re in the market for an interesting and accessible, yet deep and massively engaging turn-based action game, this is it.
Mutant Year Zero’s robust gameplay elements blend together magnificently well, collectively sitting on a story backdrop that’s intriguingly desperate, yet oddly comedic at just the right times. The game’s openness encourages experimentation and daring, with no shortage of lore and rewards dished out to keep its pace at a steady flow. The end result makes for one of the best tactical adventures of the gen.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.