I was not familiar with the Mutant Year Zero universe before Bearded Ladies Games kindly dropped the first video game version in my lap. It turns out, Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden is based on a popular RPG/strategy board game similar to Dungeons and Dragons. I’m not a board gamer and I don’t traditionally enjoy strategy games, so I wasn’t expecting to have so much fun with this game. But here I am, not wanting to stop playing even to write the review.
The story goes like this: the world as we know it is long gone. Buildings are crumbling and covered with vegetation, and the highways are littered with abandoned vehicles. Humans are gone, and only mutants remain. Playing as one of the titular mutants, you’ll scour a post-human world, scavenging for whatever you can find. Along the way, you’ll find new mutants to join your party as you search for Eden.
If you’re a fan of XCOM, then you are already familiar with the gameplay. But it’s not just tactical turn-based action here, which is why I can’t put it down. The mix of exploration and stealth gameplay with traditional strategy combat makes Mutant Year Zero feel so different and special. You’re free to explore the beautifully destroyed landscape and sneak up on the bad guys for a tactical advantage, or you can sneak past them all together and come back when you’re ready. You’ll find loot and the aforementioned bad guys everywhere. Whichever character you have in the lead will have a flashlight to guide your way and help you find collectibles. The bad guys will have a large cone of light around them, which signifies their field of vision. When you stumble upon them, simply switch off your light, and you’ll enter stealth mode. In this mode, their field of vision will shrink, and you can sneak into the perfect position to gain the upper hand. This is absolutely crucial to success. The enemies are too powerful and too many to take on without a plan. The key to success here is to send a scout to recon the entire group, learn all of the patrol patterns and then regroup to pick off any stragglers you can. Pay special attention to the med-bots, who heal damaged and even dead enemies, and the shamans, which call for reinforcements. If you don’t take these pesky a-holes out first, you’ll probably die a quick and painful death.
As I said, the combat is turn-based tactical style, with an admitted inspiration from the popular XCOM series. I’ll give a quick synopsis for those unfamiliar: Once the battle begins, the screen becomes basically a game board, and each player on the battlefield has two turns to act. You’ll need to use these turns wisely because even at the normal difficulty setting, this game is tough. You may need to move behind a tree or a busted up car for cover or reload your favorite weapon. Each of those maneuvers will cost you one turn. If you’re already in position, and you have a clear line of sight to the enemy you can fire on your first turn, but beware, this will end your turn. You can also dig into a defensive position or perform an Overwatch, which means if an enemy walks into your area, you will open fire.
The loot you collect will dictate how you play as well, as you may find a hat that improves critical damage from the high ground, or a vest that protects you from fire. In real-time, carefully placing each member of your team in just the right place before the battle begins is a fun way to add even more tactical goodness to the traditional turn-based gameplay.
In Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden, you’ll find loads of gun attachments, scrap metal, and broken gun parts. Some will simply be littered about, while some you’ll have to scavenge from the corpses of your slain enemies. You’ll need to return these items to the Ark, which is a settlement where you can buy supplies, equip new weapon attachments and meet the elder. The elder may be the last living human, although, in his scenes, he looks less alive and more like a sad ventriloquist’s dummy. Thankfully, the rest of the game’s visuals look much better, although the design, locals, and UI are fairly simple and don’t ask much from the hardware. The colorful cast of characters is a highlight, especially the first two characters introduced: a wisecracking duck and an ugly, but lovable, boar. Their banter is a high point, and mostly funny, although using “duck” in place of the “F” word was pretty cringe, especially after the first time.
The audio sounds good to great throughout. The guns, explosions, and various voice acting all work to sell the experience. Some weapons sound better than others, but nothing too egregious or immersion breaking.
The exploration, scavenging, and stealth portions aren’t as in-depth as a game where that is the complete focus, but when you combine all of those options with the deeper strategy elements, Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden really excels. It truly is a sum of all of its charming parts, and one I can’t wait to get back to. Expect to spend 15 hours or so in the campaign on the normal setting and even more if you up the difficulty. There is also a permadeath option if you hate yourself and/or love pain. Maybe an XCOM purist won’t love the hybrid nature of Mutant Year Zero. And maybe it’s the perfect introduction to new fans of the genre, like me. Either way, Mutant Year Zero is one of my favorite games of the year, and one I recommend everyone checks out.
Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden PS4 Review
Overall - Fantastic - 8.3/10
Mutant Year Zero mixes exploration and stealth with turn-based strategic combat for a fresh, fun and exciting romp through the apocalypse. A must-play title that I wasn’t expecting, but can’t wait to get back to.
Reviewed using base PS4.