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Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden Indie Game Review

Ever since it was first introduced in the 1990s, the XCOM series has always been one of the leaders of the tactical turn based strategy genre. This genre is not the most popular these days, but there are a decent amount of games released for it each year. The problem is that a lot of the games are pretty generic and don’t add much to the formula. When I saw Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden though I was immediately intrigued. Based on a pen and paper RPG, the designers of Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden took a long look at what works in games like XCOM and added in some mechanics to tweak and possibly even improve on it.  Due to a fantastic atmosphere, fun and yet challenging gameplay, and some original gameplay mechanics; Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden has arguably succeeded at improving upon its inspiration XCOM.

We at Geeky Hobbies would like to thank The Bearded Ladies and Funcom for the review copy of Mutant Year Zero used for this review. Other than receiving a free copy of the game to review, we at Geeky Hobbies received no other compensation for this review. Receiving the review copy for free had no impact on the content of this review or the final score.

In Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden you play in a world that has been ravaged by climate change, wars, pandemics, and other disasters. All who remain alive are mutated, and live in a world that nature has reclaimed. To escape the wasteland below, a group of survivors created the city of Ark in the sky. As resources are scarce in Ark, groups of scavengers are sent out into the abandoned wasteland in order to gather resources for the city. You control a group of these scavengers. While exploring the wastelands you hear tales of the fabled Eden, a paradise untouched in the vast wasteland. In their search for Eden, your group discovers that things may not be exactly what they seem.

When you enter your first battle you can immediately tell that the designers took inspiration from games like XCOM. The battles take place on a grid with obstacles in the way that can be used for cover. Each character is given a couple action points which they can use to take a variety of actions on their turns. They can use action points to move, fire their weapons, use grenades or med kits, use special abilities, reload weapons, or prepare a counter attack when an enemy moves into range. If you have ever played one of these type of games you should be pretty familiar with how this portion of the game plays.

It might not be highly original but I really liked the combat in Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden. The combat is streamlined into simple menus and a grid system for movement. This makes it easy to choose your actions and implement your strategy. Like a lot of turn based games, strategy is key to the combat. You can’t go in guns blazing as you will be destroyed by your enemies. You need to be smart and move between cover locations while firing on your enemies. There is a slight reliance on luck from time to time, but your success is going to depend on your strategy for the most part. As combat can be quite challenging (more on this later), defeating all of your enemies without taking much damage is quite satisfying.

The one area where Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden really stands out is the exploration/stealth mechanic. While the combat is similar to games like XCOM, this addition of an exploration mechanic adds a lot to the game. Most of these type of games go from battles to menus and back to more battles. This can get repetitive after a while. The ability to explore the world and collect resources required to purchase upgrades and equipment, makes Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden an unique experience. It makes the game feel like more of an experience than just a battle simulator.

The best part of the exploration mechanic though is the addition of stealth. Instead of being brought immediately into a battle as soon as you enter a location, you have control over when and where battles occur. You can use this to scout out a location and figure out where the enemies are located. This allows you to set up your strategy before you begin a battle. You can place your characters behind cover in advantageous positions and even flank your enemies. Combat begins either when you choose to start it or when you are spotted by an enemy.

At first I thought this was going to be kind of a gimmick, but it is a key part of the game. Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden is not a game that you can just run and gun through. If you attempt to go into a battle guns blazing, you are in for a rude awakening as you will die quickly. Instead you need to use the stealth mechanic in order to set yourself up in an advantageous position. First you should try to find any enemies that are straggling outside of the main enemy camp. Using silenced weapons, you should try to take out these enemies without alerting the others. You then need to try and set up your characters in advantageous positions before you decide to finally attack the larger group. If you are stealthy you can set up your team for success before the battle even begins. You could even decide to avoid a battle entirely if you think it is too dangerous. There are battles that you are going to want to fight but will have to avoid.

This mechanic might not seem like much at first but I actually think it is revolutionary for the genre. I would like to see most games from this genre implement this type of mechanic in the future. I think it is one of the reasons why Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden is better than the XCOM series. While I really enjoyed XCOM, I am having more fun with Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden. The gameplay is so fine tuned that it is a blast to play and it gives players plenty of strategic decisions to make in order to succeed.

After battling enemies and exploring the environment you will acquire different types of resources along with experience. These resources are used in order to improve your equipment and skills. For the most part the leveling system in Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden is similar to most games from this genre. Each level increases your skills and gives you points that you can use to either improve your stats or unlock different abilities. While exploring you can acquire equipment that your characters can use. You can also acquire scrap, weapon parts, and even artifacts that allow you to upgrade your weapons, buy new equipment, or even obtain new abilities. These mechanics are well done as the skill trees are simple to follow and it is easy to see what benefits a piece of equipment gives. I wouldn’t call it particularly original though as it is very similar to quite a few other games.

One thing that I was pleasantly surprised by was the fact that the controls work surprisingly well. Playing the game on PS4, I was expecting the controls to not be great as these type of games generally play better on PCs. I am glad to report that game’s controls work well on consoles. This is due to the controls being quite simple for the most part. I encountered no issues with the game’s controls and I honestly don’t know where they could have been improved.

While Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden’s gameplay is fantastic, I think the atmosphere/story is almost as good. The idea of a post-apocalypse video game has almost become a cliche at this point.  While the designers could have just relied on making your typical post-apocalypse video game, real effort was put into the environment/story. The environment is basically a modern world that has been overrun by nature and has long been abandoned. This is a world you want to explore as it doesn’t feel like your generic post-apocalypse world. I am only about five to six hours into the game so I haven’t finished the game’s story, but it shows a lot of potential. The characters are interesting and I want to see what happens to them. Despite the game’s gloomy atmosphere the game even finds ways to add in some humor. This mostly comes from the characters finding items from the past and trying to figure out what they were used for. Why don’t I just say that they come up with some funny explanations for common everyday items.

One of the things that the XCOM series of games have always been criticized for is the reliance on luck from time to time. You could have the perfect strategy and a bad “die roll” can lead to you missing a shot that was almost guaranteed to work. Everyone who has played XCOM before has an experience where they had a shot with a 90+% chance of success that for some reason fails. This miss snowballs until you are ultimately destroyed. This reliance on luck adds more difficulty to a game that was already quite difficult.

The good news is that this seems to have been basically eliminated from Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden. The game still uses percentages to show your chance of success, but they actually seem to be accurate for the most part. This is probably due to the fact that the game only gives you odds in 25% increments. There will occasionally be times when you miss 75% shots or make 25% shots. Most of the time though you can rely on the percentages being accurate. This is appreciated as you want to rely on your characters making shots when they are supposed to. Therefore your success is mostly based on your strategy instead of having to rely on luck being on your side.

Most people will then assume that Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden is quite a bit easier than games like XCOM. I wouldn’t go that far as the game finds other ways to add difficulty to the game. As you are traveling through a wasteland, resources are scarce. You won’t be able to purchase all of the upgrades and equipment that you want. You need to be picky on what you choose to purchase. The game also has a limited supply of medkits so you don’t want to take unnecessary damage. On top of all of this, you will regularly be outmatched and outgunned. This is where the stealth mechanics really come into play. When there are enemies away from the main group, you have to pick them off without alerting the other enemies. If you don’t do this you will be swarmed by more enemies than you could ever handle. There are even battles that you should avoid entirely as you will either fail or suffer heavy damages. You may want to go in guns blazing but you are usually better off just sneaking past these enemies.

For the most part I think the difficulty is justified as it helps support the story of you exploring a wasteland filled with threats. At times I think it goes a little too far though. The game has four difficulties from medium to hardcore which features permadeath. Make one mistake and it will compound on you quickly. Unless you play the permadeath mode, get ready to reset the game to a previous save quite often as you retry a battle that you failed miserably. Each time you replay a fight you will find better ways to approach it. The battle will still not be easy though.

A few little picky issues I have with the game don’t help. First it would have been appreciated if the game gave some sort of indication of what enemies could hear you if you shoot a non silenced weapon. The vision guide that the game gives you really helps when you are trying to pick off enemies undetected. Not knowing whether an enemy will hear you makes it a guessing game if a non silenced weapon will alert the larger group. There are also some enemy units that you will hate immediately. There are some enemies that automatically call reinforcements and there are medical bots that revive dead enemies. Be ready to kill these enemies right away or they will make the battle significantly harder.

The other small issue I have with Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden is that at times the game feels kind of linear. The game presents itself as an open world but the experience is pretty linear overall. The game basically guides you through a set of locales that you have to follow in order to reach your next destination. New resources and enemies don’t seem to spawn. So you can’t grind enemies for experience or resources to get better gear. This isn’t a huge issue but I kind of wish the game was a little less linear.

I had high expectations for Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden after I first saw it. Somehow I was still a little surprised by it. It is a fantastic game if you are looking for a tactical turn based strategy game. The combat is similar to a lot of the games from this genre (XCOM in particular), but it is streamlined to the point where you can mostly focus on your strategy. The combat is fun and satisfying when you can take out your enemies while sustaining little damage yourself. Where Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden really shines though is the addition of the exploration/stealth mechanics. Instead of moving from battle to battle, the game includes an exploration mechanic where you can explore the environment collecting resources. You can also use stealth to sneak up on unsuspecting enemies and put your characters into advantageous positions before the battle begins. Add in the great atmosphere and story, and Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden is a fantastic game. The only real complaints I have with the game is that at times it can be quite difficult and the game can feel a little linear. Nonetheless, Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden is one of the best games from this genre that I have played in quite some time. In a lot of ways it actually improves on the game that inspired it, XCOM.

If you have never really cared for the tactical turn based strategy genre or don’t really care for the game’s theme, it may not be the game for you. If you like these type of games though, I would highly recommend picking up Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden as it is one of the better games that I have played in quite some time.

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