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Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Funcom
Developer: The Bearded Ladies Consulting
Release Date: Dec. 4, 2018

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PC Review - 'Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Dec. 5, 2018 @ 3:00 a.m. PST

Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden is a tactical adventure game featuring a deep storyline set on a post-human Earth, which combines strategy and the turn-based tactical combat of ‘XCOM’ with real-time exploration and stealth gameplay.

Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden is set in a postapocalyptic future where the world is a hellish wasteland populated by the shattered remains of human society and terrifying cannibal bandits who only seek violence and their next meal. The one safe place is the Ark, a convenient mix of mutants and creatures trying to survive. Of course, being the one livable place in the apocalypse means it's a constant target, and it's up to the inhabitants to loot resources from the surroundings and protect the Ark from danger.

Mutant Year Zero is a very dark-humor/tongue-in-cheek kind of game, but its approach to the subject matter is refreshing and works well. Yes, the main characters are anthropomorphic animals who view the relics of the old world with a mix of awe and fear, but the game isn't afraid to be funny. While the main plot isn't anything to write home about, the character interaction and world-building really help sell it.


MYZ is reminiscent of the XCOM reboot, and there's a good reason for that. They play almost identically. Pretty much every mechanic you saw in XCOM's combat is present here: cover, elevation, overwatch, and the two-action-point movement system. As such, there's not much to say about it.

You have pre-set characters instead of an endless horde of recruits, but the characters are also similar to ones in XCOM. For example, Bormin is a big, beefy guy who can run and gun, and Dux is a sniper with the ability to fly (rather than grapple) up to high areas. This might sound dismissive of the combat, but the coolest part of MYZ is how it approaches and changes this style of combat.

Since the game doesn't feature a traditional mission structure, players have a lot more flexibility in how to approach engagements. You can choose to avoid fights — the game discourages this — but you also can choose when and where to get into fights. This is where the developer's stealth roots come into play. Diving into combat is a pretty fantastic way to lose the game. More often than not, enemies are just as powerful, if not more so, than you are. You can win fights against small numbers, but once the enemies outnumber you, it can get real dirty real fast.

The key is to figure out how to even out the numbers. You can move freely around the battlefield as long as you haven't been discovered. In doing so, you can position characters in locations of strength. Dux, for example, is significantly stronger when he's sniping enemies from above. Going into fights with him ready to kick butt does wonders for your combat capabilities. More importantly, silenced weapons can be used to kill enemies without alerting other foes. If you're careful and choose when to approach, you can take down foes before they know you're there, allowing you to engage in smaller and more careful numbers. As long as you're not fully discovered, you can return to stealth once an enemy is taken down, and in doing so, you create a much more manageable situation.

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This is the core of the game, and it keeps it from being an XCOM clone because it uses similar mechanics in a very different way. Your overall power level is significantly lower than in XCOM, even after you start getting upgrades. It's possible to build for more straightforward combat, but even then, it's more about being able to take on two or three additional enemies without causalities, rather than going in guns blazing to obliterate everything in your path.

Another major factor that plays into this is how MYZ treats resources. Since missions aren't one-and-done, injuries carry over from fight to fight in the same area. One of the major factors that plays into the game's difficulty modes is how much health is recovered after a fight. Likewise, cooldowns don't reset instantly after fights but require you to get kills to refuel special skills. (Again, this is determined by difficulty level.) As a result, figuring out how to approach small fights isn't just important for clearing out enemies. On higher difficulty levels, it's essential to ensure you have everything you need for big fights.

I really enjoyed this method of difficulty. Rather than making fights feel tougher due to pure stats, it influences how you can approach fights without crippling the difficulty. The normal difficulty level refills all of your health and cooldowns between fights, which means you can play riskier and blow through more skills, but your weaker characters go down in a heartbeat, so it's not quite "easy mode." In comparison, the hardest difficulty doesn't refill anything between fights, which makes every action way more consequential.

This leads into what I suspect is going to be the big barrier for a lot of people: MYZ is hard. It's tougher than most XCOM-style games because it's built around the idea that the player is strongly at a disadvantage in general power level, whereas XCOM pushes the idea that your strongest characters are nearly godlike. Even with a few mutations, you're still encouraged to even the odds.

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In short, the game can feel really brutal. If you decide to play on Ironman mode, then you can expect to play the game many, many, many times before you finish it. Even non-masochists will find the title to be punishing. Engage too early, strike too quickly, and it's no different than getting caught in Hitman or similar games. You might survive, but it'll be at a significant cost, and it sure won't feel right. Despite the many similarities between the two games, you can't play MYZ like you do XCOM. MYZ gives you different priorities and a different power curve, and that goes a long way. I find it very enjoyable, but it's easy to see people abandoning it since it's effectively a stealth game with XCOM mechanics rather than an XCOM game with stealth mechanics, and some of the difficulty spikes can feel pretty ridiculous.

Overall, MYZ is a really fun and well-made game, but I encountered a fair number of bugs during my playthrough. Characters occasionally clipped through things, sometimes the shift from real-time movement to turn-based combat was finicky and wouldn't work correctly, and the game froze on me a couple of times. There was also an annoying situation where it refused to start until I did a full reinstall. These problems didn't ruin the game by any means and were worth pushing through, but they're also worth mentioning.

By and large, MYZ is a fine-looking game. It doesn't blow anything out of the water, but the little details help sell the game. I really enjoy the (mostly) non-human cast and their various animations and style. What sold the game for me was the voice acting. There are a few misses, but generally, it was a joy to hear the various characters play off of one another. (Farrow the fox-creature was my personal favorite.)

Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden is a charming, fun and well-made game with plenty of humor and excellent gameplay. It's an example of how you can expand on a tried-and-true formula in a way that makes it distinctive and exciting. The only thing that drags it down are some bugs and occasional difficulty spikes that feel more frustrating than fun. If you're a fan of XCOM-style games but want a new approach, you should absolutely try MYZ, which is one of the best surprises of the year.

Score 8.5/10



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