The Road Less Traveled
Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden is a great example of how just a little dash of something extra is all it takes to create an entirely new experience. Sure, you’ve played SRPGs, and, sure, you’ve played real-time stealth games, but have you ever played an SRPG with real-time stealth mechanics? I’m going to guess that your answer is “no”. I hadn’t either! Well, not until MYZ, anyway. And, yes, it’s kind of a weird mash-up. So weird, in fact, that you might not think that would even work (and I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t). But, wouldn’t you know it, they do — and it’s ingenuity like that which helps a game like this stand out from the crowd.
What is a Man
Set in a dismal, post-apocalyptic future, Mutant Year Zero tells the story of Bormin and Dux, a pair of mutants, warped into strange, human/animal hybrids by the irradiated world around them (or, at least, behind the minds of said irradiation), as they attempt to… well, to try not to die. While being a mutant might not sound that great, it does come with its perks — namely the fact that Bormin and Dux can explore their toxic surroundings without succumbing to them. Unfortunately for them, however, that also makes them perfectly suited for being Stalkers — ground-troop Mutants in charge of scavenging for scrap and scouting out surrounding areas — and therefore the ones in charge of keeping the Ark, humanity’s literal last bastion of hope, afloat (metaphorically, not physically).
Despite having an undeniably appealing narrative style, Mutant Year Zero‘s story isn’t quite as gripping as I thought that it would be. The best thing that I could liken it too without spoiling too much would be the Fallout series. In fact, except for the whole “talking animals” thing (and the ridiculous puns) it basically is a Fallout story — Ghouls and all. Now, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Fallout, as a whole, has some pretty darn good stories. But this isn’t Fallout. This is Mutant Year Zero. And, as such, I would have liked for its story to stand out a little bit more.
This Land is My Land
Alright, alright, so before we even get into the gameplay, I’ll address the elephant in the room. Yes, these screenshots don’t look great. In the game’s (and my) defense, though, most of my time with Mutant Year Zero was spent in the Switch’s handheld mode. And, to be honest, it doesn’t normally look this bad when you’re actually playing the game. Bad, yes, but not this bad. Kind of a shame, considering how aesthetic the game’s visuals are, but oh well!
Anyway, now that that’s out of the picture, let’s actually get onto the stuff that matters. Mutant Year Zero‘s gameplay is a strange little concoction, spanning several different genres. A major part of the game takes place in real-time, with players simply needing to travel from one place to the other, exploring their surroundings while they do so. Honestly, this ended up being one of my favorite parts. And, no, that’s not an insult — I promise. Despite how linear the game is, MYZ does a great job with its physical world-building (if you don’t mind it looking a little crunchy on the Switch, that is), and the characters’ constant commentary on their surroundings feels natural and very welcome. Each of the game’s areas aren’t worth exploring simply for their aesthetic value, however — there are weapons, items, and plenty of scrap (i.e. currency) laying around for the player to find.
My only real complaint is with how finite everything is. While the game allows you to go back and explore previous areas, meaning that you don’t really have to worry about missables, items are a one-and-done deal; don’t ever count on anything respawning. I suppose that you could make an argument for this being part of the game’s “post-apocalyptic charm” if you really wanted to, but, honestly, I don’t think that it would have killed the devs to throw the player a bone every once in a while. Or, you know, a med kit.
Exploring an irreversibly damaged Earth is nice and all, but, in a game like Mutant Year Zero, there will be times where you’ll have to fight your way through some trouble. Fortunately, you won’t have to go in, guns blazing. In fact, I recommend that you don’t do that — unless you want to die, that is. Despite being an SRPG, Mutant Year Zero is, like the Stalkers themselves, a little different from what you might be used to. And by “different” I mean that the game has stealth elements. Don’t look so surprised — why else would they be called “Stalkers”? Jokes aside, however, hiding, and, indeed, stalking, is a necessity in this game. And that’s simply due to the fact that you’re always going to be outnumbered. Fortunately, MYZ allows players to gain the upper hand (or at least make things a little bit less unfair) by quickly and quietly taking out their opponents — all without the need to go into actual combat. Stealth isn’t just a neat little gimmick, though. It’s something that you’re going to have to master if you want to make it through this game alive. And, unfortunately, that isn’t always easy. It’s incredibly easy to alert enemies to your presence, and this game isn’t exactly what you’d call “hand-holdy” when it comes to making sure that you’ve gotten used to one of its most important mechanics. Just make sure that you save a lot! …If you can, anyway!
When stealth is no longer an option — and, trust me, it won’t always be — then it’s time to actually fight. As I’ve already mentioned, Mutant Year Zero‘s combat, contrary to the rest of the game, actually carries out via tactical turn-based combat. But be warned, however, we’re talking Western SRPG mechanics here. You know, less Final Fantasy Tactics, and more XCOM. All that basically means, though, is that things are a lot less grindy, and a lot more lethal (which is either good or bad, depending personal tastes). Enemies are always plentiful, and, for the most part, they’re always quite powerful, so you can kiss any hope of silly things like “overpowering your opponents” goodbye. Instead, you’ll have to rely on using actual tactical prowess. Although not particularly large, MYZ‘s cast of playable characters each come with their own unique weapons an abilities — from the hard-hitting Bormin, to the sneaky Farrow — each character provides for the player a particular set of skills that can prove incredibly handy for those who know how to utilize them. Just don’t be surprised if you have to play through things more than once — as with the sneaking mechanics, it takes a bit used to get to the game’s erm… “enthusiastic” approach to throwing enemies at the player.
Down and Dirty
Mutant Year Zero isn’t perfect, but it’s certainly a fun and unique experience. Featuring a cleverly mixed stealth/SRPG hybrid of gameplay, and a visually appealing world to explore (depending on how you’re playing the game, that is), Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden is definitely worth a shot if you’re looking for a little bit of post-apocalyptic action… and talking animals.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC ; Publisher: Funcom Oslo ; Developer: The Bearded Ladies ; Players: 1 ; Released: July 30, 2019 ; ESRB: M for Mature ; MSRP: $44.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden – Deluxe Edition given to Hey Poor Player by the publisher.