Can The Bearded Ladies bring something new to the strategy table and still provide all that matters to genre fans? Find out in our Mutant Year Zero Road to Eden review.
The XCOM template is one worth replicating for any budding turn-based strategy game. It features a nice mix of action, tactics, and management if done right, but you simply do have to try and balance those three out and add something of your own to succeed (which some haven’t quite managed recently despite decent efforts). Developer The Bearded Ladies’ (great name) Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden is the latest, and perhaps closest, game to attempt to update the formula.
Set in a future where most of humanity has been wiped out, the last remnants are holed up in rig-like structure, just trying to keep the flame of existence burning a while longer. The only things keeping them alive and safe is staying in their makeshift home and relying on the Stalkers, a team of mutant soldiers (human hybrids of a duck and a boar respectively, at least initially), to bring in supplies from the wasteland. We, the player, are tasked with controlling those Stalkers as they roam outside the safety of their rickety compound.
Mutant Year Zero is a turn-based game, but only for its combat. The rest of the time, you have manual control of your party and their movement around the wastes. This is because the predominant strategy element is stealth, and you’re able to walk the group around the enemies and set them up in real time for an ambush. Enemy vision is dictated by a large red circle that, if you step in it, will more than likely alert them to your presence and give them the upper hand in the ensuing turn-based combat.
Each of your party brings something different to the tabletop. Dux, for example, carries a crossbow, which means that you can quietly pick off a group one by one as long as you keep it out of the eye line of the survivors. That is, of course, if you pack enough firepower and the enemy isn’t too high a level. Others pack heavy artillery for firefights, and all come with upgradeable abilities to deal with ever-increasing threats. So far, so XCOM, even with the free-form stealth.
The stealth is a strange thing to get used to, but once you understand it and use it to nail a succession of strategic takedowns with minimum fuss, it’s a revelation. It genuinely adds something fresh to the turn-based squad strategy model. Any sequel and other turn-based squad games would be wise to try and implement some variant of it in future.
Perhaps the most fascinating departure is how it eschews a hub/mission structure for something closer to an RPG. You can move freely between areas, finding other missions, salvage, and enemies of varying difficulty. You need to manually trek back to the Ark for certain upgrades and equipment and smartly, the game ensures you have plenty of nooks and crannies to dig through as you wander back and forth. The world design is interesting enough that it tells its own story (and Mutant Year Zero is a visually impressive game for its chosen genre). There are traces of what came before the triple threat of apocalyptic events occurred (plague, global warming, and a nuclear war on top) and it’s a shame the story itself doesn’t do more to focus on the history that’s alluded to.
In fact just as the story seems to be going somewhere, it ends in a surprisingly swift and abrupt fashion. It’s almost a cliffhanger but feels like it comes way too early in the game to have been earned. Mutant Year Zero takes around 15 hours to finish and that’s a fine length for how it’s structured as a video game, so the narrative structure should follow suit. It’s unfortunate because the time spent with Dux and company is largely enjoyable and there’s so much more I’d like to know about the world and its history.
Also not helping the story is audio issues. The sound cuts out intermittently at the start of every cutscene and new area. A patch has smoothed some of this out since I finished the game, but unfortunately, it didn’t come quite soon enough. It’s still there on occasion, but it is at least much better now.
Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden is a positive step in the right direction for the future of turn-based strategy on a mechanical level, but it finds itself lacking in the storytelling department. Hopefully, we get more from this world. A bigger, deeper sequel is a must at this point because there’s huge potential for Mutant Year Zero to be a frontrunner in the strategy arena.
Mutant Year Zero Road to Eden review code provided on PS4 by the publisher.
Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden is out now on PS4, Xbox One and PC.