Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden – A Duck and A Pig Walk into a Bar
Sneaking past a robot remnant from a past civilization, I managed to reach my destination. Once there I found what I was looking for, an artifact from long ago, the remains of a once proud race that destroyed itself with a combination of nuclear power, genetic warfare and hubris. This artifact could mean our ragged band of survivors can live for another month in this harsh world. Beset by unholy ghouls, ravenous animals and the remains of a robotic police force from long ago we need all the help we can get. Ducking out of the ruins, mistakenly I stumbled into the patrol pattern of a robot, long ago programmed to keep the peace through any means necessary. Quickly diving behind a barrier for protection, I let loose a barrage of bullets in the direction of the robot, bringing it to a swift demise. But sadly the sound of gunfire alerted robotic companions nearby, forcing myself and my teammates into the one situation we didn’t want to find ourselves in, a full-on firefight. After what seemed like an age we emerged, bloody and bruised but victorious. With our hard-won artifact in hand and a fresh load of scrap metal thanks to the dead robots littered across the ground, we head home. Another day survived.
Oh by the way, did I mention I am a duck?
Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden is much like its lead characters, a mutant, a hybrid of other things. Part Xcom, Part RPG, part Adventure, Mutant Year Zero manages to combine all of these things into one of the most surprising games of the year. The first steps into this world are gentle and full of wonder. The lush, forested environments hide the remains of the past, a world that was lost. Now all that is left is a group of survivors living in the “ark”, the last known community of people that have avoided the corruption of the ruined world. These survivors have taken in mutants and trained them as stalkers, hunters that are immune to the world’s corruption. These mutants are humans, that for whatever reason, have been melded with animals or geography. The game started with me taking control of a Warthog and a Duck and as the game progressed I met a Fox lady, A rock man and a woman with a deep connection to trees. These stalkers are in charge of special missions from the leader of the survivors and are sent into the world to find supplies and perhaps even find Eden, a mythical place that can house the remaining survivors in safety.
Where things get tricky is with the other inhabitants of this ruined earth. Insane ghouls, robots still carrying out aggressive programming and wild dogs litter the world and every one of them wants to take a piece out of my stalkers. These enemies can be dealt with in two ways. The first is through combat. This is where the Xcom component kicks in. Turn-based strategy is the order of the day and Xcom veterans will instantly find themselves at home. Half/full cover, overwatch, run and gun it’s all there. The combat works beautifully and is one of the game’s true highlights. But be warned, this is a tough title. Taking on enemies more than 3 levels above you is almost suicide, no matter how good your tactics are and the difference between victory and defeat is often one move. Even on normal difficulty, it is very easy to die, forcing a reload. This is something Xcom fans are used to, but it still pays to warn newcomers to the genre.
The second way of dealing with enemies is to avoid them all together or take them out silently. This is the first time I have played a game of this nature that has a huge focus on stealth. Enemies have a visible detection area that allows players to sneak through them, reaching their destination without ever firing a bullet. Another useful tactic is watching patrol patterns and waiting until one enemy is out of sight of its brethren, thus allowing you to take them out with silenced weapons. This tactic is almost essential when dealing with large groups of baddies as it is very easy to find yourself swarmed under by attackers. It is so refreshing to see stealth mechanics implemented so successfully in this genre, it adds a huge amount of depth to the game and creates opportunities for outside of the box thinking which seems to be a rarity in games these days.
If there is one problem with the game it is that I felt like I was constantly under-levelled. It would have been nice to have some more side-missions or challenges to boost my XP and allow me to upgrade my characters quicker. Following the story, I felt constantly like I was a step behind, too underpowered to continue. Sure it made every victory fist-pumpingly satisfying but it also feels like the balance is off just a little. It wouldn’t take much to fix this and I am quietly confident that it will be addressed, but as it is this already tough game is made even tougher by a slowish upgrade cycle.
Graphically the game is great. A wonderful art style and superb character creation highlight a game that has obviously had a lot of love from the art department. The animal characters are especially detailed and that is only supported by some great voice acting and genuinely enjoyable writing. In fact, every single aspect of presentation in the game deserves top marks. This is a game the developers have taken great pride in and it shows in every character, environment and joke. I would even go so far to say that it is a better-presented game than Xcom, a title made by the much larger Firaxis and also one of my favourite games ever, so that is saying a lot.
With Mutant Year Zero, Funcom has released a title that will not only appeal to those that like hard-core strategy, but lovers of isometric RPGs as well. Neither the RPG or combat components are individually as strong as the games it is so clearly inspired by, but together they combine to create a wonderfully unique experience that takes both genres in new directions. Add to this some wonderful stealth mechanics and a sound and visual design second to none and Mutant Year Zero has easily climbed its way into my top games of the year. Mutant Year Zero is the perfect amalgam of two well-loved genres and those that enjoy either shouldn’t hesitate to dive in.