Mutant Year Zero: Road To Eden first hit my view back in February of 2018 with a fancy Cinematic trailer. While this trailer was wholly overselling the product, even seemingly showing itself as more of a Survival game, the final product released with a more tactical approach, focusing on stealth and strategy. Created by The Bearded Ladies, a group of developers who worked on HITMAN and PAYDAY, Mutant aims to set itself apart from XCOM in the genre of tactical RPGs. Now in 2019 the Mutant Year Zero: Road To Eden arrives on the Nintendo Switch, with all its core content and DLC for one price £34.99.
Set several years after a nuclear war, we take control of several Hunters, a group of explorers of this harsh world who bring back supplies to the Ark. The Ark is the last bastion for sane humans and mutants of the radioactivity. With the boar, Bormin, and the duck, Dux, we will be scavenging for scrap and killing Ghouls in The Zone. Ghouls are seemingly mostly humans who have suffered from Rot, basically emptying their brain and becoming psychotic. Some people will get S.T.A.L.K.E.R vibes from the story design, which isn’t a bad thing, but some choices and designs do cling a bit too close to that comparison.
Returning to The Ark, we are given a new quest to search for the main mechanic of the city, who left on an expedition. From there we will be travelling to the northern snow areas and the tropical southern areas. The game only really has 2-3 main quests, which end kind of anticlimactically as you complete them and then are just given the next quest to follow through. As you complete missions and explore you will be treated to painted picture cutscenes, with Bormin narrating the adventure.
It will take around 10 hours to finish your first playthrough of Mutant Year Zero that’s not including all the DLC which adds even more hours lost in the game, not forgetting to grab all the artefacts, notes and complete all side areas which add even more hours. There isn’t much point in a replay of this game, besides wanting to try the harder difficulties or select a different choice in 1 quest. I reloaded for that “choice” and it isn’t all that exciting, again it is another anticlimactic end.
Mutant plays like a combination of How to Survive and XCOM, you will be using WASD to explore the areas and collecting scrap when you get close. If you can spot enemies you can enter stealth mode with left click, approach closer or get into the higher ground to then ambush them for the 1st turn. Entering combat will change the dynamic to a turn-based strategy game, where each unit has a certain movement speed and their own gear and abilities. The cover will aid in you defending against incoming fire, with the higher ground allowing you better accuracy.
One of the best features of Mutant is the ability to destroy almost all cover and platforms, allowing the charging enemies to bash straight through a wall or chuck a grenade into a building to blow up half a wall. There was one part in my playthrough where I had destroyed 10 separate parts of walls to a barn, then threw a grenade to demolish a large upper floor and even more walls, killing some enemies and knocking the rest down. This use of the environment to aid in combat feels fluid, realistic and amazingly satisfying.
Over the course of the game you will pick up 5 total characters to play with, a team composing of 3 units at a time. Each character has their own abilities, from increased range, mind control, a charge rush that knocks an enemy unconscious, wings and more. Making the best team for a certain situation is amazingly creative, from having 2 people who can stun robots to a full stealth team to ambush wanderers without alerting the other guards.
As you defeat enemies you will gain experience, scrap, and items from their corpses. Experience is shared between the whole team, with a level-up being gifted for pretty much every encounter. When you level up you will get a skill point to unlock new abilities or increase the health and 1 stat of the unit, from their movement speed to critical chance. Levels are only really important for these skills as they don’t seem to give anything else. Scrap is used back at the Ark to upgrade your weapons whereas items come in the form of grenades and medkits.
The soundtrack in Mutant is very awe-inspiring and dramatic, often suiting the “twists” it tries to throw at you during the story. Feeling akin to the music attached to movie trailers or for amazing scenes of vistas, the tracks like to infuse emotion into the painted cutscenes. Combat and traversal also come with some quieter tracks, with action-packed tracks for certain areas and encounters.
While Mutant is a tactical game the difficulty isn’t always moulded to the skill of the player. Most battles are stacked against the player, with enemies being able to spam their abilities while the player requires kills for theirs, the enemies also have unlimited throwables, medkits and are generally in much larger groups. While it seems like stealth is an optional mechanic, with the stacked odds it feels almost a necessity if you wish to get through the game without any deaths.
Since the fights are so built up to kill you it is a welcome sight to see that plenty of enemies go out on patrols, allowing you to pick them off 1 by 1, as well as attention to detail in the makeup of the environments. There are plenty of areas where you can get to higher ground, or behind cover, to strategically place your units in preparation for combat. Though like anything in gaming, this isn’t a guarantee, as there were a few areas that lacked any high ground or suitable cover to position yourself in before the fight.
Mutant feels as if it thinks the twists and turns it throws at us are amazingly crafted or unforeseen, they are not. Falling into too many clichés, Mutant gives us turnarounds that are seen only 4 hours into the 10-hour campaign. Adding into this is the Hollywood style soundtrack that wants to bolster the shock and awe of the story beats along the way, which work adversely to what they want, as it feels too self-congratulatory. If this game was to be played by a younger audience they may not notice the hints, and they are big hints, but with the design choices, it doesn’t seem geared to a younger audience.
Overall, Mutant Year Zero: Road To Eden gets an 8/10, it is an enjoyable alternative to the XCOM series with more of a focus on stealth and exploration. The smaller areas allow for better performance, as well as a more controlled experience with higher attention to detail. Sadly the story does fail at being surprising, becoming too cliché and dull at points, but the tactical gameplay does help to alleviate those annoyances. I personally enjoyed the gameplay in this release than that of XCOM, but others may prefer the more army and sci-fi styles of XCOM. With the Switch version is much better played Docked, why, BLURRRRRRR it is terrible playing the game in handheld mode.
Mutant Year Zero: Road To Eden was developed by The Bearded Ladies Consulting and Published and is available on PS4, Xbox One, PC and Nintendo Switch