The world as we know it has ended. Our advanced technology could only take us so far, and now remains simply a distant memory. Skyscrapers are just stories passed down by the elders to those willing to listen. This is the world of Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden. If it sounds a bit familiar, that's because it is; the post-apocalypse is probably the most common setting in games. So while it's easy for stories set in this world to be derivative, Mutant Year Zero manages to set itself apart as a unique tactical adventure.
Like the name itself, MYZ: RtE presents itself as a generic world-ending story. The player controls a group of scavengers as they embark on a mission to find Eden, a mythical city and the last vestige of hope in their broken world. They'll journey to many desolate places: The Cave of Fear (a tunnel filled with car wrecks) and The Sea Titans (a marooned ship) are just two of the earlier levels. The player will take their heroes a long way from their home in the Ark, a neon city far above the water and the dangers of the mutated "Zone." Zone, Eden, Ark; it's as if the developers were selecting from a mad-libs of post-apocalyptic storytelling. Luckily, derivation ends, like the game's burrowing mutants, just below the surface.
The player starts outside of the zone, leading their small team of Dux and Bormin. Dux is a mutated duck-human who enjoys saying "duck you" (not quite as groan-worthy as it sounds) and Bormin is a boar-man with a tough exterior and even tougher demeanor. Their dialogue injects just the right amount of color into the darkened, moody setting. It's a nice contrast to games that feel their characters have to be just as depressing as the worlds in which they reside. After a few quick introductory levels, the player is introduced to a third part member, Selma: a female human mutant. She fits right in with the squad, her sarcastic energy a nice compliment to Bormin's drier sense of humor. All of the characters (including ones unlocked later) converse while traversing the world with their own distinct observations, and during combat with exclamations and put-downs. These interjections really help to spice up the long turn-based cycles.
There are essentially two different modes of traversal: the exploratory free-roam and the turn-based movement system. All levels start with the player given free control over their team, able to switch between the crew with the press of a button. The group can be split up or travel together, giving the player the ability to set-up tactically for a fight before it starts. Before combat, the player can also search for collectibles like scrap, which can be used to upgrade weapons, and armor, hats, or weapons to equip. While in the real-time mode, players will need to use stealth to their advantage, sneaking past high-level enemies and finding cover to take the advantage if a fight breaks out.
And fights will break out. Though Mutant Year Zero smartly incorporates its stealth system, the key component of its gameplay is the turn-based combat. Similar to games like XCOM and Mario + Rabbids, the player moves about the battlefield, indicated with spaces, using cover and flanking enemies to deal damage without getting it dished out on them. Each character has two actions possible during a turn, from movement, to firing a weapon or throwing a grenade, to a special ability. The interfaces used here are beautifully designed and easy to navigate. It's a pleasure to shoot and run one's way through the destructible overgrown cities and junkyards.
Though their personalities (and adorable yet semi-realistic appearances) are what makes the characters standout, their abilities are also unique. Mutant Year Zero features a progression system that unlocks fighting and passive powers for each squad member. After leveling up from fighting, the player can spend points at their leisure, upgrading health or range or trying out something new. For example, Dux can sprout moth wings and fly, allowing him to gain a high-ground advantage in the middle of a firefight. Bormin can eat the corpses of slain enemies to regain health, solidifying his position as the tanky member of the team.
In addition to character upgrades, players can also modify loadouts and team abilities. A quick trip to the Ark (the game's functional hub world) grants the player the chance to visit several other fun characters: Delta, who upgrades weapons, Pripp who helps level up the team as a whole, and Iridia, who sells grenades, medkits, and weapons. Paying these folk a visit is vital in surviving out in the zone and making it past higher level enemies.
Because all though the characters are cutesy at times (even in their boarish-ness), the world is unforgiving. Fighting off other scavengers, robots, and mutants becomes increasingly difficult, even on the normal difficulty settings. Throw in the fact that players can access an "Iron Mode" with permadeath, and Mutant Year Zero undoubtedly offers a challenge for every player. Those who have played turn-based combat games before will be familiar with the set-up, but pleased with how well designed the AI is, flanking the player and retreating at all the right moments. Reacting correctly and going into a fight prepared and stealthily is key.
The post-apocalypse has seen its fair share of heroes; unique as they may be, their world is always about survival. In Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden, the concept is the same, but the approach makes the journey well worth it. Fans of turn-based combat will want to make sure to add this to their collection.
Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden is available now on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC for $34.99. Screen Rant was provided a digital PS4 code for this review.