Traversing the Zone – Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden review

Dracolich – Friday, December 7, 2018 10:08 PM
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I have long since been a fan of tactical shooters, which is precisely why I booted up Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden with a feeling of excited anticipation – it’s based on a Swedish tabletop board game and offers the peculiar blend of XCOM-esque tactical combat and a stealth-oriented open world adventure game. Despite their anthropomorphic appearance and somewhat clichéd names, I grew quite fond of the two main leads within minutes of starting the campaign, and as I began my journey back to the Ark, I was thrust into a twisted, grotesque world with a truly exceptional atmosphere.

Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden takes place in a world in which humanity sought to solve the environmental crisis – caused partly by nature and partly by mankind itself – with a nuclear war, creating the ruined world you see as you first start playing. Humans are regarded as the so-called ancients; the makers and destroyers of a world where strange artifacts of varying usefulness litter the lands as far as the eye can see: things that can either be interesting, dangerous or even terrifying, such as an accumulator or a boombox, or even a school building filled with peculiar drawings. The game uses its narrative, as well as the characters’ banter to draw attention to these peculiarities, and does so in a way that feels charming enough, but not without a tinge of dark humor. (And let’s face it, the ancients do exhibit all sorts of peculiarities – it’s something I’m forced to experience on a daily basis.)

The handful of survivors that took shelter within the safe haven of the Ark (where everyone is a mutant except for the wise Elder leading them) have to deal not only with the sheer scarcity of resources, but the ever-present threat of the cannibalistic ghouls as well – they’re one of the many side effects of the nuclear catastrophe. Stalkers are tasked with regularly venturing out into the Zone to scavenge for potentially useful trinkets, and when the Ark’s tech expert, Hammon, goes missing, it’s up to you and your fellow stalkers to find him and bring him home. As you make it deeper into the Zone, following one strange clue after another, it becomes apparent that the Elder didn’t quite tell you everything about the world, a fact that consequently creates even more questions – questions concerning the identity of the ghouls and their creation, as well as the existence of Eden, a mythical paradise said to be no more than a fairy tale…

Tactics, stealth, tactical stealth

Gameplay in Mutant Year Zero largely consists of exploring the various areas of the Zone in any order you see fit, sneaking around enemies, defeating them through tactical shooting segments, as well as upgrading your gear back at the Ark. With each level-up, your characters gain points that can be spent to earn various mutation abilities – special skills that can have a decisive influence on the outcome of battles.

Each upgrade path should be considered quite carefully, though, and knowing exactly when to use each mutation ability during a given battle is the key to victory. The reason is simple: your mutant skills can only be used once before they need to be recharged by scoring additional kills.

Well… Dux the Polis.
Sadly, your squad is limited to a total of three members at any given time, which is sort of a bummer, especially when you finally stumble upon a fourth party member. However, by tailoring the abilities of your squad to be able to deal with specific combat situations, even a team that small is enough to survive each given encounter.

That’s not to say that the campaign’s combat encounters aren’t challenging, though, and in certain areas, it is indeed recommended to pick stealth over brute force. Unlike in numerous other tactical games, drawing the attention of every enemy in the area is something you simply cannot afford to do in Mutant Year Zero: it is far more viable to lay low and pick off each foe with stealthy, well-placed ambushes, or if that’s not an option, to tackle an encounter with sufficiently upgraded weapons and a largely defense-oriented strategy. The upgrade system is simple yet effective, but it doesn’t mean upgrading guns and picking extra accessories should be done without some level of careful consideration. You do, after all, need to pay for said upgrades with scrap that requires quite a bit of scavenging to find, and even then, you have a fairly limited budget to work with.

“Say my name, jizzwipe! It’s Farrow!”
The game offers about two dozen hours’ worth of adventures in the Zone, with optional areas and battles. Additionally, aside from the fact that there are a few mandatory enemies to slay, the campaign lets you freely decide whether to choose stealth or go into an encounter with guns blazing. The narrative is linear and reveals its secrets in a gradual manner, with a final twist that will come as no surprise to anyone that paid attention to the various bits of foreshadowing peppered throughout the campaign – the story is, nonetheless, constructed in a logical way and everything fits into the context of the world the game creates. The overall experience is further improved by the game’s array of inventive locations, amusing NPC chatter, and a soundtrack that serves as the perfect companion to the gloomy atmosphere of the Zone.

On the whole, Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden is an entertaining and sufficiently satisfying product that doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel, but what it does, it does very well – for fans of the genre, it’s a title very much worth checking out. Here’s hoping we get a sequel at one point in the future, preferably sooner than later.

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