Inspired by XCOM, this new strategy title once again proves that turn-based tactics can be just as intense and exciting as action games.
The Christmas rush might be over for another year, with the last of the big name games already in stores – both online and off – but the games industry has not entirely shut up shop for the year. There are a number of smaller titles out this month that dont deserve to be ignored. Especially this strange but entertaining mix of XCOM, stealth, and talking animals.
Were not sure the cover art of anthropomorphic ducks and pigs isnt going to put off more people than they attract but were certainly glad that the game didnt just default to using aliens or ordinary soldiers for its characters. Instead, Mutant Year Zero is a post-apocalyptic world filled with mutated animals, psychopathic humans, robots, and much more besides.
Turn-based strategy games arent usually noted for their visuals but Mutant Year Zeros world is surprisingly beautiful – dominated by thick vegetation but peppered with the remains of human civilisation. There is no strategy level meta game, as there is in XCOM, but instead you get to explore the world in real-time, like a top-down action adventure. But if that sounds almost relaxing let us tell you about the games difficulty level…
When you start Mutant Year Zero you get three difficult setting options, with the default being Hard and the suggestion that if youre already familiar with turn-based games you should probably start here. All three settings also get the option for permadeath, so that if any of your characters are killed theyre gone forever and cannot be revived. As big fans of XCOM we naturally plumped for hard mode and felt particularly confident in our choice once we realised just how similar the tactical interface is to Firaxis classic.
Although for a long time turn-based strategy games have been almost the solve preserve of PCs, XCOM: Enemy Unknown proved that they can work perfectly well on consoles – to the point where we actually now prefer the more tactile feel of using a joypad.
Its not just that the controls are easy to get the hang of but that the basics of gameplay are actually very simple: you have a set number of action points per turn which you can spend on moving, shooting, or a few other stock abilities. Once you open fire your turn is over, so basically all youre doing is pointing and clicking at where you want to move and who you want to shoot.
Playing the game is extremely easy, even for a complete newcomer to the genre, but playing it well is a different matter entirely. Cover is vitally important and leaving any of your characters out in the open at the end of a turn will ensure disaster. So instead you have to plan your moves so that everyone stays in cover, isnt bunched up, but is able to cover each other and ideally flank the enemy.
You basically get to do all the things you shout at action heroes for not doing in movies and although the action is turn-based its all very fast paced, and often extremely tense. Especially because, as weve mentioned, its really, really hard. Or at least it is unless you learn some new tactics.
Apart from the whole talking animals shtick Mutant Year Zeros main contribution to the genre is the idea that you can walk around as normal before a fight and through stealth either avoid battles (especially if opponents are higher level than you) or set-up an ambush and/or take out one or more before the battle starts.
This involves simply toggling a crouch button and sneaking around the visibility cones (well, circles) indicating where each enemy is looking. Get the drop on one and youll start a fight with a significant advantage and a clear idea of the landscape around you. That and the illusion, at least, that youre a strategy badass.
Mutant Year Zeros mechanics work very well but there is the issue that, given the lack of any top-level strategy element, the game begins to run out of new tricks well before its end. There are some typically tough choices to make when customising characters but theres never the sense of constant technological improvement as there is in XCOM.
Whats also a problem is that, again unlike XCOM, theres no random element at all, which eats into the longevity of what is already a fairly short and linear game. Mutant Year Zero doesnt come close to the near perfection of its main inspiration but it has a number of interesting takes on the genre that wed love to see more of. So if youre unimpressed by this years bigger name titles than it might be a wise strategy to consider Mutant Year Zero.
Mutant Year Zero: Road To Eden
In Short: More than just XCOM with talking animals, this inventive strategy game has plenty of new ideas of its own – even its a little lacking in replayability.
Pros: An excellent combat system that learns the lessons of XCOM and, in its use of real-time stealth, has some interesting concepts of its own. Great graphics and a sturdy challenge.
Cons: The lack of a meta game leaves the game running out of new ideas by halfway through. Relatively short and linear, with no random element to encourage replays.
Formats: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One, and PC
Developer: The Bearded Ladies
Release Date: 4th December 2018
Age Rating: 16
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