Do we need to fear AI? It seems to be a hot topic right now and there are plenty of games out there that seem to delve into the issue. Just look a Quantic Dream’s latest game Detroit: Become Human, all about androids that become sentient and stage an uprising for equal rights. But what if instead of protesting for equal treatment, robots instead sought to kill all humans and punch the earth into rubble and dust. That seems to be the main premise behind Metal Max Xeno, an apocalyptic, tank-driving RPG from NIS America. Humanity is on the brink of extinction and it’s up to you to find survivors and eradicate these damn machines. Talis is your stereotypical protagonist, a serious sort of guy with a chip on his shoulder. He is on a mission to avenge the death of his mother at the hands of these machines.
From the beginning of the game, it’s easy to see that graphically this isn’t going to impress you. The cel-shaded characters bring a little charm but are ultimately lost amongst the bland, monotonous environments and the garish user interface. Textures look very last gen and the controls can feel clunky, especially when driving your tank through certain areas. It’s a shame really, post-apocalyptic worlds don’t need to be this empty and dull, just look at Nier: Automata!
Trundling through deserts full of repetitive wreckage and burnt out cars in your tank really feels like a chore, especially when you’re going out your way to get to one of the many item boxes that are scattered throughout the terrain. Luckily once you reach certain markers there is fast travel, but it’s getting there in the first place that is a total slog.
Battles crop up randomly in good RPG fashion but this time you can land a pre-emptive strike by blasting the enemies from afar with your tank. Kill a solo enemy on your first strike and there will be no need to enter battle and you will still reap the rewards of items and experience. If you don’t kill it the first time or there is more than one enemy, then you will enter a turn-based battle. During these battles, you will have to watch out for things like ammunition and the condition of your equipment while in the tank. Damaged guns do less damage, and these can be destroyed altogether, rendering them useless. If your tank is destroyed, then you will fight on foot which will end horrifically if you’re against a very large machine. Battles can feel tedious, especially at the start of the game until you can mix up your arsenal and obtain better tanks.
What you will have to watch out for is the condition of your tank and your ammunition as they don’t replenish after each battle. This means you must fast travel back to base to refresh your party and equipment before taking on a difficult area. At the base, you can build new weapons and tank parts and restock on any items, but oh boy is it a grind! Each boss along the way will present a challenge and it’s all about backpedalling, levelling up and upgrading as well as switching up your formations and strategies to take down your foes. The grinding wouldn’t feel as tedious if it wasn’t enveloped in boring terrains and repetitive enemies. This is where Metal Max Zeno fails to capture your interest. What helps it slightly is the adaptable strategies and the different abilities each character can learn so that you can experiment with different play styles and strategies.
It’s all about the tanks but it’s also about the story. There are some story beats that will catch your attention but ultimately, it’s hard to care about when it’s presented the way it is. Which is a shame, some enemies are extremely creative, ranging from giant robot spiders to huge dinosaur warships and certain characters scream personality but they are hindered by a world full of empty landscapes and patchy framerates.
Metal Max Xeno fails to capture a convincing post-apocalyptic world. There are a lot of great ideas in the combat and in the story but this all seems futile when presented in such a tedious manner. Controls seem clunky and the grinding levels can be a bore. The characters try to beat some life into the world but with such a mammoth task they just don’t seem to succeed. The tanks are pretty cool though, and a dinosaur warship? What an amazing idea.
*Code kindly provided by the publisher for review*