Let me set the scene for anyone who hasn’t seen anything about Mutant Year Zero. Firstly, it is based off the pen and paper RPG game. It is set in a post-apocalyptic world where feral dogs, ghouls, abandoned robots, to name a few, wander the scrapyards, demolished churches and what remains of towns hunting stalkers. The Ark is your home where you can purchase items, hand over rare artefacts found in the zone, upgrade your weapons or speak with the Elder. The Zone is where the game unfolds as you search for scrap, rescue lost members of the Ark and discover the mysteries of Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden.
You play as stalkers, brave mutants that the Ark relies on to find the needed scrap and food in the Zone to keep the Ark functioning and inhabitants alive. I won’t spoil who the extra characters you will find as you play through the game are but the two main stalkers are Dux the half-duck half-human with a sense of humour and Bormin your shotgun wielding tank character. Despite minimal backstory, I found myself really enjoying the characters. Each has their own characteristics that you will see as you explore the world and I certainly found myself attached to these two and never switched them out of my squad.
So that sets the scene of what you are getting into, now let’s talk about the good stuff and how this game plays. Mutant Year Zero can be seen as a hybrid within the turn-based combat genre as it maintains the usual two actions per turn while in combat that most will be familiar with from titles such as XCOM but adds open world exploration into the mix. It works! Not only does it work but it has changed how I look at turn-based strategy. Gone is the slow turn wasting attempts to sneak up on your enemy and instead it is replaced with a natural feeling pre-fight planning time that you control.
Being able to explore the area before you engage into combat allows you to by-pass enemies if you just want to move onto the next zone or where I feel it works best and probably where Mutant Year Zero want you to use it is to pick off small packs of enemies before engaging the main force. In most cases, you will be outnumbered and outgunned so getting an idea of the level design and amount of enemies is key to being successful. This stealth approach allows you to ambush enemies and with the right equipment take them out without alerting anyone else.
I will be honest with you, this game is hard even on the easiest difficulty. Sometimes poor planning was the cause other times it was Dux missing a 75% success shot. However, I was more successful when I took advantage of getting set up right. Taking out wandering patrols to bring the total enemy numbers down to a more reasonable level was as important as making sure you equipped recently found grenades. Yes, I died a lot but this just added to the enjoyment of clearing through a Zone when a plan came together and Dux had his eye in!
Having the right set up on your stalkers is also a key part of this game. Mutant Year Zero isn’t the deepest RPG out there as you will easily have all the mutations you want way before the final missions. Armour items that offer ‘perks’ such as extra damage when hidden and so on are found scattered around the map but can’t be changed at all. Weapons have two slots for extra items and 3 levels of upgrades. Where this all comes together though is when you pair all the right stuff together. Giving Dux wings, a bonus critical damage chance when shooting from a height and a long ranged rifle it all combines to make them a powerful character. I found Bormin’s Hog Rush mutation a key part of most of my battle plans so finding mutations that fit your game style is equally as important.
When you aren’t in combat you have the pleasure of exploring this world to collect scrap for the Ark, search chests for that next piece of armour for your stalkers or keeping an eye out for the much-needed medikits. The Zone is split up into large individual areas named after some ancient landmark which turns out to be an everyday item from our time such as a helicopter. I thought the world design was beautiful. Each area makes you want to explore to the edges looking for that rare scrap or to investigate items from the past.
The artwork for the cut scenes is fantastic and fits perfectly with the post-apocalyptic feel of the world. The characters are well written and I thoroughly enjoyed the odd comments from the squad as you wander through each zone. To hear the thoughts of the stalkers on what we would see as everyday items often got a chuckle from me.
Despite how hard this game can sometimes be I enjoyed playing through it. Finding new items to equip and test with different mutations in combat kept everything interesting, even if this sometimes resulted in quick deaths. I would fully recommend this game for anyone who has enjoyed any previous turn-based combat or wants to try some. The fact you get free to roam exploration mixed with turn-based combat makes this a great game.
The hardest part of writing this review was pulling myself away from the game to actually write it. Mutant Year Zero is a fun, challenging and rewarding game that I had a great time playing through. It has brought enough changes to feel fresh and new while maintaining the familiarity of the turn-based combat.
*Code kindly provided by the publisher for review*