Take XCOM, mix in some humor and stealth mechanics, add a few memorable characters, and you get Mutant Year Zero: Road To Eden.

Ever since I laid my eyes on the first gameplay video for Mutant Year Zero: Road To Eden, I was eager to play it. The promise of XCOM-like turn-based combat with real-time exploration and stealth is pretty much everything I like in a game.

I’m happy to say that Mutant Year Zero not only delivers on all that promise but is actually one of the best tactical games I’ve played in recent years. It gets rid of all the resource and base management we get in games like XCOM, and instead focuses on tactics and the Mutant universe lore.

Meet the Mutants

Mutant Year Zero: Road To Eden is based on a Swedish pen-and-paper RPG called “Mutant.” As a result of global warming, plagues, and nuclear wars, the human race is almost completely extinct. Small groups of robots, deformed humans, and animal mutants are the last remains of humanity.

In this post-apocalyptic world, resources are scarce, and there is a constant need to explore and scavenge for more. The harsh conditions and hostile environments make exploration possible only for Stalkers – mutants who can survive in the irradiated Zone.

We start the game with two Stalkers: Dux the mutant duck who’s basically the game’s mascot, and Bormin, a mutant boar. More mutants join the party as our journey continues, like Selma and Farrow the fox.

Dux and Bormin are trying to reach The ARK – a haven for the remnants of humanity. Once there, they are sent on a mission to discover the fate of a lost Stalker crew, which is when the proper game starts.

Stealth Is Your Key to Success

When out exploring the Zone, you do it in real-time. You can find random scraps like gear or weapon parts scattered throughout the maps, move around nearby enemies or interact with points of interest as you do so. You can even split up your party and control each member individually for a more tactical approach.

Mutant Year Zero review Dux and Bormin

Splitting up your group is an essential part of the combat and stealth mechanics. That way, you can sneak past enemy patrols and do some reconnaissance, learn their numbers of movements and set the perfect ambush. Enemies in Mutant Year Zero have awareness circles around them, indicating how far they see or hear you. As long as you don’t find yourself inside one of these circles, your squad member will remain hidden. Your Stalkers can also hide behind cover, and out of sight, and let patrols walk right by them.

I found stealth mechanics very useful throughout the game. I often stumbled upon large groups of enemies and had to take out their scouts one by one carefully. Finally, I would plan an ambush by positioning squad members at strategic locations for a surprise attack.

Like XCOM, but with a Duck

Once you initiate a combat encounter, the game switches to turn-based gameplay. Each squad member has two action-points to spend how you see fit. They can move, attack, go into overwatch, reload and heal – all the standard actions you might find in a tactical shooter.

As the characters we are playing have deep ties to the plot, there’s no permadeath, so even if they fall in battle, they’ll get right back up again when the last enemy dies. As a side note: once you complete the game once, you unlock Iron Mode, where permadeath is a thing, and combat is much more difficult.

Mutant Year Zero review XCOM like

Even outside Iron Mode, I found combat in Mutant Year Zero to be challenging and often uneven. The game pits you against some very tough enemies and going heads on into the fight will most likely get you killed. True to its nature, Mutant Year Zero isn’t an action game – it’s a tactical adventure, and you’ll need to think tactically and use everything you have if you want to make it to the end.

All in all, there is nothing really new here, and if you’ve ever played one of the recent XCOM games, you will fill right at home. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, and I personally really like XCOM’s combat system.

You Must Evolve to Survive

Characters in Mutant Year Zero each has an inventory where you can choose the most suitable gear against the enemies you are facing. They can equip three outfit items and two different weapons you can switch between in battles. Equipment such as grenades, medical kits, and guns can be bought for scrap, the game’s main currency, at the ARK.

Scrap is essentially pieces of broken electronics or old machine parts you can find in chests while exploring the Zone. You can also upgrade any weapon by adding attachments to them or by improving them in the ARKs Delta’s Fix Pit using weapon parts.

Mutant Year Zero review combat

However, equipment and guns will only get you so far. What you really need are mutations. Each of our stalkers has a unique skill tree divided into active skills, passive stat boosters, and mutations. Characters’ skill trees compliment their unique style of play style. Take Dux, for example; he is a sniper, and usually keeps his distance from the action. His mutations can unlock crippling strikes and range bonuses that give him a tactical advantage as a long-range shooter.

Bormin, on the other hand, is more of a tank character and is better suited to fight up close, dealing a lot of damage with his shotguns. His skills reflect that, allowing him to gain an additional action point, or even become invincible for a turn.

Get Lost in a Post-apocalyptic World

Mutant Year Zero looks and sounds absolutely fantastic. The attention to details that went into designing the maps and environments make it very easy to lose yourself in this post-apocalyptic world. Each location provides you with enough tactical opportunities in battles and is fun to explore, especially when you stumble upon an item that sheds more light on the past events.

The random conversations between your squad members also contribute to the immersion and I especially enjoyed listening to make funny references to old artifacts such as a Boombox.

Mutant Year Zero review post-apocalyptic world

Mutant Year Zero: Road To Eden is an excellent game. Not only does it delivers an outstanding tactical experience, but it also does so with cool characters design and plot. It took me around 20 hours to complete the campaign while leisurely exploring every area, and for an indie title (that’s priced accordingly) that’s more than decent. There’re not a lot of reasons to replay it, though, unless you really enjoy the challenge of permadeath.

If you like the XCOM games for their combat more than their base-building and are looking for a new title to quench your thirst for tactical shooting, Mutant Year Zero is that game.

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