Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden Review — A Welcome Genre Mutation
Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden is a unique and fun strategy game adaptation of an obscure tabletop game ripe with potential.
Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden isn’t the first video game to be adapted from a tabletop game, and it certainly won’t be the last. That being said, while most titles end up being based on large properties like Dungeons and Dragons or Warhammer, this game instead opts to flesh out the world of Mutant, an obscure Swedish tabletop game from the 1980s. Surprisingly, the world is quite interesting and dense, lending itself well to a strategy game clearly inspired by the XCOM series that attempts to stand out with unique exploration portions.
While some odd difficulty spikes, the game’s short length, and an overall budget-title feel can put a bit of a damper on the fun, Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden’s addition of real-time exploration in an interesting world are the kind of genre mutations (pun intended) that help spice up what could otherwise be considered a standard XCOM clone.
As I’ve mentioned in my previous previews of the title, one of the most interesting and unique aspects of Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden is the world it takes place in. The world of Mutant, which was previously only home to a couple of obscure tabletop games, is a post-apocalyptic one ripe with potential. Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden mainly follows two Stalkers (scavenging mutants) Bormin and Dux as they venture through the dangerous world in order to find the titular Eden and a missing technical genius named Hammon.
The Ark, which seemingly serves as the last bastion of humanity, requires Hammon’s expertise to run properly. As a result, the aforementioned Stalkers are sent out by The Elder, who may have connections to the pre-apocalypse world, in order to find Hammon. Throughout their journey, Bormin and Dux meet other interesting Stalkers named Selma, Magnus, and Farrow. These characters join the party as well, forming a creative and well-rounded main cast.
While the voice acting leaves a bit to be desired, the characters and world have a surprising amount of intrigue and depth that makes you want to see Mutant Year Zero: Road of Eden through to the end. While post-apocalyptic stories are usually considered to be overdone, this game is willing to get creative with its character and world designs, which constantly made me want to learn more. If anything, Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden’s story is a bit too short and ends a bit too abruptly, but I was still interested in everything that happened until then.
The tactical gameplay with Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden may be similar to XCOM titles at its core, but the gameplay loop of individual missions feels a bit different. Instead of having a massive army of soldiers to customize before sending them out into procedurally generated tactics-only battles, Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden has players enter each level in a real-time exploration mode that encourages stealth and planning before each skirmish.
While some XCOM-inspired games like Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle let players wander around the world outside of battle, I’d consider the real-time exploration mechanics an even more pivotal part of the experience with Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden. Outside of the fact that these exploration segments are where players will find most of the resources needed to upgrade and survive, players can draw singular enemies out and ambush them in this mode, thinning the enemies’ ranks before the real battle begins.
If nothing else, players can at least get themselves in an advantageous position before the first shots are fired. Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden can be nail-bitingly tough if players don’t do this, which should please the hardcore strategy game fans looking for a good challenge. Movement is quite slow, which may turn some people off, but it seems to have been a deliberate choice to encourage smart stealth and planning.
Once you get into a firefight, things get fairly cut and dry, though unique character abilities and weapons do fortunately spice things up. The additional power, verticality, or defense these special abilities can offer often prove pivotal in some of the game’s later fights. Like most strategy titles, Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden can occasionally suffer from odd difficulty spikes, but they can all be persevered if you take full advantage of that pre-battle exploration phase. It’s quite different than what other games in the genre offer, so the developers over at The Bearded Ladies Consulting ensured that it was a pivotal mechanic.
The weakest aspect of Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden when looked at alongside its competitors is the presentation. Fortunately, the game does not feature any significant frame rate issues and most of the environments feel atmospheric and look quite nice. That being said, character models, while creative looking, are mediocre and have rough animations.
Cutscenes also usually opt for a plain slideshow-with-voiceover format and the music is unmemorable. The game’s world and overall presentation does have its own unique strengths, but when it’s compared to the high presentation bar of quality titles like XCOM 2 and Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden does pale a bit in comparison.
There’s no shortage of XCOM-inspired strategy games nowadays. Fans of the genre can satiate themselves with everything from the granddaddy that is XCOM: Enemy Unknown to indie titles like Phantom Doctrine and Nintendo games like Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle. While all of these titles are unique in a few ways, the genre is at risk of becoming saturated.
Hopefully, this won’t be happening anytime soon if strategy games continue to introduce unique takes on the tride-and-true formula like Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden does with its real-time exploration segments. Even though Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden’s length and parts of the presentation may lack when compared to those aforementioned titles, this is a strategy game title I see myself consistently returning to.
Its handcrafted levels and real-time exploration segments encourage me to be even more thorough in future runs, and I couldn’t help but fall in love with the interesting yet underexposed world of Mutant. There are tons of intriguing but obscure worlds like that of Mutant that are ripe with potential when it comes to video game adaptations, and I’d love to see more get the same treatment that Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden received in the future.