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Off late I have been playing a lot of tactical turn-based RPG games, even replaying old games that I finished many years back. One such game that I had purchased for the PlayStation way back in 2019 was “Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden” and picked up the DLC for the game in 2020. I usually don’t buy add-on content for a game that I haven’t played but going by the gushing reviews and trailers and small snippets of gameplay I had seen at the time, I was pretty sure that I would play the game.
Cut to 2021 and for some strange reason I never got a chance to play the Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden game until a few weeks back. I know! Weird time to be playing a post-apocalyptic game given the current state of the world we live in.
So, what is Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden all about?
At its core Mutant Year Zero is a turn based tactical RPG with an isometric perspective of the action on the lines of an X-COM (2012) game but with its own spin on it. The spin being that you have free reign over the map and you can engage into combat at your choice or avoid enemy encounters completely. This stealth system approach before and after combat where you are given the ability to explore the area for loot and key items is vastly different from the “traditional” X-COM style of gameplay.
Does it have a multiplayer option or mode?
Sadly, no this is still a local single player experience only and given the scope of the game (the size of the map, environments, enemy variants etc.) that is a good thing in my opinion. Since this isn’t a full priced game (40$ USD) and scope of the overall game seemed a bit smaller but players were expected to get a more focused slice of game from this type of genre. This coming from a small development studio called The Breaded Ladies from Sweden, having people who were former HITMAN leads and the designer of PAYDAY. I am not saying that more focused game made by a smaller team can not be fun but the PS4 version is sadly plagued with multiple technical issues. So I am glad there wasn’t a multiplayer option which would have just added more pressure on the team to get it right.
What is it like to play Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden?
The game’s setting takes place in a post-apocalyptic world, were most of humanity have died due to the outbreak of a deadly virus and the fallout from a nuclear war (sheesh). You are primarily playing the role of scavengers known as Stalkers in this universe who are also a bunch of mutants. Fun fact, some of the mutants are some form of animal-human hybrids? Yup, some of the main party members that you first encounter in the game are a talking duck and a boar (definitely not the kind you are used to seeing on T.V like Daffy & Pumba) sneaking past enemies wielding a shotgun and crossbow. The characters are colorful bunch, some are even just regular looking humans but mixed in with x-men type powers.
The actual gameplay is on an isometric view of the map that you are exploring where the emphasis is on exploring and sneaking. Very early on you are taught this via the games tutorial level. The enemies in the game are virtually blind to your presence as long as you are hiding behind some form of cover (be it full or partial). The enemy could be walking past a characters toes but as long as the character is hidden (displayed by the icon over their head) the enemy can’t see you.
In their attempt to balance this they have given enemies like a detection cone radius that displays a dark red color, indicating that if the player were to break out of the stealth or if the enemy saw the player sneaking then they would become aware that someone is there and will engage in combat first. But If the enemy does not have direct line sight of the player and you still wish to engage in combat then the player does get a chance to take the first move and try to take the enemy out before he gets a turn.
The core of the game is still what players would expect from a X-COM type of game. You have action points when you engage in combat. High cover is better than partial or half cover. Taking your shot does not end your turn you can still move if action points are available.
The game is fun and broken at times but there are also moments in the game where you get a rush of emotions, be it the Oh S*@#! there are way too many enemies or pulling off the prefect route of taking out multiple enemies quietly without alerting any reinforcements. Off course it does the X-COM “thing” where a character will miss their 75% shot even if the enemy is like 3 feet away making you want to throw your controller at the screen. The game does auto save at key points but it is highly recommended that you manually save frequently as you may need to re-load your save due to a bad roll.
It is always fun to see your characters try to explain to each other the tech of the ancients for example what a giant metal bird (airplane) is and what purpose it had or when they find a boom box but have no clue what it does. There are moments like that in the game that add another layer of narrative towards the world building.
All the characters have their own unique abilities called mutations like you can hover in air for a turn, you can harden you skin into stone, you can leap to higher places, you can control enemies with psychic powers etc. It also has the more traditional combat options that veteran X-COM players know all too well like “overwatch & Run and gun.
There is a sense of familiarity when playing the game but at the same time if you approach this like a traditional X-COM game you will most likely lose some of the harder & challenging battles. The game wants you to use its stealth and exploration system before you engage in a fight. It also rewards you for the exploration as you can find a key item or a new weapon or weapon part that could help tip the battle in your favor.
Then you fast travel out of the area and head back to home base, upgrade your weapon or buy gear and then head back into the same area and give yourself a much better chance in taking the enemies down. All characters share one experience bar so it is possible you could be under leveled for a particular area but if your careful about exploring the space you get experience for looting, picking up weapon parts, gear etc. Also the game does give you some enemies who may be a higher level than you but have lower hit points.
So if you are careful and can single them out you could take them out and gain a bunch of experience points in turn leveling your team as well.
Ok, then what is it like to play Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden on the PS4 Pro?
Hmmmmmm, how should I put this? The straight simple honest answer would be is it’s all over the place. The PS4 does have a reputation of sounding like a passenger airliner when it is struggling to keep up. Yup, this is one of those games that even makes the PS4 Pro howl like nobody’s business. Now for context I clean my PS4 Pro every week and make sure to use the dust vac on it. But when one of the games characters lips don’t move even when the dialog is on, well then that’s on the game and not the systems limitation.
The console is on “favor performance” setting and I playing it on a 1080p T.V but the game will still drop frames in battles with a lot of enemies where there is a chance of more particle effects and sometimes just while exploring a new area of the map the camera movement will hitch on me. Not a good thing when you do explore the map looking for extremely well blended loot / items.
The experience of going in and out of menus it will cause the fans to ramp up and down. The system tries it best to throw the most possible frames at your screen but you can see it struggling to keep up as frame dips and stutters are a part and parcel of the experience.
This is by no means a Naughty Dog / Santa Monica studio type of game that so visually stunning that the system can’t keep up which leads me to believe that this is a poor port / optimized version of the game for the PS4.
It is technically playable but you have to be willing to put up with the technical hitches, which may be too much to ask.
Also worth mentioning is the load times, it isn’t that bad that you could sit the controller down make a sandwich and come back but it also isn’t quick either. In my experience the loading time has been a minute and change.
Fine, but is it worth the price of admission? Is it any good?
YES & NO.
No, do not get it for the PS unless you are going to be playing it on the PS5 as a backward compatible PS4 game. Since the PS5 is a much more powerful system than its predecessor, there is a strong possibility that it can just brute force its way and you won’t find any slowdown/ hitches / frame drops etc. or maybe it could just be that the PS4 version of the game is an inherently bad port of the game that is poorly optimized. Unfortunately at the time of this writing I can’t verify this personally as I currently don’t own a PS5 but based on the a few videos of gameplay running on a PS5 that I found on YouTube, which seem to show it running way better than it was on my PS4 pro.
Yes, because there is something to this game. It does have an interesting setup and the world and characters are interesting. I wish the world and its characters were a bit more flushed out. Plus a better system to highlight and locate loot / items as it is sometimes easier to find waldo than to be 100% certain that you have picked up all the possible loot in a given area.
If you have a PC or laptop that meet the games recommended specs then, playing the PC version of the game would be your best bet as it would be a much more enjoyable experience since you won’t have to deal with performance problems. That being said even if you have a PC / Laptop that can run it flawlessly, the games design choices and missing animations and broken dialog in key moments are what they are.
So either you hate it or love it, underneath all these layer is a very decent turn based tactical RPG which is worth looking at.
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Note: Played on PS4 PRO (favor performance setting) via the internal hard drive.