When I got an email from the MMORPG.com staff offering me the chance to review Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden, I was a little iffy on taking them up on it. A couple other games dropped or went into B.E.T.A. over the last week that I’ve been expecting to eat up my limited free time. I’m a sucker for the post-apocalyptic setting, though. It strikes me as a chance for storytellers to break from the mold and tell us something new.
Fantasy tropes abound and often get pulled into these futuristic settings too, but when cyberpunk and ruined-world type games throw the player into the roll of a mutant, it immediately doubles down on the opportunity for something unique. I think Mutant Year Zero developers, The Bearded Ladies, have done just that. Of course, the name of their company suggests you shouldn’t expect get anything normal from them, anyway.
Right off the bat, the game is sort of a blend of story-based exploration and XCOM-like turn-based combat. That’s different enough, but your main characters for the story are a very Howard-like mutated duck and tanky mutated warthog that could easily be working with the Foot Clan. The two are far more serious-minded than the characters they resemble, however. They do joke and the game’s not short on puns, but the devs did a really good job of setting down a layer of humor that feels appropriate to the game.
MYZ has color palettes that change subtly through the game to give you visual cues. You notice the technique, but I think it was done subtly enough to not be distracting. Blues and greens give you the sense of exploring a wild and strangely picturesque environ full of emergent life. Reds creep in to signify danger and death, or at times the screen fades to greyed tones when you’ve turned off your flashlight to be stealthy. Like music, color is an excellent tool for instilling the appropriate emotion into the player, and the developers have wielded that instrument well in Mutant Year Zero.
The few hours of the game I played through did feel a little linear, but the story was interesting enough that I didn’t mind. I also only had access to a smaller portion of the game’s total map and it’s entirely likely the release version will allow for more divergent play-through. Since the game is based on a Swedish pen-and-paper game, it doesn’t seem likely that the player would be hand-held through a very specific single story when there’s so much depth available to the game world.
I think the only other criticism I’d have of the game would be the conversations with the “Elder.” MYZ already uses the in-game engine for some cut scenes and this cool stylized sketching for others. I actually felt the sketching and narrative style, which reminded me a lot of the style used in the Witcher series, was very well done. I’d like to see the conversations with the Elder dropped and replaced with narrated scenes done in the same style. It fits the game better, and the existing conversations with the old man just don’t really gel as nicely for me as other design decisions did.
It’s a bit early to say if it’s a buy or not. On one hand, there are definitely some cool ideas with both game design and story going on here that I’d really like the chance to explore more. I had fun playing a game that was pushed at me, and it’s not often I find one I like this well that wasn’t already on my radar. In part, I think it was the great art design and excellent storytelling through scene-setting that I found even more above par than the other successes of the game.
That said, I really didn’t get to play but about 3-4 hours of the game and that wasn’t really enough to tell me how much the game would open up for exploration or whether the story might begin to taper off after an initially well-crafted introduction to the game. I’m also not sure how much exposition there can be about the “ancients” and how badly they screwed up the planet before it turns from being interesting to being annoying.
As I close out this article, I also wanted to make sure everyone was aware that the developers did give me a Steam code to get access to the game. I didn’t purchase it on my own and don’t believe it’s even available for purchase on Steam yet in any case. I can’t say for sure that I’ll buy it, but I definitely added it to my follow list.
If you’re a fan of post-apocalyptic settings and mutants, this is definitely a game you should be following. I suspect based on the little bit of story I’ve experienced already that fans of strong narratives will be interested, as well. I’m a little less certain of the traditional RPG crowd due to the linearity of what I played but see too many reasons not to throw the caution flag just yet to really have a strong opinion on that front. Either way, I’m glad Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden came across my screen. It was fun checking it out, and I’m looking forward to seeing what it looks like by release.