Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden preview - The kind of duck face I can get behind

This turn-based tactical adventure game might be a masterpiece we never saw coming.

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I had not personally paid much attention to Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden before the first time it crossed my path. Shacknews covered the game via press event interviews and a short hands-on demo at E3 2018, but I filed it away with the mountain of other seemingly quirky indie games coming down the video game pipe. Charles SIngletary, News Editor, explained to me that the game was one I needed to watch, so when I got the opportunity to play an early access press build of the game this past week, I jumped at the chance. Waiting this long to poke around the world of Mutant Year Zero was a mistake.

Based on the Swedish pen and paper RPG series, Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden attempts to bring the franchise’s lore to life with a focused story that follows a group of post-apocalyptic survivors as they fight to keep their makeshift home, The Ark, from being swallowed by the irradiated wastelands. The project is being developed by The Bearded Ladies Consulting, a dev team made of former IO Interactive and Overkill veterans. Their vision is to bring the world of Mutant to life using XCOM-style combat and real-time exploration.

Unlike XCOM’s conveyor belt full of generic military grunts, Mutant Year Zero sticks to a small team of humanoid-animal hybrids. Their conversations between encounters reveal their backstory and motivation. When things go south for your team in Mutant Year Zero, it seems to matter more because the focus on the core group helps build empathy to their cause. Saying this out loud in my head sounds weird because I shouldn’t give a damn about a duckman and a combat hog, but once you play the game and let the vibe wash over you, it all starts to make sense.

The exotic character designs are likely the first thing to pop out at you the first time you see a screenshot or video of the game. They seem silly at first, but even after 30 minutes of play time, I had bought into the plight of these unlikely heroes. It doesn’t hurt that Mutant Year Zero has an amazing vibe. From the environmental design, to the animated exposition and excellent music, the short demo I got to play was rotten with atmosphere and had me wanting to dive deeper into the world.

On the combat side of things, Mutant Year Zero is tough. Tactical strategy buffs will likely be able to adapt without issue, but newcomers are likely to find progressing through the apocalyptic landscape to be grueling. Tactical snafus or poor dice rolls can turn a seemingly simple encounter into a major struggle. Thankfully, you can find objects and equipment to enhance your mutant team, including better armor, weapon mods, and more. As you gain experience, a mutation tech tree allows you to further augment the team for enhanced battle aptitude.

Upon activating these mutations in the skill tree, players will be treated to some amazing transformation animations. Sure, they aren’t relevant to the actual gameplay, but act as a reminder to how well The Bearded Ladies have done at making Mutant Year Zero feel unique. This is a game that thrives thanks to the details. It feels about as far away as you can get from the mass-appeal AAA releases that crowd the video game market. There will be some who are turned off by the whole thing, while others will become enamoured with the experience. It feels like a PC game from the 90s with its heavy reliance on its concept and atmosphere.

I fully expect Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden to start off small and then expand its fanbase as its fans spread the word around online. If the full game holds up to the promise of the portion I played, it would not surprise me if it became a cult hit. I can clearly see a time in the future where this game is ported to the Switch and a group of new players declare it to be the best thing ever, much like Hollow Knight experienced over the course of 2017 and 2018. You can set out on the path for survival next month when Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden releases for Steam, PS4, and Xbox One on December 4.

Contributing Tech Editor

Chris Jarrard likes playing games, crankin' tunes, and looking for fights on obscure online message boards. He understands that breakfast food is the only true food. Don't @ him.

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