After a few hours with it, it’s clear that Mutant Year Zero is an easy game to categorize through comparison but a hard one to say is truly alike much else out there.
A mix of anthropomorphic post-apocalyptic roleplaying and turn-based tactics, Mutant is based on the Swedish tabletop game of the same name. Set in a lush, overgrown ruins of civilization, you control a squad of Mutants (human-sized talking animal soldiers) that venture out from the last-remaining bastion of civilization to bring back one of their own - missing in action after departing on a quest to find a place called Eden.
Despite this colorful and outlandish setup, Mutant Year Zero actually plays things pretty straight-faced. Sure, the demo version we played definitely poked fun at the fact that our squad consisted of a talking boar called Bormin and a talking duck called Dux - but it never broke or mocked the fiction. The source material is what it is, and the game’s unapologetic commitment to realising that setting proved itself immediately endearing.
Each level saw in Mutant Year Zero saw us guide our squad in real time. The goal here was simple, sneak past hostile wastelanders, scavenge items and reach the exit intact. Whenever combat was initiated, either by us or the enemy, the game seamlessly pops into a grid-based tactics game like X-COM.
Here, things are much like you’d expect: each of your units gets two actions per turn, then the enemy units get two actions per turn. You’ll want to use cover to get through combat unscathed and each unit has a special ability (or two) that lets them turn the tide of battle.
During gunfights, Mutant Year Zero feels super snappy and responsive. What’s more, you can even fast-forward through enemy’s turn - something that even the giants of genre have failed to offer. That said, I was often a little irked that the game maps this feature to the same button used to lock in your own actions. More than once, I’d accidentally waste a move or two - which was super-frustrating in the moment.
The other thing that stuck out to me during my time with the demo of Mutant Year Zero was the skewed perspective. Though way that the game shifts between real-time and turn-based is really effective at making stealth feel more engaging way to play, the top-down perspective (combo’d with the lack of a mini-map) made it confusing to get a sense of how levels and encounters were actually laid out.
The unique setting and fundamentally-snappy tactical combat has left me really excited for Mutant Year Zero ahead of its launch on December 4th. There’s definitely a lot of familiar fodder here for fans of the genre, but, assuming the final game offer the same playability and quality, Mutant could well end up being a standout that emerges as a triumph well beyond the sum of its parts.
Mutant Year Zero launches on Playstation 4, Xbox One and PC on December 4.