A duck, and pig, and a mutant walk into a bar…

It seems I have quickly become the strategy reviewer here at ZTGD. Hey, XCOM is one of my favorite franchises so I really don’t mind. When I heard a new XCOM like game was coming a few months ago, my ears turned up a bit. When I saw a talking duck and pig were the main characters, I was a bit confused, and when I finally got my hands on the game, I was highly pleased with the results. Mutant: Year Zero takes the gameplay style of XCOM and adds enough to it to make it feel fresh and something special.

Mutant: Year Zero is based on a table top RPG set in a post apocalyptic future where both plague and nuclear war has devastated the world as well as its inhabitants. Regular humans don’t exist anymore, and hybrids from the nuclear fallout have changed intelligent life as we know it. This is how our heroes have become a humanoid pig and duck. Dux and Bormin are Stalkers – scavengers for one of the last safe havens in the area known as The Ark. They are tasked with finding useful scrap and weapons on their journey to upgrade their gear as well as take on the task of the overarching story of “finding the promised land where this entire horrible world has not affected.” The story has its post nuclear apocalypse clichés, but it is enough to keep players going.

Platforms: XB1, PS4, PC
MSRP: $34.99
Price I’d pay: $30

The real meat and potatoes come from the gameplay mechanics. Since this is a turn-based strategy game, players of XCOM will find themselves in familiar territory. Characters have two actions they can perform such as movement, attacking, digging down into a position, going into overwatch, and using special abilities. What sets Mutant apart is the action in between the turn-based battles. Here, players are allowed to move characters in real time, find better positioning, sneak around enemies patrolling, and ambush them in compromising positions. This allows for careful planning and positioning that gives the player the edge in combat. Allowing Dux to get to higher ground with his crossbow can allow him to get better accuracy, while Bormin can sneak around a group of enemies to hide behind a tree right next to them so a nice shotgun blast can do much more damage. On top of all this, it allowed me to pick off enemies that were patrolling around silently without going into full on battle. The stealth and planning allow players to feel much more in control of a situation than XCOM ever really did for me.

While not in combat, players are free to explore areas to find scrap, artifacts, and weapon parts to take back to The Ark for items and upgrades. Players will also find armor pieces that give special boosts to the character. Plus, who doesn’t like a talking duck in a top hat? Each character levels up and gains ability points that can be used to upgrade the character. These can be in passive upgrades like more health or in special abilities that charge up after a certain amount of kills.

While the story is nothing to write home about, the character interactions are both witty and funny at times. Sure, they fall flat sometimes, but what made the story more interesting for me was the character dialog. The presentation is very well done, with some good lighting effects and nice visuals even through an isometric view. Along with that, the 80’s synth soundtrack that feels like something John Carpenter came up with really adds to the entire theme.

The only real hurdle I can see players having is the difficulty. Sure, with game like this players are expecting it to be difficult, but even I found some areas really difficult, especially in the early game. Then after leveling up and running into a larger variety of enemies, the sneaking to pick off stragglers became an issue due to the game giving enemies a lot more health, so most of my attacks had to be focused on one enemy. This game doesn’t play around. It will beat players to the ground real fast if they aren’t planning and setting up in better spots. Another small issue is that once an area is cleared of enemies, that area remains cleared. This takes away a lot of the replay factor and potential to level up to make further encounters a bit easier.

I was impressed with my time with Mutant: Year Zero. It has the feel of a quality strategy game mixed with some good stealth and battle preparation. The characters are fun, and while the story is lacking, it kept me going. Players looking for that XCOM feel with the difficulty to go along with it will have a good time here. Casual fans of the genre need to heed my warning: this game is not going to be easy, but with planning and taking your time, it can be very satisfying.

Review copy of game provided by publisher.

  • Good presentation
  • Nice strategy options
  • Fun characters
  • The difficulty can turn off some
  • Story is somewhat lacking
  • Not much replay ability
Written by
Drew is the Community Manager here at ZTGD and his accent simply woos the ladies. His rage is only surpassed by the great one himself and no one should stand between him and his Twizzlers.