Mutant Year Zero kicked my ass at E3


But in a good way

“This game will not go easy on you.”

That was my warning moments before starting up the E3 demo for Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden. When Brett booked this appointment for me, my mind read it as Mutant Football Leagueso, going into E3, I was preparing myself for some football. I was going to kneel and everything. Turns out, these are a different set of mutants in a very different game.

Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden, from developer The Bearded Ladies, is a single-player turn-based tactical role-playing game and the very first video game to based off the classic Swedish tabletop RPGMutant. At E3, the developers actually brought with them the original rulebook, in all of its handwritten and typed glory, for the press to gawk at. They also brought the rulebook for Mutant Year Zero, which serves as the relaunch of the classic game. Unlike the original rule set, this one was written in English so I could actually understand it.

Roadto Edentakes place in a post-apocalyptic Sweden, keeping in line with its source material that always sets games in the players’ hometown. Many of the developers working on it, including some formerHitmandevelopers transported from IO Interactive, are from the specific region of Sweden it takes place in. There’s no introduction to the demo as I take control of three characters — Dux,Bormin, and Selma — attempting to infiltrate a hollowed out building the enemy is patrolling. I don’t know who the enemy is, but I can hear from their dialog that they’re after the girl.

The crunch of the snow beneath my feet is the soundtrack to my journey, and as I search the area looking for scrap (the game’s currency) I come across a pile of body bags with a trench dug nearby. My team converses and comments on their surroundings, ensuring this won’t be some silent, stoic trek through the wildlands. These are three characters with unique personalities who are not above sharing hot takes on what they see.

They’re also unique in their playstyle.Borminis equipped with two powerful, but loud, guns while Dux and Selma both have silenced weapons in their arsenal. Keeping quiet is the key to victory inRoad to Eden,as one of three phases of gameplay lets me snipe enemies before they have a chance to alert the others. I fail miserably at this as I’ll explain in a little bit.

The first phase of gameplay lets me freely explore the area. This is when I search for scrap, med packs, ammo and whatever else is lying around before I reach the dilapidated building. Once I reach this part of the map, and I come across an enemy who doesn’t notice me, I go into the stealth portion of the game. Here, I can move my characters into position and take out the guard with my silenced weapons. If I’m successful, the game moves right back into free roam where I’m allowed to collect any loot from my fallen foes. If I screw up and they call for back-up, the game transitions into its third mode, a standard tactical role-playing game.

I attempt the demo twice and screw up both times trying to complete it. In my first go, I stumble upon an enemy soldier who, while I do shoot him with Dux’s silent crossbow, is still breathing at the end of my turn, letting him alert one of his comrades who is located way at the back of the map. When the developer on hand saw this, he was actually curious as to how a character that far back was brought to attention. The difficulty on this demo may have been cranked up just a bit too high, something noted by PCWorld’s Hayden Dingman one evening after the show over drinks.

I was able to take out this second soldier without alerting anyone else to my presence, but then fuck up right away when I walked directly into sight path of a soldier hidden from view. My team is taken out within seven turns. I try again a second time, but this attempt becomes a shit show immediately when I mistakenly use Bormin’s shotgun instead of Selma’s silenced pistol on the first guard I come across.This alerts everybody, and I meaneverybody, to my whereabouts and quickly ends the attempt in five turns.

I may not have made it that far, but both attempts give me a solid understanding of the best way to approach combat situations. Similar to XCOMor Mario + Rabbids, success is all about position. The enemies have the upper hand on my team, occupying the second story of this building, able to fire down from up above. I can even those odds a bit with grenades.On my second attempt at the mission, I demolish the floor of a second story room, bringing down the jackass trying to snipe my team from up above. The fire raging from the explosion sets him ablaze, though I’m not quite sure it keeps doing damage.

I probably would have had a better go at things had I paid more attention to what the developer told me. In addition to their guns, each of the characters has a mutative trait that can even out the odds in battle. Characters will unlock new, more useful mutations over the course of the campaign. Dux, for instance, is able to sprout a pair of butterfly wings he can use to fly to upper levels of buildings. I really wish I had known that was an option for me.

Mutant Year Zero’s E3 demo presents nothing short of a beautiful and thoughtful tactical role-playing game. The odds may have been stacked against me, but its difficulty hasn’t deterred my interest in it whatsoever. In fact, it’s only made me hungrier for the full experience. Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden is set for release on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One later this year.