Developer: The Bearded Ladies Publisher: Funcom Platforms: PC, PS4, XBO
I’m an easy target for any game that features tactical, XCOM-like turn-based combat. Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden had the dubious potential to become a budget XCOM – which I probably still would have enjoyed. But by combining solid tactical gameplay with rewarding stealth mechanics and shockingly good voice acting Road to Eden carves its own space in the genre.
Unlike XCOM,Road to Eden features RPG-like characters with their own skill trees and personalities. They’re a bit one-dimensional but the banter and commentary is delightful, particularly the hilarious dialogue heard from enemy zone ghouls on the battlefield.
Stealth is a huge part of the gameplay. While XCOM 2 lets you enter a map in stealth mode to set up an advantageous opening salvo, Road to Eden lets you enter and exit turn-based combat mode as you please. The trick is to isolate and eliminate targets with silenced weapons, just as any stealth game, letting you drop back into stealth mode and continue to turn the tide in your favor.
The post-apocalyptic world is made up of smaller zones where you can find scrap for upgrades as well as new guns and armor. The zones are just big enough to allow some tactical wiggle room without getting lost in – and unlike XCOM the campaign won’t take you 40 or 50+ hours to finish.
It’s a bit rough around the edges and definitely feels like it left a lot on the cutting room floor but as a big fan of the tactics genre Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden provides a unique blend of real time stealth and turn-based tactics.
Metroidvanias and roguelikes are two of the most overused genres, and buzzwords, in indie gaming, but it’s still a genre I tend to love. Dead Cells is anything but a tiresome retread, pulling the best elements of both genres into an instantly likable neon art style of colorful death.
The level designs offer the perfect mixture of procedural generation and carefully crafted locations, while featuring uniquely branching paths that offer compelling choices and new locations to explore without artificially lengthening the game.
The classic 2D combat supports a multitude of playstyles by equipping multiple weapons and subweapons. I can succeed as a trap-deploying coward, a life-stealing hack and slasher, or a lightning whip-wielding fiend.
Dead Cells is a modern roguelike in that the progress you make carries over in the form of collected cells at the end of each level, letting you unlock new weapons and talents for future runthroughs. Death is still painful but much more manageable, and often exciting as you can experiment with different weapon loadouts and new abilities.
Much of the world design is built to respect the player’s time, keeping levels relatively short and sweet, and even including frequent teleporters at the end of any dead ends.
Dead Cells is always challenging but rarely frustrating, and that’s a very fine line to walk in this genre. For 2D action game fans it really doesn’t get much better than this.