I play a lot of games, and I mean a lot. On just PlayStation 4 alone I’ve played over 600 titles. Even with all the various games I play, I only tend to ‘love’ very few. The biggest genres that have a 99% chance of me not enjoying would be racing, sports, and turn-based strategy. While I don’t really give racing and sports much of a chance anymore, I try to be a little more open to turn-based. Despite this, after about two hours I always end up murmuring “bullshit” to myself whilst deleting the title from my PS4. That was until I loaded up Mutant: Year Zero.
I still found myself spitting obscenities very often during my time with Mutant, but for a different reason than other strategy games. One of my biggest problems with other games in the genre is, despite the gameplay being centered entirely around controlling the combat, I rarely ever felt truly in control. Nearly every time I failed a mission I felt cheated, like the game blatantly screwed me over. I was cursing the game for being rigged, rather than blaming myself. With Mutant: Year Zero, when something goes wrong, I know exactly who’s fault it is: mine.
This makes an indescribably better experience. Every mistake feels that much more crushing, every accomplishment that much more rewarding. I hate to name drop, but this is why I find the Dark Souls games so damned fun. When I can honestly blame myself, rather than the game, it just makes for a more enjoyable and properly challenging experience.
This has a lot to do with how refined the combat is. Every action has a counter or defense that can be used to help turn the fight in your favor. The level of depth involved in preparation and outfitting is complex without being convoluted. Gear changes your appearance as well as you defense, abilities, etc. ‘Mutations’ are like special skills that unlock as you level up. You can even upgrade and customize weapons with various traits. Mix that with each character’s unique traits and powers and it makes for incredibly well-crafted combat variety.
While I know this isn’t the first game in the genre to do this sort of thing, Mutant does it the best. The game slowly eased me into the intricacies without ever leaving me feeling overwhelmed. I never felt lost, I never felt confused, and each new feature the game introduced filled me with excitement to give it a go.
I know the hardcore strategy game fans are shaking their heads and heading to the comment section to tell me to ‘gitgud’, and they’d be right. I’m sure this all sounds elementary to fans of the genre, but it’s something that really pulled me into the game. It hooked me with its approachability, and its kept me coming back for more with each increasingly difficult fight. It made me want to give more games in the genre a second chance, and for that I think it deserves an applause.
Yes, it’s a fantastically well-made game with an interesting story, lovely visuals, and interesting mechanics, but it’s more than that. I like the story. I love the visuals. I adore the art direction. But the most important part of Mutant: Year Zero is the fact that I actually enjoy the combat – something I would have never believed had should you have shown me gameplay a few weeks ago.