‘Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden’ Mixes ‘XCOM’ with Real-Time Stealth

Jeremy Ray
Games PlayStation
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Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden is a post-apocalyptic mash-up of game styles. It is, itself, a mutant. Its turn-based, XCOM-like gunplay has roots in the popular Swedish board game Mutant: Year Zero (hence the new subtitle). It seamlessly mixes this with real-time stealth, and developer talent brought over from the Hitman and PAYDAY franchises is making sure it all gels perfectly.

Combine all of that with RPG systems and a heavy focus on story, and you’ve got yourself one unrecognisable beast. That’s a good thing — while some mutations can be debilitating, this is looking like more of an evolution.

Just because these squadmates are anthropomorphised doesn’t mean they’re cute. They loathe their mutations. They hate the sight of themselves in the mirror. They’d be shunned by society, if there was a society to shun them.

There are bigger worries though, and your Stalkers are mainly concerned with survival. To better get an idea of how this interesting mix of real-time stealth and turn-based, XCOM-like combat plays out, we spoke to a few of the developers. All of whom, by the way, have joke titles — which might make it hard to figure out who’s who, so we’ll go through that now.

Haraldur Thormundsson is the most appropriately named. As “circus director,” he’s the CEO of The Bearded Ladies. Ulf Andersson, the “baby killer,” is the executive producer on the project.

We also had David Skarin in the room, the “first lady” and founder on the project, was a gameplay programmer on recent Hitman games. Mark James Parker, the “lion tamer,” and producer.

The above video gives a good idea of how the game plays, but the developers were generous enough to go into detail on the game’s systems.

FANDOM: What sort of challenges did you have mixing turn-based combat, real-time stealth, RPG, and story?

Haraldur Thormundsson: If we were doing solely an RPG game, then we would be redoing the tabletop. we wanted to do something different. Something that was keeping the videogame format.

A lot of credit has to be given to David, because it was he who cracked the riddle, and bridged these two different gameplays. To weave those together with stealth and combat. The feedback that we are getting now is if we can deliver on what we are showing, then we are setting the new benchmark in between XCOM and Hitman kind of games. Bringing the best elements of both of those.

David Skarin: What it allows us to do, is, this is the little fight. And it allows us to scope out. This is one type of level. Where you have the little fight, and then you have the big one. But we have other levels with a bunch of small fights, on a string. Those are very bite-sized fights. And we have bigger complexes where you can have two fights that meld together, if you’re not careful.

So they play out a little bit differently, that’s how we pace the game. I would probably go grab a coffee after finishing a camp. But they’re not all the same length, so the time goes up and down.

Mark James Parker: We built the game deliberately like that. We didn’t want every fight to feel the same, and every pattern that you come across to be exactly the same.

So we do mix it up — one of the bigger things that mixes it up is the different kinds of enemies that you come across. We don’t always have the same enemy classes in one place. Sometimes we’ll move a few, or add a few new ones, just to keep you on your toes.

Ah, so there are more than the ghoul type of enemies that we see in the demo?

David Skarin: We were a little bit sorry, we were showing a little bit bog-standard type of post-apoc guys, right?

Ulf Andersson: There’s lots that the ancients left behind…

David Skarin: A lot of types coming in there, yeah. So those mechanised types of units come in smaller sizes, and of course we have psi-mutant type units in the game as well. And of course we have lots of wildlife. So there are lots of types in the game, yeah.

The boar knocks down the door

Do you ever pick up psionic mutations?

David Skarin: Yes, there are characters that get that as well.

So you can pick up different characters for your party?

David Skarin: Yes! We’re just showing these three characters because they’re the key art, and it’s the first time we’re showing the game, so, no reason to give away all the units yet.

Are there always three in your party?

Ulf Andersson: Nope! You can get more. You actually start with two, which is the boar and the duck. But then as you explore, you rescue people and find people in places that you can recruit to your party. We have max at three right now, I think we started at five. And quite early we were like, no four. Because as big XCOM fans we we know like, six? Way too much. We know that from the start. Five is probably too much, and it turned out, yeah it’s too much.

So we went to four, and we had four for a long time. But after a while we went no, with three you can do everything you wanted to do. Two there and one there, or completely split up, it makes the fights quicker. Because bringing that extra guy in XCOM, if it wasn’t as a meatshield, which, we’re trying to get rid of the meatshields a little bit because you’ll fall in love with our characters, so then three characters was quite good for the pacing we wanted.

I fall in love with my XCOM characters. I’ve invested time in them. But here, it’s worse. Because you’re picking up… The customisation comes from the adventure. So you’re picking up like a hockey helmet, and going yeah, this guy looks so good in the hockey helmet, and some other guy will be running around in the aristo-hat, and by then you really don’t want them to die.

There are a lot of clues to find when you’re exploring that give you advantages later. But a lot of these fights are considered separate puzzles. Is there any way to easily remember what happened earlier if you walk away from the game?

Ulf Andersson: We have a little bit of a notebook, I won’t go into too much detail because it’s not finished and we don’t know exactly how it’s gong to be, but you can at least go back and look. If you do reprogram the robot, and save, it’ll stay reprogrammed. It’s not automatic in any way, we do expect you to remember some things. But they’re mostly contained within one level, and if they’re not, then there is a notebook for these kinds o things. Things like a letter, or clues. We picked up a letter earlier that was pointing to an old, abandoned boathouse that was actually in that level, but it’s a bit hidden, where you can find some things.

Haraldur Thormundsson: And you can pick your fights. You can see enemies and think I’m just going to sneak around this, and then later you come back and visit that place, and finish them off in style.

It’s really great that some players who want it harder can do that, and get those benefits. It keeps the interest of multiple kinds of player. If you just play the game but you’re not very good at it, but you enjoy it, you can come back to a place where you’re just not really progressing anymore because your’e just not good enough. Whereas this will give you the opportunity to explore the game in a different manner, and find new weapons and armour. Become a better player.

So all of the customisation comes from adventuring?

David Skarin: There is a shop, but that shop is not going to be stocked with a lot of things. They’re not rich, it’s up to you. You’re finding these things. You’re the Stalkers out there. So most interesting stuff you’ll be finding in an abandoned subway or whatever it is. So everything’s pretty much based around that. But we do trickle some things into the store, it’s kind of a progression thing.

Once in a while, there’ll be something interesting if you haven’t found anything on the map.

Will those things you find on the map help you in other areas of the map?

David Skarin: Yes! I think the next thing we show might have something to do with this…

A duck considers eating ham in front of the boar

It looked like a lot of those shots were missing. How much of an impact does random number generators (RNG) have on combat?

David Skarin: Yeah, it’s even harsher than XCOM on that. The enemies are almost immune, behind hard cover. You need to flank them, or throw a grenade. So everything is basically destructible. That’s kind of how you play, destroy their cover to take the shot. Also high ground is worth very much.

And of course, it’s because we want you to scout out the levels. So if you find this high ground up somewhere, you can say, I’m going to configure my Frog Legs mutation so I can jump up there during the combat. And get a serious advantage from that, because you scouted it out.

So we’re not getting rid of the RNG, but it’s pretty forgiving RNG as we have configured it right now, and you know what to expect when you take the shots. But there’s no way of turning it off.

We wanted the tactics to be the thing, not the die roll. There are times, like you saw, when you’ll “get XCOMed,” and miss an 85% shot. And you can hit a 25% shot. But a lot of times, if you flank that character, and you’re in range, you’ll have 100% chance to hit them. So we’re not going to give you 87%. You’ll have 100% if you flank the guy, and you’re in range, that’s it.

Then of course, you can add scopes, and other things that give you more range and different percentages. So you can have 100% to hit a guy… Later in the game I think you might actually have more situations when you take a percentage shot, because you might have scoped it up so much that you can take a shot at somebody in high cover.

Can you be spotted if anyone in your party falls into the guards’ “awareness circle?”

David Skarin: We’re lenient with there. It’s only the guy that you’re actually moving that you need to care about with the circle. Because the other guys might run into it because of pathfinding, right? So we can’t do that.

And then of course when you hide them, they’re kind of immune to it. So when you leave a guy, he’s semi-immune to it. Let’s just say you just need to care about the character who’s on-screen. And then in certain cases, if there are patrols that go really close to where you hid, you’re going to get a warning about that.

Mark James Parker: If anything, being on Hitman and Payday games and stuff has taught us that simplicity is the best thing you can do in stealth situations. Because the player is looking at the enemies who are moving, the patrols, the dialogue that’s playing, the environmental factors all around them.

So the simpler you can get the stealth interaction, so you can make clean decisions, the better. because there’s nothing worse than a stealth game that you feel cheats you all the time. Vision cones are unclear, you get spotted when you feel that you shouldn’t have been spotted. Those kinds of things. We wanted to avoid all of that.

We wanted a very simple stealth experience where you’re sneaking around, watching in, the voyeurism moments, without all the negatives.

Ulf Andersson: There’s something we took from the Hitman guys as well. Sorry, hitman guys! Usually off-screen enemies can’t see you as well. And we’re avoiding that whole issue by donig these attention circles. So it’s always super clear. We want you to feel powerful, we want you to set up the fight and THEN start failing. Not get caught by some glitch or someone seeing you from behind through a window.

Haraldur Thormundsson: The flashlight is a really nice way to signal when you go from exploration into stealth mode, because that’s when you switch your light off. You do that yourself.

David Skarin: Yeah, it changes their detection circles as well.

Our thanks to the developers for their time!

Jeremy Ray
Managing Editor at FANDOM. Decade-long games critic and esports aficionado. Started in competitive Counter-Strike, then moved into broadcast, online, print and interpretative pantomime. You merely adopted the lag. I was born in it.
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