There’s a surprising number of games in the Metal Max franchise, as it dates all the way back to the Nintendo Famicom. Considering most of the games were never released outside of Japan, it’s no wonder that I’d never heard of it before.
Metal Max Xeno launched back in 2018 on the PS4 and the PlayStation Vita to a relatively mixed response; as such, a mere four years later, the team have rereleased the game with a ‘reborn’ version that changes and improves various aspects of the game.
Is the game worth playing this time around, or are we going to fall out with this apocalyptic RPG?
Many thanks to PQube for the review code.
Set in an apocalyptic landscape known as ‘Distokio’, horrific mutants and gigantic war machines now roam the land with the intention of wiping out the last remnants of humanity. You see, the humans wanted to protect the world from further ecological disasters, so they designed a supercomputer to sort it out for them. Unfortunately this supercomputer decided that the best way to save the environment was to wipe out humanity. Whoops!
The story opens up with Talis regaining consciousness in a parking garage. There’s very little setup, but you later find out that his parents were murdered by the machines, which is why he intends to grab a tank and exact revenge on the murderous AI.
He’s not alone in his journey, however, as he finds allies at a secret military installation called ‘Iron Base’ who will help him, along with a myriad of other survivors he finds throughout his travels. Over time, relationships with the characters can be built through interacting with them and you really start to feel a sense of camaraderie with the remaining survivors. There’s also a librarian with big boobs, because of course there is – it is a JRPG after all!
One thing that surprised me with the game’s story was just how minimal it all is. Normally RPGs fill themselves with endless cutscenes and trite dialogue that I find quickly becomes tiresome. There’s very little of that in Metal Max Xeno Reborn, and any dialogue that does appear is both brief and to the point. It’s remarkably refreshing, as it allows for the world-building to be gained through your own exploration rather than just thrown at you. Whilst that does come at the expense of having a relatively straightforward plot compared to other games in the genre, I found that this approach actually made me more invested in the world overall.
TANKS FOR THE MEMORIES
A somewhat flippant and reductive way of describing how Metal Max Xeno Reborn plays is that it’s basically a turn RPG, except you’re mostly a tank. A more accurate description would be that you primarily use a tank to trawl the wastelands as you hunt down survivors and eradicate machines so dangerous that massive bounties have been placed on their heads. Your tank is fully customisable, with you being able to tinker and upgrade it to your liking, as well as being able to equip it with a variety of different weaponry according to your needs. Fiddling around your tank is a vital part of the game, as there will usually be a point whereby your current loadout just isn’t good enough to proceed. In the early game, for example, your starter tank is only really good for picking off the oversized ants in the starting area, so get used to upgrading as soon as possible. You can buy many great parts from the shop, but parts that can be obtained scattered around in various loot locations will generally allow you to build better stuff. It’s a pretty addictive gameplay loop, especially when you obtain super rare parts from destroying bounties.
Dystokio itself is a pretty sprawling, if somewhat linear, area filled with a multitude of threats; it’s a good thing then that the combat system is both unique and generally satisfying. Coming into range of an enemy will trigger a timer based on how long it will take for them to prepare their attack: at this point, you can decide on flight or fight. The former is simple as it requires you to escape their range and they’ll successfully leave you alone; however, if you want to get into a fight you can choose to initiate an attack that will trigger the turn-based battling.
Battling works pretty much as you’d expect for the most part, with you being able to select from a range of different attacks and skills, as well as using items. Certain chips you can add to your tank will also allow you to use bonus attacks, such as being able to ire numerous weapons at the same time or increasing the odds of a critical ‘affinity’ hit. Given that you’ll likely want to use a particular attack on certain enemies, you can also toggle automatic mode at the touch of a button. This lets the battle play out automatically while you drive around until either you or your opponent dies. Whilst the automated attacks are a great addition, the novelty quickly wears off once you realise that the driving elements of battle are simply a ruse to keep you busy: enemy attacks will always home in on your position, even going through solid objects, making movement a tad pointless. It’s a little disappointing that you can’t use the terrain to avoid getting hit as it feels like a missed opportunity to make the battles more interesting, but the battles are still enjoyable due to the spectacle alone.
PEDAL TO THE METAL
The main issue with the game largely boils down to a failure in teaching you how everything works. The game eases you in nicely with the basics at the start of the game as you work your way to Iron Base, but then after that it throws you into the deep end with very little help – and the help you do get is mainly useless. For example, the game says that you can equip items in the main menu – easy enough, I hear you cry – but going onto the item screen shows you what you have with no option to equip. Is it automatically equipped? The game doesn’t really tell you, leaving you defenseless until you realise that you need to select your character (or vehicle) in the main menu, and then customise their loadout from there. It’s not particularly intuitive, but the main issue is that it just isn’t explained properly. Even things like enemy weakness are really obtuse, making it hard to know what is good against what. The bestiary can contain tips, but it’s certainly not a reliable resource.
Even when you think you’ve equipped everything you need, you’ll still likely find yourself in a pickle very early on. The ants and smaller machines in the opening area are easy cannon fodder that help you rack up XP, but that XP is only used to earn points for the skill tree and doesn’t really make you any stronger. The sand sharks or bigger machines in that opening area are still going to kick your ass quite early on, no matter how many enemies you grind. What’s important is that you grind for money, parts, and loot to help you bolster your tank.
An easy way to do this is to sell as much as possible right at the start to help you invest in the rather expensive metal detector. Whilst it may not seem like a useful item at first, it opens up a lot of special loot locations that get you the best stuff – including a new tank pretty early on in the game. Another thing to note is that your tank’s health ‘SP’ is based on how much remaining weight you have on your tank. Filling your tank with weapons seems like a good idea, but the offset is that you’ll become far more fragile meaning that a powerful engine is much more important.
The early game in Metal Max Xeno Reborn also feels a little bit strange too, as you are required to spend your time looting and obtaining companions (do the side quests!), whilst avoiding as many things as possible. As counterintuitive as it may seem, tanking damage (no pun intended) in new areas and scraping by to the next fast travel point is simply how you’ll progress during your initial hours. As you start gaining enough loot and money to bolster your tank a bit, you can then go back and take down the bounty machines for a hefty lump sum. Once you start doing this, you’ll find that things get easier as you can make yourself more powerful and take down even bigger foes for more money and better loot. The main quests themselves tend to be pretty minimal and mostly non eventful, with most quests taking hours to get through – especially with the rather unhelpful map and quest markers – so this is what you’ll be doing during most of the game’s runtime.
But it is a surprisingly enjoyable loop once you get into it. It does mean that learning how everything works at the start becomes slightly infuriating as you find yourself dying again and again but once you get over all that, the game becomes remarkably compelling. It may not be as intricate as other RPGs, but souping up your tank and tracking down bounties becomes surprisingly addictive.
Metal Max Xeno Reborn isn’t perfect, but the tank based exploration of an apocalyptic world is charming enough to keep you invested once you get over that initial learning curve. A lack of defensive options in the real-time sections of the turn-based combat may be a little disappointing, but looting and upgrading into a super-tank feels pretty damn satisfying, even if it does run out of steam after a while.