Metal Max Xeno Impression
Heavy Grim Metal Dark
In less than a month, Metal Max Xeno is arriving on the blasted shores of the North American wasteland, and thus it’s high time I actually put my thoughts on this title into writing. To anyone who’s listened to me on Q&A Quest at any point between April and July of this year, it’s doubtful that any of this will be new.
First, as someone who’s played almost every game in the series (four canon, two side-canon, one remake, one smartphone side-canon spinoff) and documented it all for posterity, Metal Max Xeno puts me in a tricky position. It’s very obviously meant to be a reboot of the series’ concept, and thus divests itself of a lot of elements that I quite enjoyed in its predecessors. Someone coming in without that prior knowledge may well have completely different thoughts on Xeno, and good on them for that.
As with any rusted hulk excavated from the sandy wastelands and piloted into the sunset on a full tank of future-fuel, your mileage may vary.
One aspect that’s been enhanced for this iteration is just how bleak the future is. While the entire series is predicated on a Mad Max-style vision of the post-apocalyptic struggle for survival, it’s actually pretty rare for it to be so blatant. Xeno introduces the player to a desiccated, bombed-out future Tokyo, eighty years after the central computer of Project NOAH bootstrapped itself to super-intelligence with a mandate to cleanse the earth of the human condition plaguing it.
In most Metal Max games, the general focus is on how the last remnants of humanity deal with the remaining threats and each other, all the while building up their little communities from the wreckage in novel ways. In Xeno, the typical human settlement is a very recent, very large blast crater. The cast lists a total of nine living, breathing humanoids, one android, and the memory of the hero’s dad, who serves as a tutorial in the beginning. This is possibly the smallest population of any game in the series ever, which as a plus means they’re also some of the best-developed characters the series has seen. Story scenes tend to be up close and personal, dealing with things like survivor’s guilt and including some serious discussion on how to repopulate the planet with so few people. More could have been done with them by the end, but that’s true of most games.
Serving as the antagonists are the Sons of NOAH, recursively rendered as the SoNs. These implacable death machines have reactivated decades after the war snuffed itself out, and no reason is ever given for this activity. Much like everything else in the ruins of Tokyo, their one purpose appears to be death to humans.
On the side of humanity, there are tanks. There are so many tanks. From the iconic Red Wolf to the funky Spydercraft, Xeno gives the player plenty of opportunities to tinker, upgrade, and arm themselves for the big game. Unfortunately, much like the original game of the series, Xeno doesn’t do its non-tank dungeons much justice. Granted, most of them are bombed-out relics of old concrete piled on more old concrete, but they lack a certain je ne sais quoi.
So yes, the main attraction for this game is the tanks, and many of the things changed for Xeno relate to vehicular combat. Tank armor / health equivalent has been retconned to a sort of force field that always provides a certain base amount of protection and slowly regenerates, though extra engine horsepower not currently needed for hauling weapons can supplement it. Repairs and reloads at Iron Base, the region’s sole surviving outpost, are free, and equipment is automatically stored in the Trunk Room, from which it can be swapped out and equipped at any time. In one swoop, Xeno has eliminated most of the encumbrance mechanics and penalties that characterized its predecessors.
It’s a good thing that vehicular combat is so important to the experience, then. One of the new elements of this game is that most enemies in the field appear some distance away, and a well-placed shot can help whittle down the other side, if it doesn’t destroy them outright for double experience. Combat on foot is a riskier endeavor, even in the dungeons where enemies are theoretically balanced so as to not need literal artillery to defeat. Party members can equip up to three weapons at a time, but towards the start it’s hard to be prepared for the stronger Named monsters that lurk in the depths.
Character classes help with this. There are six to choose from, providing different stat boosts and ability sets, as well as a few free slots to mix and match more useful tricks. Many builds are dedicated to keeping squishy humans alive longer, while others allow for interesting tank tactics. Pro-tip: the Gangster ability Getaway Driver comes in very handy towards the end of the game.
In the end, while I could enjoy Metal Max Xeno for what it was, it couldn’t hold a candle to the whacked out insanity of its forebears. However, I’m not the average gamer-on-the-street trying it with a blank slate. It’s important to keep in mind that, as with any rusted hulk excavated from the sandy wastelands and piloted into the sunset on a full tank of future-fuel, your mileage may vary.
Best of luck, steel cowboy.