The Metal Max series of games was a complete mystery prior to me playing the latest installment. The series has been around for 27 years and produced 14 games (Including the Metal Saga games). How could a whole series of RPG games where you get to play as tanks in a post apocalyptic, monster filled world skip my attention for all these years? Well part of the reason behind this is that until this year only one of these games has been released in the western market…on PS2…to a lukewarm reception. When up against the likes of Rogue Galaxy, Kingdom hearts 2 and sandwiched between Final Fantasy X and XII you can see how this title was lost into the ether.
With Metal Max Xeno, published and developed by Kodokawa games they aim to take a second shot at the western market. The game takes place in the desolated Tokyo bay where there has been a machine led apocalypse in the vain of Horizon Zero dawn (or the Matrix for you movie goers) and only a handful of humans are left trying to survive. You take control initially of Talin, a half man, half machine hunter who is out for revenge against machines (called SoNs) that murdered his mother. Soon you team up with the crew of the Iron base, a lone outpost where you regenerate and repair your tanks, and take on the desolate wasteland. Sounds interesting? Well not quite.
Graphically this is certainly no Final Fantasy 15, character animations are straight out of the PS2 era, their motions are very jilted and with very limited expression. This is forgivable as not all games have a motion capture budget like Rockstar but what isn’t forgivable is the dire environments. When you’re in tank, sand and a lifeless desert surround you. There are limited focal points and those, which are visible, are blocky and unimaginative. I found myself getting stuck repetitively against barriers that weren’t even there. This still came as a pleasant relief to the inane boredom generated by the forced on foot sections. Scattered around the map these areas are essentially deliberate time thieves aimed at artificially prolonging the game. They are trite, dark and repetitive corridors of almost identical terrain with absolutely no redeeming visuals. Copy and paste multiple times with treasure chests, which attempt to lure you forward, multiple monster encounters and you have the on foot sections. I recognize this as an RPG staple for game prolongation but the blazon laziness exhibited in its application here is mind-blowing.
The redeeming factor could have been the story but unfortunately this is found wanting too. The familiar tale of machines becoming sentient and turning on mankind is a well-trodden road and Metal Max doesn’t bring anything new. I just didn’t care for the plights of my characters with their stories as wooden as their animations. There seemed to be a preoccupation with sexual themes, with the pressured dialogue around sex and repopulating the earth being poorly done and rather disturbing. Further to this, the attempts to add little time capsules of the catastrophic event are poorly realized and I found myself just brushing past them towards the end of my play through.
For all of its faults the RPG and Battle mechanics are sound. The fights are turn based and allow you to jump out of your tanks to perform character specific special moves. There are deep and varied customization options for all of your tanks in the main hub of Iron Base, which evolves as you get more and more knowledge from exploring the outside world. I really enjoyed pimping my tank with tropical colors before putting ludicrously overpowered weapons on it. It made a significant difference to my success in battles and was one of the few additional options that I enjoyed undertaking. Your characters set-ups are also customizable but essentially I preferred just avoiding battles on foot. The enemies that you encounter are highly imaginative and often humorous in there depiction.
Metal Max Xeno feels like a poor remaster of a decent PS2 era RPG albeit with all the faults and none of the modern RPG benefits. The decent battle mechanics and customizable tanks cannot make up for the lack of an engaging story, poor design choices and general laziness in presentation. It’s hard to recommend this game to any but the diehard fans of the series.
Coffee received a review copy of this game