METAL MAX Xeno Reborn
If You've Never Heard Of 'Metal Max' Don't Feel Alarmed
There have been recent titles from niche series that I've covered on 1UP Infinite in the past. Lately, Japan-exclusive series that have seen one or two games released outside their designated region such as Cotton have been on a resurgence. Unfortunately, I can't say the same for Metal Max. This unique JRPG series remained an exclusive for decades, with only two games ever released outside of Japan. Metal Saga, a spinoff of Metal Max was released during the 2000s when JRPGs were popular on the PS2. It was a matter of throwing things at a wall in hopes they would stick. Unfortunately, the unique gameplay didn't wow Western fans over and it'd take a full decade until Metal Max Xeno was released.
The Metal Max series focuses on a post-apocalyptic world where the protagonist befriends other survivors to fight monsters and other rivals. What's unique about the series is its dedication to a non-linear experience. Often times it is uncertain what the player should be doing and it's the exploration that comes as part of the overall experience. Another part of the experience is vehicular combat. Players can fight enemies outside of vehicles, but utilizing reliable vehicles with mounted guns is far more efficient. Unfortunately, I didn't know about the history of Metal Max and went into Xeno blind. Here's what my experience was like.
It's So Difficult Not Writing "Mad Max"
Metal Max Xeno Reborn begins with a broadcast encouraging monster hunters (not that Monster Hunter) to report to Iron Base and help fend off the looming threat. Food, lodging, and services are promised as accommodations. Considering the state we see the protagonist in, this ends up being an offer he can't refuse. We're seen worse for wear next to a pile of rubble and we're given a name, by default Tails. No sooner do we name our character, than we are fighting large ants and going through the ruins of a building.
The game gives you a bit of a tutorial about the way combat works. Everything is real-time yet turn-based, as enemies will attack the longer we're in their line of sight. Likewise, players can get one over the enemies by attacking first. Combat is seamless and all battles are done in the overworld. From a narrative perspective, Metal Max Xeno Reborn is confusing as there's next to nothing the player knows about the protagonist or their situation. Conversely, all the player needs to know is that humanity is screwed and the protagonist has to survive.
Plot? You Are The Plot!
While non-linear titles are nothing new, it was often confusing for me to realize exactly what was it I was supposed to be doing. This is because Metal Max Xeno Reborn gives you tons of goodies to play around with, most notably a tank. The tank is the main form of transport and combat in Xeno. The tank deals more damage and covers more ground than the player ever could on foot. Its power is only limited to its ammo, which can be replenished as the player returns to base.
After killing several ants and "proving their worth," the protagonist is accepted to the small group of monster hunters. They explain that there's a giant monster that will eventually attack the Iron Base. Since the protagonist is the only one with a tank, they are tasked to deal with the menace. The protagonist is also told that in their current state they will not win the fight, hence bounties and side quests exist.
Arise, Monster Hun-tarnished
The game does not hold your hand outside of tutorials. You can fight the giant monster and you can take on bounties out of your punching weight. It's smarter to make sure you're prepared first. Doesn't this remind you of something? Because if it does, please let me know. I insist. My main gripe with Xeno is that it feels soulless. While other non-linear games relied on world-building and the environment surrounding the player to paint their lore, there's only a barren wasteland to explore initially.
Keep in mind that this is a major first impression and that I hadn't explored much of the game aside from this. Metal Max Xeno does little to convince me to explore more. The characters are bland, the graphics are bland, and everything is just middling and average at best. Perhaps its roughness around the edges will smooth itself out the more I play through the game, but it sounds more like an acquired taste. Regardless, for a very niche series, this seems to be a safe enough entry point for newcomers, to begin with. Just know that it is a slog, at least for me.
Metal Max Xeno Reborn is available on PC, PlayStation 4, and Nintendo Switch