Video games are a special medium. You can seemingly take any concept you’ve thought of and smash it with some sort of gameplay and you’re good to go. Sometimes, concepts get used that might not lend themselves to a fun and coherent style. If you read through the foreshadowing, you’ll realize that Metal Max Xeno falls into that category.
Based in a world where humans were deemed to be the greatest threat to Earth and wiped out by a sentient AI, Metal Max Xeno definitely strikes out when it comes to story originality and quickly manages to backpedal at almost every statement made in thegame. The premise is simple, Humanities on the brink of extinction, you’re the last monster hunter (except you aren’t) on a crusade to destroy as many machines and monsters as you can. Along the way, you’ll discover that there’s one woman left in the entire world (except there’s more than one) and you’ll dive into the reason for the Great Annihilation.
Hopefully, my enthusiasm hasn’t given away how I feel about the story in Metal Max Xeno, but for those of you who haven’t read between the lines yet, it’s uninspired at best and contradictory at worst. Every pseudo-dramatic line is undermined in a matter of moments, sometimes even in the very next story beat. While a huge amount of the dialogue manages to hamfist its ideals, there was a single story beat that really stuck with me for its horrific handling. After being told that there are no females left in the world, your hero (who you can name whatever the fuck you want) stumbles upon the seemingly “last female” in the world. After her recovery and insistence on joining you in the fight against the Monsters and whatever evil ails you, the story takes a disgustingly dark turn.
You can probably guess where I’m about to go with this, but here’s your warning to maybe skip a paragraph. The story beat breaks down to a “you’re the last women, you can’t leave because we need to repopulate the world using you”. What actually shocked me with this was the instant leap from “I’m so glad you’re safe” to “We make babies now!”. The characters virginity (which is intact, in case you’re wondering) doesn’t even seem to be an issue for the lecherous old men who are even proposing the fornication. Coupled with the fact that your mission at that point is to visit previous survivor bases to actually see if there is anyone knobbing around on their own, the escalation to imprison and sexually abuse a young girl is revolting.
But that’s as far as I’ll discuss in regard to the story, let’s get to the actual gameplay, shall we?
Metal Max Xeno is your standard turn-based JRPG. You have your basic attacks coupled with various skills you can employ X amount of times. If you’ve played any JRPG throughout the years, you’ll be more than familiar with the formula. So where does Metal Max Xeno break the mold? Well, dear reader, the vast majority of the combat takes place in tanks. You can engage enemies from afar to gain a tactical advantage, or even kill the enemy outright, causing you to avoid combat entirely. While it’s certainly an interesting twist, it also creates some pitfalls and the main issue comes from navigating the map.
Holy shit does it suck to control the tanks. Traveling around the world isn’t a massive problem until you encounter something that’s jutting out in your path. As soon as an obstacle stops your forward momentum you’re in for a treat as all the thanks handle like arthritic cattle. I also randomly ran into a bug where I’d be constantly forced to move forward. It wouldn’t matter if I was in a tank, or running around on foot. There was no rhyme or reason to when it would happen and it actually got to the point where I thought there was an autorun function in the game. As with every bug, whenever I could’ve done with having Metal Max Xeno just run me forwards, it never happened.
Metal Max Xeno also has an ammo system when fighting in the tanks. While I know it adds to a strange sense of “realism”, it’s oddly placed. The number of times you’ll be trawling the map to grind out some EXP or just to find items and you’ll run out of ammo for your tank is strange. You can only refill your ammo by returning to your base, which I suppose is fine if it refills all ammo, but it doesn’t. I’d often switch out cannons on my tanks after running out of a set of ammo. If I ran completely dry, I’d return to base to restock and wander out and swap in my more powerful cannons again, only to discover that if they aren’t equipped when you actually return to base, they don’t get refilled. It seems like a little oversight that leads to a tonne of frustration for me, based purely on the fact that I’m a little dumb and my memory has been shite for years.
Before you really even begin to play Metal Max Xeno properly, a character informs you to “keep stocked up on ammo” when you’re exploring, so it’s actually kind of confusing to not be able to stockpile ammo, especially when you can quite easily run out after a few fights.
Graphically, Metal Max Xeno is quite clearly a PlayStation Vita port. The character models are blocky and stiff in their movement. Most of the environments you encounter are a lovely mix of yellow and grey. While I get the whole Global Annihilation thing is the cause for this, it doesn’t stop the Metal Max Xeno from looking drab and boring. A few of the tank designs are interesting, which makes it a shame that the first one you start with is bland.
I also had a massive gripe with the music in the game. While this is only a short point, it felt like I was listening to the same song for hours. It could just be me losing concentration with Metal Max Xeno as the game as a whole is mostly uninspired, but I’m convinced I was listening to the same track over and over again.
Overall, Meal Max Xeno isn’t awful by any stretch of the imagination. It’s a JRPG that does very little that’s interesting or unique. The post-apocalyptic setting has been done to death at this point. If you’re a fan of JRPGs, you’ll probably find some enjoyment from playing Metal Max Xeno, but I’d highly recommend waiting for it to go on sale.