Metal Max Xeno Review – You Damn, Dirty Robots (PS4)
Metal Max Xeno has a vibe to it that’s both bizarre, yet distantly familiar. It’s like going back in time to an era when ideas were more fluid, when risks could be taken more readily, and it was totally okay for something with cool ideas and deep flaws to stand right alongside the more polished items on the shelf. Metal Max Xeno doesn’t just feel like a relic from a bygone era, it feels like I’m somehow literally playing a PS2 game in 1080p. From its aggressive energy to its striking but low-fidelity visuals, all patched together by its complex systems and old school mechanics, Metal Max Xeno is a sometimes baffling, but always entertaining game I’m still struggling—yet eager—to wrap my head around all the way.
Frankly, it’s almost hard to believe this game is even part of an established series. It’s a real mess of a series too, dating all the way back to the Famicom, but only having so many new, core titles in its lineage among a sea of remakes and cancelled entries. Only one previous game was ever released in North America, Metal Saga for the PlayStation 2. Several years later, Metal Max Xeno is the first new entry that wasn’t a mobile game since 2013, but much like many other long-running JRPG series, you don’t need to know what’s happened in one to approach another.
Could Kick Ass, Could Totally Suck
Metal Max Xeno has the harsh, angry energy of a grimy anime OVA series from the 80s or 90s, one drenched in blood, guts, and violent sexual energy. It’s full of ultra-detailed, grungy-looking character designs, bizarre, mutated enemies, and an overall rebellious feeling of “who cares” and “I hate you” emanating from all of its low-poly crevices. It’s kinda great in that way.
You play as a nameable character who has what is ostensibly a prosthetic, robot arm who is on a mission of vengeance against an oppressive, AI force that has been at war with humanity since well before Metal Max Xeno begins. The human race is mostly extinct, established with a goofy-ass extinction meter that fills and depletes as you move through the story. On your single-minded quest to murder all the murder-bots, you run into the remaining skeleton crew of a self-sufficient military base, from which you drive out into the open world in your bright, red tank to compete mission objectives and learn more about what exactly happened to the world in the first place. The learning part is mostly incidental.
At first, Metal Max Xeno comes off like a mix between a JRPG and a survival game. Your tank’s single cannon only has so many shots, meaning you can only venture so far outside the base before needing to come back to replenish your inventory, regardless of your health otherwise. The beginning can be a real slog, which is punctuated by an odd early gameplay loop that makes a horrible first impression and betrays the deep intrigue of the game once its systems begin to open up.
Paying your Dues on the Wasteland
For the most part, the early loop sees you driving around in an empty desert chasing waypoints, firing shots at enemies that pop up on the map, and occasionally going into a more traditional-looking turn-based battle screen to fire another shot if the first one wasn’t enough. You do this over and over, until you make it just far enough to get your first machine gun, which does less damage than the cannon but never runs out of ammo. Then, once you can push for more distance by way of infinite ammo, you can be more brave, and things get real good.
As you progress, you get more characters to join you, more tanks, and more parts. Metal Max Xeno then becomes as much of a deep, ultra-customizable party building game as it is a plodding JRPG. You can get new weapons for your tank with various properties, new engines that increase shields and carrying capacity, modify the actual structure of each tank to suit different combat needs, attach special abilities, so on, and so forth. Once you get to this point, the game becomes much more comfortable and friendly, and there’s great satisfaction in tinkering with your tank collection to find the most seemingly broke, damaging kits you can make out of the resources you have. One of my most triumphant moments was filling a vehicle with different kinds of machine guns, then attaching a special item that allowed me to fire all of them in a turn. Level grinding became much more efficient after that discovery.
There are also on-foot sections, so not only are you managing your collection of tanks, you’re also building your party members on a much smaller scale. Metal Max Xeno even revels in opportunities to trip you up, as certain enemies are impossible to fight unless you’re safely inside your tanks. In fact, even the tanks themselves are quite fragile, and it’s not uncommon to end up with a party wipe when you happen upon a new monster that can met your shields in a turn because you’re just slightly under leveled. You’re never truly punished for losing, though. When you wipe, you’re simply sent back to base. You can keep everything, and just go back out and try again. Fast travel points are plentiful as well, so as much as Metal Max Xeno likes to slap you around, it’s more concerned with getting you back in the action quickly than making you grind much more.
That’s about it, really! If you’re looking for storytelling chops you won’t find them here. Metal Max Xeno is all about angry and confused survivors screaming about dying, starving, or being horny, and how dope their tanks are, and how more bad guys need to die. It’s refreshing in its earnest nature, and is actually more hopeful than nihilistic. But it is still on the simple and tropey side. Ultimately, this is a game about having a billion options dumped in front of you, and the joy of diving into that pile and making cool stuff out of it. There’s lots of menu-fiddling, number-crunching, and ingredient-gathering, but at the end of that grind is comeuppance for evil, jerk murder-bots as your painstakingly-curated ordnance tears them to shreds, and it’s hard to get more satisfying than that. Metal Max Xeno is a strange, janky, ugly mess of a game, but one I was glued to every minute of.
Metal Max Xeno review code provided by publisher. Version 1.00 reviewed on a Standard PS4. For more information on scoring please see our Review Policy here.