Day-and-date new releases on Xbox Game Pass are one of the most exciting things happening in games right now. Subscription services provide an opportunity to try games you otherwise wouldn't have paid full price for, and with Game Pass, you don't have to wait until months after release when all the hype has died down — you can play brand new games like Gears Tactics on release day for only $5/month.
Between Gears 5, The Outer Worlds, and now Gears Tactics, Game Pass has really been heating up and drawing a lot of attention. Yesterday, Microsoft announced that Game Pass has 10 million subscribers, a milestone no doubt bolstered by day-and-date games like Gears Tactics and the upcoming Minecraft Dungeons.
It stands to reason then that many players are picking up Game Pass right now (while it's still $1 for the first month) to play Gears Tactics. As a tactics fan and a Game Pass advocate, I'll be the first to commend that decision. However, before you go dumping 40+ hours into a new tactics game — especially if you're just playing it because it's "free" — I implore you to consider another Game Pass tactics game instead: Mutant Year Zero.
Mutant Do What Gears Don't
First and foremost. I'm really enjoying Gears Tactics. It's a pretty safe take on the XCOM formula with a Gears flavor I can't help but be endeared to after all these years. It streamlines a lot of the nitty-gritty stuff in XCOM that might turn off more casual players and makes leveling, gearing, and role-defining nearly automatic. If you like XCOM, you'll probably like Gears Tactics.
On the other hand is Mutant Year Zero: Road To Eden. Mutant Year Zero is also available on Game Pass and not only is it a more interesting and inventive tactics game than both Gears and XCOM, but it's also a lot more accessible to tactics-curious players that may not be ready for a 40-hour experience.
Mutant Year Zero is a character-focused stealth/tactics game based on the tabletop RPG of the same name. The post-apocalyptic world of MYZ is populated by violent marauders, robot armies, and human-animal hybrid characters on a quest to discover their origin. The world of Mutant Year Zero is darker, more foreboding, and driven by a much more compelling narrative than either Gears Tactics or XCOM. Every skirmish is purposeful and moves the plot forward in a meaningful way, while Gears can often feel like a series of endless missions that serve no purpose other than to earn a gun barrel that increases accuracy by 5%.
Much More Than Disconnected Missions
Gears Tactics separates every battle into individual missions. After every battle, players are returned to a menu screen where they can customize characters, recruit new ones, and launch the next mission. This system provides clear stopping points to take a break, but it also emphasizes the monotony and repetitiveness of the game. There's not much maintenance to do between missions; equip any incrementally more powerful gear you've collected, spend an experience point or two, and launch the next mission. There are cutscenes at the beginning and end of most missions to give context to the battle, but the missions themselves and the spaces they take place in are completely disconnected.
Mutant Year Zero takes place entirely in one continuous world. Your characters can move freely from zone to zone, exploring, looting, and setting up ambushes on the enemies that roam around the world. You don't return to a menu after every fight either. There is a hub with shops and places to buy upgrades, but it's a town that physically exists in the world that you have to travel to.
Outside of battle, your characters can freely move around and explore. Enemies have a visual radius around them as they path through the world. If any of your characters enter that radius, the game seamlessly transitions to a turn-based tactics mode. This allows players to strategically position their units to set up an ambush or plan out how they want to approach the battle. The ability to plan out skirmishes is what makes Mutant Year Zero stand out from the crowd.
In Gears Tactics, there's no way to prepare for the battle ahead because you don't know what the battlefield looks like or what's going to happen. The best you can do bring a diverse set of skilled Gears into the mission and hope for the best. In MYZ, you can see the battlefield, what units you'll be fighting, and prepare accordingly. If there's lots of verticality, equip your characters with flying abilities to get a height advantage. If there are groups of small enemies, equip more grenades and AOE abilities. If you see robots, it would be wise to equip gear that resists shock damage. Mutant Year Zero rewards tactical planning in a way Gears Tactics simply can't.
Better, Non-Disposable Characters
Gears Tactics offers a small cast of hero characters and an endless supply of disposable recruits. Like XCOM, these units have no personality, no real incentive to level, and no real reason to grow attached to them. These units are meant to be sacrificed in battle. On the flip side, when the hero characters go down in battle you'll instantly lose the fight and need to restart from your last checkpoint.
Mutant Year Zero doesn't treat characters as disposable units. Each of the 6 characters can be swapped in an out of your 3-man squad between each battle and each one has unique characteristics, strengths and weaknesses, and personality. What's more, a battle isn't lost until all 3 characters go down. This creates tense battle scenarios where the player is down to just 1 unit but still has a chance to win the fight. If they do, the other teammates are able to pick themselves up. Health isn't automatically refilled between battles either, encouraging the player to swap characters around and play with the full roster while looting for health packs. There are no faceless soldiers in Mutant Year Zero, every character is part of the story.
Play This, Not That
Mutant Year Zero: Road To Eden and it's expansion Seed of Evil can be played in half the time it takes to grind out Gears Tactics and offers a much more engaging experience. If you've just signed up for Game Pass to try out a cool new tactics game, give Mutant Year Zero a shot. It's a lower budget game than Gears Tactics no doubt, but the gameplay and story beats are just so much more compelling.
Your drying pan won't protect you from the wrath of societal cancellation, Brock.