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Review: Metal Max Xeno Reborn is the Definitive Version of Dystokyo

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METAL MAX Xeno Reborn Review

It’s said that one person’s trash is another person’s treasure, and nowhere is that expression more apt than in the aftermath of the apocalypse. From Fallout‘s bottle cap currency to the precious bullets of The Road Warrior, everyday items become valuable resources wherever the world as we know it has collapsed into myth and ruin. So it goes with Metal Max Xeno Reborn, where yesteryear’s vehicles of war and destruction are the future-present’s platforms of hope. One could also say the same for the game itself, salvaged over the course of years and redeveloped into something quite different — and much better – than before.

Metal Max Xeno Reborn is essentially a reboot of 2018’s Metal Max Xeno. Though I didn’t play more than a few hours of the original release, I went back to it prior to taking up Xeno Reborn for this review to see what’s changed. While I can’t speak comprehensively as to the differences, what I did see was substantial enough for me to consider Metal Max Xeno Reborn the definitive version of the game and recommend it above the original release for any curious newcomers. This might actually be some cold comfort for people who own the original, seeing as they’d have to pay again to experience a more complete realization of Metal Max Xeno‘s vision.

The most noticeable change in Metal Max Xeno Reborn is to the visuals. The somewhat low-fi, flat-shaded look of the original has been replaced by a detailed aesthetic. It’s one that boasts more graphical bells and whistles, though it still won’t compete with top-line AAA games. There’s also a better sense of scale between the vehicle and character models. For example, your first vehicle in Metal Max Xeno was a cartoonish tank that was about the same size as a compact car. The Reborn version hands you a properly-sized model of Japan’s real-life Type 10 main battle tank. Your Iron Base home no longer looks like a huge LED-festooned PC tower. It is now a structure that blends in more with the game’s post-apocalyptic setting of Dystokyo. The interior’s been remodeled to one less reminiscent of a Mega Man Reploid base, as well. Similarly, the character cutouts used in dialog have been replaced with ones drawn by Gravity Rush artist Takeshi Oga. The original cutouts by artist Oda Non can still be unlocked by clearing the story. Though relatively minor in the grand scheme of things, these visual changes, combined with better-detailed environments and a longer draw distance in the field, help sell Reborn‘s more consistent sense of atmosphere. No one will mistake it for being “realistic,” though. This is still a game where you can take that Type 10 MBT, outfit it with five cannons, and use them to blow away a giant dinosaur with missile launchers on its back.

The second most obvious change was leveled at Metal Max Xeno‘s combat system and vehicle controls. Vehicles now control similarly to ones in open-world titles, with acceleration and braking mapped to the shoulder buttons by default. Additional physics behavior has also been applied in some cases, with tanks and buggies handling noticeably differently when bouncing over Dystokyo’s dunes. Don’t expect the driving experience to hold a candle to the likes of a dedicated racer or even the 2015 Mad Max action game, but it does add a lot of character. There’s also a great touch where your dog and any dismounted characters will ride atop the currently controlled vehicle.

Metal Max Xeno Reborn

The most famous thing about the series, which is Metal Max Xeno Reborn‘s combat, is mostly focused on vehicle engagements. You and your party are in various tanks, buggies, and even a few mecha. All enemies spawn directly on the field, roaming around and noticing your party as you drive past. Stay in an enemy’s sights long enough, and it transitions to combat. However, rather than a separate battle screen, fights now happen in quasi-real-time, similar to some Final Fantasy games’ ATB system. Once engaged, you can bring up the menu at any point and queue up a shot with your equipped weapons. You can also enhance your attacks with various skills learned through skill point allocation and leveling up.

The implementation of real-time movement and on-field foes adds an extra dimension to combat that wasn’t there before: cover. It’s now possible to move your vehicle behind buildings and convenient corners to block enemy fire or hide from their sight and break off combat. Once you get weapons with longer range you can even start sniping entire groups of foes, clearing whole maps without them ever noticing you. You can even cheese some boss enemies, as you can fire a shot, run around the corner to break contact, then go back and fire again, chipping away at their health. This is useful, as the enemies are tougher overall and your vehicles are more fragile. Especially if you stress their engines and thin their armor to fit a lot of heavy weaponry. Thankfully, dying poses little risk, simply dumping you back at Iron Base for a heal before heading back out. Some might resent the loss of the sense of struggle, but I personally enjoyed the more casual pace this enabled. Even with these accommodations and convenient fast travel and save-anywhere systems, it can still be a real grind. It can take a lot of time to gather up enough money, materials, and skill points to upgrade your tanks enough to take on the “Wanted” enemies, whose deaths are necessary to bring down the game’s “Extinction Meter.”

METAL MAX Xeno Reborn

The Extinction Meter also demonstrates how the storytelling’s been adjusted to accommodate Metal Max Xeno Reborn and its newfound appreciation for more freeform play. The meter represents how close humanity, represented by its last remaining stronghold in Iron Base, is to being annihilated by the Catastropus. That’s a mechanical kaiju created by Noah, the AI that decided mankind was Earth’s biggest problem. Your job as Iron Base’s newest and only hunter is to to bring that meter down by destroying Catastropus’ minions, accomplishing quests, and killing off the Wanted monsters that form the forefront of Noah’s ongoing assault on humanity. The Extinction Meter was present in the original release, but didn’t mean much since the whole game was pretty linear. Now the meter rises in semi-real time, ticking up if you while away the days without killing off a Wanted monster or progressing through the main story. It’s not a time limit. You’d have to deliberately try to not play the game and just rest constantly to induce a fail state, but it is an interesting reflection of your actions. Especially since you have more freedom to determine where you go and in what order you tackle the challenges before you.

What storytelling and world-building Metal Max Xeno Reborn does is concentrated in the few survivors you find and bring back to Iron Base. They’re mostly bleak fragments of backstory doled out in conversation. Cutscenes are few and far between, and character relationships are generally left at the surface level. Hilariously, getting into a romance ends the game, leaving you to reload the last save. Kadokawa Games rightly realized that some games are better served by a story that gets out of your way and has tuned Xeno Reborn to reflect that philosophy.

Metal Max Xeno Reborn

Unfortunately, a philosophy that could have been better reflected by Metal Max Xeno Reborn is one that prioritizes a smooth user experience and player onboarding. Despite years of work and what amounts to a comprehensive overhaul, Metal Max Xeno Reborn is as janky as the ramshackle wasteland buggies you drive across the ruins. Driving physics have been improved, but the environment is full of invisible walls and unclimbable barriers that stop your 30-ton tank dead in its tracks because it clipped the corner of a random rock. Many critical functions are buried behind multiple menus and vague item or skill descriptions. Further, the localization suffers from oversights in editing, like inconsistencies, spelling errors, and odd word choices. It’s not unplayable, but it amounts to a set of new problems introduced by the effort solve the problems of the original release. A step back despite the multiple steps forward accomplished by the reboot.

Nevertheless though, these issues are relatively easy to overlook in light of the fact that there’s really nothing quite like Metal Max Xeno Reborn in the JRPG space. It may still be a bit spartan and feel undercooked compared to its better-known, more lavishly produced contemporaries, but its focus on vehicle combat and spare, understated storytelling makes it unique and rarely boring. Appreciating what Metal Max Xeno Reborn does in spite of itself feels kind of like digging an old relic out of a pile of junk, dusting it off, and finding that it’s still got some life in it. It’s not quite a treasure, but it’s farther from being trash than it’s ever been.

Metal Max Xeno Reborn is available for the PS4, PC, and Nintendo Switch. Metal Max Xeno is available for the PS4.

Metal Max Xeno Reborn

7

Though the reboot solved many of Metal Max Xeno's problems, it introduced a few more, but those aren't enough to keep it from being the definitive edition of the game.

Food For Thought:
  • The dog has its own skill tree: Dog!
  • Despite the cancelation of a planned sequel, I hope this isn't the last we see of Metal Max titles.
  • A new slate of contenders for the title of "Most Insane Tank".
    If you want to know more, check out Siliconera's review guide.
    Josh Tolentino
    Josh Tolentino helped run Japanator as Managing Editor since 2012, before it and Siliconera teamed up. That said, it's been years since he watched enough anime to keep his otaku license valid. Maybe one day he'll see enough of a given season to pretend to know what's hot. Until then, it's Star Trek reruns, gacha games, and bylines at Destructoid and GameCritics.