GamingReview: Metal Max Xeno Reborn

Review: Metal Max Xeno Reborn

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Is Metal Max Xeno Reborn a remake, a remaster or a re-release? Well, let’s just say one of life’s mysteries goes unresolved for another day, but this turn-based JRPG is – like the name suggests – ‘reborn’, like a director’s cut of a movie that manages to create a completely different experience from the same source material.      

Originally a PS4 and PS Vita release, the 15th entry in the post-apocalyptic vehicle-combat Metal Max series, that has gone relatively under the radar here in the west, but don’t let that fool you, this low-budget re-thingamajig is one of the most addictive JRPGs I’ve ever played and is tremendous fun. 

The biggest change from the original is the complete overhaul and massive improvement of its battle system, which now plays more like a hybrid action game on a ‘live’ map, with a turn-based structure triggering only when discovered by an enemy, allowing for you to avoid them entirely or for countless other enemies to join the fight. The transition from adventure and battle modes is also seamless, keeping you in the active world throughout, making the game feel more alive and autonomous.

They found me, I found them, pleasantries were exchanged.

Even if a battle starts after being detected, you can still exit the attack mode at the touch of a button and attempt to escape the enemy’s range, while another can activate an auto-fire mode which gives you the chance of victory even without hanging around.

I can’t think of any other turn-based games that work this way, but I’d love to see more adopt it as it works fantastically, only getting better as your weaponry expands. Interestingly though, it couldn’t be more of a departure from the original, which in comparison feels like a retro RPG with wooden and barebones adventuring married with a classic turn-based system, and the transition between the two felt awkward and forced.

While the action in Reborn mostly takes place in vehicles – your vehicles including tanks, a buggy, a bus and a spider tank – the game also brilliantly combines with the ability to attack on foot, which is where engineer, medic and assault abilities come in handy. 

The well-designed enemies are both numerous and amusing, having you guessing what’s around the next corner.

This is only one half of the overall gameplay loop though, as you can have almost as much fun with an addictively deep and creative tank customization system that rewards constant tinkering, but also requires it, to challenge the progressively harder enemies. If you try to brute force your way through the game without taking the time to pick-up items and develop your own weapons you will struggle to progress, but if you become adept at creating builds that focus on the best available weapons and enemy weaknesses, you’ll likely have little trouble carving through the field. 

With a choice of 5 weapon slots, an engine slot and 5 trait chips to enhance your tank there’s a lot you can play with.

Buying, creating and upgrading your large selection of weapons is great, but one of the best elements of the tank customization is the deciding on your tank’s setup and how to divide your weapons between your vehicles.

You can’t, for example, equip all of the most powerful – and heavy – weapons to one vehicle, as the closer you get to your weight capacity limit, the lower the tank’s health becomes. Selecting a lighter weapon of the 3 types (machine gun, cannon and missile) or reducing the weight of your individual weapons can also help, but that lowers your overall attacking power and makes them more susceptible to damage during battle, so striking a balance is key to get the most out of your tanks. It might seem tedious at first glance, but the slickly-designed menus make it an easy process that you can easily spend hours playing around in. 

I personally found the normal mode a little too easy, but with the game providing 3 extra unlockable difficulty levels as well as a survival mode (which removes all autohealing from the game), there is something for everyone.

I don’t know where you stand on the need to platinum your games, dear reader, but so simple and efficient is the gameplay loop in Reborn that even my long-lost desire for such achievements was rekindled at the thought of more explosive action and tinkering with more tank setups. 

Each vehicle looks and handles very differently, with each change of weapons giving your tank a new design.

Story-wise, the post-apocalyptic narrative is about as basic as it gets – humanity is on the brink due to an overzealous and unappreciative AI mind who created behemoth machine monsters, called SoNs, that you’ve need to defeat.

Initially a lone wolf, you soon discover humanity’s last beacon of hope – a base which can recover and replenish resources – and explore the world finding survivors and abandoned vehicles to add to your arsenal. The bosses responsible for the hell on earth all have bounties on their heads and drop special parts you can use to create epic weapons to destroy the next one.

If Reborn had a priority list, the story would be near the bottom as it’s actually a butchered version of the original, cutting out entire plot points, characters, animated cutscenes, and ultimately leaving the story to play out like a mystery that gets filled in a piecemeal manner through character interactions as they delve into their pasts.  

The world itself is explored linearly and is largely barren except for enemies, but interestingly, this sparseness never really becomes an issue as the gameplay loop of battling, fast travelling back to base to autoheal and upgrading your vehicles paints an effective picture of survival in a harsh world where everything is hard to come by – apart from the autohealing which we’ll chalk down to modern gaming convenience.     

Colorful explosions, cool looking bosses contrast well with bleak sand-covered maps.

It should be said that the mysterious atmosphere exuded by the soundtrack, great enemy variety and environmental design makes you want to learn more about the world through the relationships with the available characters (that develop as you level them up), but even those unaware of the original would sense that something was left on the cutting room floor here. This slight frustration is then compounded by quirky joke endings for each NPC that shows your bedroom door and cuts to credits, which is either amusing fan service, or a sign of a neglected story.      

Not content with just a gameplay and story revamp, the visual design has also gotten an overhaul, taking the original’s cartoonish style and taking a more photo-realistic filter to the output as well as vastly improving the menus. With all the changes, it makes you wonder if the original was made for the PS Vita and then scaled up for the PS4 later on.

If you are not a fan of the great tank-related gameplay, there’s not much else to convince the player to jump into Reborn, but there is a jukebox (with some kickass tracks) and a bar that you can drink at during pitstops from the adventuring.

Reborn, then, is perhaps how the original was supposed to be, but despite the chance to add to the game and risk feature bloat, the game does the exact opposite, knowing exactly what it takes for a low-budget title to succeed and becoming more efficient in its strengths. The developer deserves a lot of credit for this restraint as the inward focus provides a great many immersive details that give that the world and its characters more context.

A day/night cycle, for example, conveys and contrasts natural beauty against the backdrop of the desolate world filled with suffering. The sun rising and setting while stretching shadows across the map might sound like a small detail, but the imagery of a new day starting to a tonally perfect soundtrack as cannons fire and war rages is not only impressive but had me thinking of our impermanence in the world.

My favourite minor detail, though, has to be when your teammates hitch a ride atop of your vehicle (after their own has been totaled), which for safety reasons probably wouldn’t happen in real-life, but the thought process makes sense and it’s an entirely unnecessary inclusion that brings you closer to the action.  

I’d be remiss if I forgot to mention the dog that can join your team as an assist character – with a gun strapped to its back. You can stroke and feed him at base, and if you spend a ton of upgrade points for him you can also unlock a belly rub – not kidding. Furthermore if you want to play a spin-off from the same developer you can always buy ‘Metal Dogs’, that has solely dog protagonists – also not kidding.

Despite all the awesomeness, there is some inevitable low-budget jank, with character models lacking the quality in detail that the vehicles and environment are both afforded and the occasional slightly jaggard running animation that comes with them, but they aren’t a deal breaker by any means. Perhaps the worst offender though, is the inconsistent translation, which ranges from non-existent (with some enemy and item descriptions still in Japanese) to slightly confusing.  

With its tremendous take on the turn-based formula and creative vehicle/weapon customization, Reborn has one of the simplest and most addictive gameplay loops I’ve ever experienced, even out-performing its larger JRPG cousins in that regard. Sadly, with the cancellation of Reborn’s sequel being announced on the same day as its western release, it rings even truer now that Reborn is a giant killer from start to finish, going out perhaps not as intended, but in a blaze of glory. 

SUMMARY

+ A low-budget JRPG that defies its own and all expectations
+ Highly addictive and creative gameplay loop of action and customization
+ Great improvements over the original
+ Atmospheric soundtrack
+ Variety of well-designed enemies
- Lack of a story

Played on PS4. Available on Nintendo Switch and Windows.
Alex Chessun
Alex Chessun
Currently obsessed with the Yakuza series (minus no.7), Alex is an avid fan of immersive Open World games, quick pick-up-and-play arcade experiences and pretty much anything else good. He also desperately wants Shenmue 4 to happen - a lot.

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Review: Metal Max Xeno Reborn+ A low-budget JRPG that defies its own and all expectations<br/> + Highly addictive and creative gameplay loop of action and customization<br/> + Great improvements over the original<br/> + Atmospheric soundtrack<br/> + Variety of well-designed enemies<br/> - Lack of a story<br/> <br/> Played on PS4. Available on Nintendo Switch and Windows.