Metal Max Xeno isn’t something I’d expect to see getting a major overhaul. The original is just a few years old, met with middling reviews, and never really made much of a splash despite an intriguing premise and some unique ideas. A rebirth might be just what it needed, though: Metal Max Xeno Reborn isn’t just a major overhaul of just about every aspect of the game, but a reimagining of sorts, and one that captures the atmosphere of the concept in a way that the original couldn’t quite manage.
Metal Max Xeno is a post-apocalypse story, through and through. It’s a game about exploring the desert wasteland in what used to be Tokyo with a crew of some of the last surviving humans trying to scrape by in a world overrun by violent machines and biomechanical monstrosities. In its drip-fed backstory, it’s a game about corporate greed, environmental destruction, and emergent tribalism in the wake of disaster, but in the moment, it’s a game about surviving when—despite driving heavy tanks with powerful cannons—you’re the littlest fish.
That’s something Metal Max Xeno struggled to convey effectively. Difficulty spikes and a focus on grinding in order to deal with “Dystokyo’s” biggest threats—in the form of unavoidable boss fights that crop up with alarming frequency—sure make you feel weak, but don’t really carry that sense of desperation. By contrast, Metal Max Xeno Reborn is much more open in its design philosophy: though the game largely follows the same trajectory, those same boss fights are now practically impossible to beat when you first meet them, and progress means finding ways to avoid them until you’re much, much stronger.
Don’t worry, that doesn’t mean mandatory stealth sections, at least not in the instant-fail sense. Sneaking past those deadly foes is more about using the environment to your advantage: taking a detour through a path that can only be accessed on foot until you find a new spot to redeploy your tank; climbing to the top of a skyscraper to get the drop on a giant spider and then quickly driving past while it’s stuck on its back; even just riding straight past a threat and weathering its attacks until you get out of range on the other side. In its reborn form, Metal Max Xeno is about survival.
That’s helped by a suite of revamped game systems. Battles are still turn-based, but you can freely move around and continue exploring (or trying to flee) at the same time—at the risk of accidentally catching the attention of other monsters. But they’re also easier to avoid thanks to maps that are bigger, more open, and more full of decrepit scenery that can help to avoid detection. Perhaps more crucially, you can get a pre-emptive strike before combat starts, and if you’ve got a cannon strong enough to kill an enemy in one shot—which is more common than you might assume, at least for regular mooks—you can reap all the rewards without having to actually fight at all. That means managing your ammunition, though, which brings it back to that whole question of survival: the best weapons for avoiding combat are usually going to be one the ones with the least capacity, but combat itself can wear your party down through attrition.
The revamped map design also puts more emphasis on exploration, with lots of nooks to delve into and areas that are semi-gated off, either by piles of rubble that require strong weapons to destroy or by powerful enemies. The overall map is broadly the same as in Metal Max Xeno, and your journey across it follows the same path, but it has a lot more substance to it now. And with battle and exploration being more closely intertwined, and with the greater focus on tactical navigation and resource management outside of combat proper, it feels more like the wasteland being depicted.
At the same time, a raft of quality-of-life improvements—though welcome, purely from a convenience perspective—remove some of the sense of danger and desperation. Being able to freely fast-travel between unlocked travel points on a whim, including back to base for a full recovery, removes much of the risk you’d expect from this sort of setting. Even if you get wiped out in combat, you simply return to base automatically, with any items or materials in tow—that’s handy when you want to see if you’re strong enough yet to take on those deadly bosses, and allows more freedom to explore and play with Reborn‘s revamped battle systems, but it also takes the teeth out of that sense if survival.
The reworked storytelling, however, does a much better job of setting the right tone. The plot itself isn’t altered at all, but what has changed is the way it’s delivered: where Xeno was exposition-heavy and dramatic, Reborn instead focuses on atmosphere and letting the world tell its own story. You’ll still get a slow burn of backstory through chats with the world’s last bartender, the growing crew of survivors are still an eclectic and eccentric bunch, and you’ll still end up fighting to save what’s left of the world from an AI gone rogue, but there’s far better balance and thematic consistency, now. That’s only helped by a new art style that better fits the overall mood, reworked visuals, and a much better localisation job.
As unlikely as it seemed for a game as niche as this (especially in the West), Reborn just proves how deserving Metal Max Xeno was of this sort of reimagining. Despite some flaws, the original game was an intriguing game with a lot of neat ideas, and this rebirth does a fine job of polishing up a diamond in the rough.