Mutant Badlands review

Mutant Badlands (formerly known as Radiated Wasteland) is a new Facebook game from Pixel Pandemic. It’s available now in open beta via the social network and the open Web.

Mutant Badlands

Mutant Badlands is a conscious attempt to make a massively-multiplayer role-playing game for Facebook that doesn’t follow the usual conventions of social gaming. Writing in a press release prior to the game’s open beta launch in mid-February, Pixel Pandemic CEO Thomas Jacobsen noted that he believed the market to be “flooded by cute farm animals and boring linear gameplay” and that there were too few challenging browser-based role-playing games designed to attract gamers who had grown up with standalone  PC games such as Fallout and the original X-Com series. Mutant Badlands is very obviously heavily inspired by the first two Fallout games in particular, as everything from its interface design to its overall aesthetic very closely resembles Black Isle’s classic PC titles.

Screen Shot 2013-03-21 at 8.22.06 AMIn Mutant Badlands, players are cast in the role of a young adult emerging from the underground city of Oasis 4 after a giant comet has crashed into Earth and turned the land into an irradiated wasteland infested with mutant creatures. The eventual aim of the game is to help the population of Oasis 4 migrate to the surface, as the colony’s resources are running out. This is achieved by working one’s way through a series of story-based missions, collecting resources, exploring and leveling up. The game is rather complex, but its various mechanics are introduced to the player at a good rate through a series of tutorials that walks players through moving around the game world, battling enemies and interacting with the structures and inhabitants that populate the wasteland.

Gameplay unfolds in several distinct components. Exploring the wasteland is represented by moving between square cells on a top-down perspective map. Each cell has some background artwork and may also have some other features such as buildings that can be entered or other structures that can be scavenged. Certain cells on the map are dangerous, and these are clearly marked before the player moves into them — dangerous cells carry a particular risk of being attacked by enemies represented as a percentage, and upon entering these cells the player has a chance of being thrown into combat.

Combat is represented in an abstract, turn-based manner similar to a tabletop roleplaying game. The player is shown the party of enemies they are up against along with how far away they are, and must move within weapons range by clicking an “Advance” button to move forwards. Different weapons have different ranges — melee weapons require the player to be at a range of zero, for example, while ranged weapons such as crossbows and guns can be fired from a distance. Attacking the enemy is a simple matter of clicking the “attack” button, which displays the percentage change the player has to hit the enemy. Players may choose to target a specific part of the enemy if they desire for particular bonuses, or may flee if the battle is not going their way — the “run away” button also displays the percentage change of success for this action, as fleeing is by no means guaranteed in most cases.

Outside of combat, the game’s missions generally unfold through text-based sequences in which the player must click on action buttons to advance. Most of the time early in the game, there is only a single option to click on, but occasionally the player is presented with multiple options, some of which require a test of one of their skill values to represent a specific challenge. If successful, the rewards for completing these tasks are usually greater than the standard activities; failure can sometimes bring negative consequences. Players may increase their attributes and skills through leveling up and also via an EVE Online-style “training” system whereby they can queue up skills to automatically increase over time either while playing or while logged out of the game. Players who sign up for a premium account (anywhere between $5.99 for 30 days to the pretty good value $29.99 for 360 days) have the option to schedule larger skill increases over longer periods; free players may only make use of the five-minute training opportunities.

Social features for the game include a real-time chat facility (somewhat sparsely populated at the time of writing) and a clan facility that allows players to cooperate and compare performance with one another. For the most part, the game is a fairly solitary experience, much like its inspiration Fallout, but the social features do allow players to engage with one another while exploring the hefty amount of content the game has on offer. Since the game is presently in open beta, it’s also likely that a number of additional features will be implemented over time as the player base grows.

Mutant Badlands

Mutant Badlands is a good game that is particularly noteworthy for breaking away from the norms of Facebook-based roleplaying games. It’s not a text-based Mafia Wars clone, nor is it a pared-down experience designed to be as friendly and accessible to newcomers as possible; it is a brutal, challenging game with a lot of well-written content to offer. It will likely be of considerable interest to self-professed “core” gamers who grew up with titles such as Fallout and its ilk. This core-centric focus means that the game will likely not attract as large an audience as something more simplistic and universally appealing, but midcore and hardcore gamers often monetize considerably better than more casual players — and with the subscription prices for the game’s premium service being so reasonably priced, it’s entirely possible that Pixel Pandemic will have a decent success on its hands if it works hard to promote the game to the right audience.

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A high-quality, well-crafted “core” game that is sure to appeal to fans of the original Fallout and its ilk.