‘Biomutant’ review: a hodgepodge of ideas that alternates between drudgery and wonder

Years in the making, Experiment 101's game feels like it needs more polish

Biomutant is for all intents and purposes a pretty bold achievement. Created by Experiment 101 with a studio of only 20 people, it is every bit the underdog. An open-world game in a scrappy post-apocalyptic setting populated by anthropomorphic kung-fu acolytes, it is a victim of its own lofty ambition, stretched too thin in some places, and burdened by fussiness in others. At times it is charming and intoxicating, in others dull and frustrating.

Biomutant starts promisingly as you design a little critter with a surprisingly deep and flexible character creator. A toxic apocalypse caused by massive polluter Toxanal has caused wildlife to run rampant. Humans are gone, and anthropomorphic creatures rule the world. Reflecting your character’s mutated birth, traits are picked by changing your furry form. A top-heavy triangle build will see you focus on strength. A lithe form will boost your agility. Cute face: charisma. Big head? Intelligence.

A short tutorial introduces you to the game’s overbearing narrator which promises that choices at every fork in the road will actually mean something. This point is reinforced over and over throughout Biomutant, as if a salesman is trying to convince you this feature exists by talking about it. There are choices, but they’re heavily telegraphed binaries that lack any nuance. Regardless of what decisions you make, you still end up at the same destination, and no amount of set dressing changes that fact.

Biomutant review
Biomutant. Credit: THQ Nordic

The narrator’s dialogue also mirrors the world’s esoteric charm with a big word salad full of cutesy conjunctions and portmanteaus.

Trains are chug-chugs, water is goo, abandoned houses are fixer-uppers, radars are pingdishes. It’s constantly tripping over the line between endearing world building and tiresome inanity. This isn’t helped by a plot that’s rather more self-serious in tone, at least at the start. It positions you as an orphan destined to carry on the legacy of your mother, a “Wung-fu” master who tried to unite the disparate tribes by training a series of apprentices. Disaster inevitably strikes, and you emerge in a world where the tribes are at war and a second apocalypse looms because the towering Tree of Life is in danger of being destroyed.

The tree’s skyscraping roots are in the process of being gnawed on by four Worldeaters that must be defeated to postpone the coming calamity. These fluffy, titanic monsters dwarf every other enemy in size and have disarmingly silly names like Fluffyhulk, but the boss encounters with them are unique – and impressive – spectacles.

You can pick and choose the order you tackle these beasts in a similar manner to Breath of the Wild. Alongside that quest, you’ll need to choose a tribe to ally with, and then dominate or unite the remaining tribes. Biomutant is fairly free-form in this respect: you set your goal and begin gambolling across the beautiful wastelands, stumbling across ruined encampments and beast lairs.

Biomutant review
Biomutant. Credit: THQ Nordic

Exploring and navigating the world of Biomutant is delightful. The small team behind the game have managed to create a world that looks absolutely gorgeous and feels full of life. Weather changes erratically across its various biomes, occasionally catching you in fearsome thunderstorms that are rendered with incredible force. Certain areas have mutated far beyond habitable conditions, leaving them irradiated or home to aberrant temperature. Finding specific protective gear lets you explore them, and the thrill of the hunt is one of the game’s unique elements.

Sadly as with most open-world games, activities across the map (including those in the hazardous zones) are pulled from a small pool, mostly revolving around beating up other critters and looting every piece of gear you can find. Scavenging is the core appeal for every location and puzzle because the loot that you earn feeds into Biomutant‘s champion feature: its gear creation.

Hoovering up all and sundry in most games becomes fairly dismal quite quickly, but in Biomutant every purple, yellow and red glowing container had me hammering the collect button to see what new gear I could craft. Guns and a variety of different melee weapons serve as your main combat tools, and you can customise or make your own without much hassle.

The root part of the weapon (shotgun, rifle, sword, club) is chosen first, then add-ons and components are stitched on. Pay a fee of materials, and you can slap it together to create a new weapon, with new stats, new effects and a new design. The same goes for your gear, though the system is slightly simpler and instead involves bolting on scrap and pads to your gear to raise its attributes. It’s fun and extends the initial character customisation to your gear, letting you hone your look.

Biomutant
Biomutant. Credit: THQ Nordic

It’s a shame, then, that combat is lacklustre. It doesn’t have a sense of coherence from one moment to the next. There is no lock on, which is frequently annoying, and all attacks – be they yours or your enemies – seem to lack real impact. Combos are available, but they’re the same for every weapon: two inputs then press the special button to do a move, if you aren’t interrupted by one of the many enemies harassing you.

There are special powers in the form of mutations and psionic powers that can be earned, which add a bit of flavour, and landing three combo attacks lets you activate a super mode with a handful of powerful moves, but it feels inconsequential when dodging and parrying feel too unpredictable to rely on. All in all it lacks depth. It’s competent but cumbersome, a damp squib where explosive spectacle is needed.

The curse of repetitiveness inflicts the whole game. Whether you’ve chosen to ally with the conquering tribe of samurai stoats, a united collective of guru gophers, or one of the four other tribes, you’ll need to subdue or ally with the rest. This feels the same every time: undertake missions to take territory and then attack the main fort, before deciding what to do with the Sifu and his minions. It’s fine the first time, fairly mundane the second time, but if you make the mistake I did and misread a dialogue prompt, you need to do it three more times to finish the quest. Not much changes between territories, so that’s 12 very similar missions.

Similarly, there are only two puzzle types in the game. The most common by far requires you to rotate gears, valves, aerials, dials, locks – you name it, you’ll rotate it – to match two colours. It’s never difficult, and it feels like a waste of time. The other puzzle type is some kind of wiring puzzle that I blundered through every time not really knowing what I was doing. The point remains: one puzzle, no matter how many times you change it cosmetically, does not stand up to its 100th use in a settlement or camp.

Despite all this, I did find small bursts of joy while charting my way across the wasteland. It never feels like the world is ending, but the sort of Mad Max Fury (Furry?) Road garb you can dress your character in, the various vehicles and mounts you can use to get around, the sweeping vistas, dangerous environs and sense of life in the world… it all comes together beautifully at times.

Then, combat starts, and you fail to dodge a move you anticipated well in advance because of the wonky animation and hitboxes. The same puzzles blocks your way for the umpteenth time. The narrator repeats cliched bits of dialogue over and over, telling you that the story is important, that how it ends is down to you, but it’s never quite clear if it is, or if it’s just magician’s patter.

That kind of talk only works if the game can live up to them. But it can’t, the trick comes apart under scrutiny and the seams and puppet strings are visible. The coming apocalypse feels impossibly far away, the game doesn’t earn or capitalise on its oriental mysticism, and the spark of brilliance that was there in initial trailers is buried by an overdone open-world design framework. While it might be a scrappy underdog, it never quite wins out.

Biomutant is available on May 25 on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC. This review was based on the PC version. 

The Verdict

Biomutant is a game that sets its sights on the horizon, but fails to get there. It’s never bad, but it’s not great either. A muddle of open-world cliches and a confused narrative bog down what could be a fun breezy experience. Combat needs tightening up to be truly satisfying, but currently feels weightless.

Despite this the personality of the world, its creatures and the ability to craft your own gear and weapons shoulder a lot of the negative weight, and serve to colour a world that’s fun to explore even as its mechanical constituents and resolution are lacking.

Pros

  • A wonderful world of creativity
  • Brilliant crafting system for weapons and gear
  • A certain whimsical charm that you’ll either love…

Cons

  • …or hate
  • Repetition abounds in puzzles and tasks
  • Combat is underwhelming and lacks impact
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