Originally announced back in August 2017, Biomutant was a game that quickly gained a lot of people’s interest but suddenly went very quiet leaving many to wonder, is this another title destined to never see the light of day? Fortunately, that was not the case, as on May 25th, 2021, Biomutant was finally released on PlayStation 4, Xbox and PC. Developed by Experiment 101, a talented Swedish team consisting of just twenty members who had formally worked on the Just Cause series, Biomutant is an open-world kung-fu apocalypse that aims to make games fun, in a good way. But does this ambitious title rise through the crowded genre to become a warrior of the wasteland or does it suffer from too much fallout, let’s take a look.
Those who came before
Once again humanity has shown its hand to be less than savoury and have dam near ruined the planet, it’s as if all those political empty promises and global warming pamphlets achieved nothing. After the “ones that came before” have buggered off and left a polluted and ruined planet to its fate, mother nature steps in. The “Tree of Life” whose branches spread far and wide has managed to revitalise the earth and bring life to a failing planet. From the ashes of the old world, a new ecosystem has risen consisting of many weird and wonderful creatures, six of which have formed separate tribal communities.
But as with any world, good things never last, a natural disaster has occurred damaging the tree, now toxic gases and other hazards rise from the polluted soil below and decay begins to cover the land. If this wasn’t bad enough, the Tree of Life is unable to cleanse the earth as four big hairy bastards known as “World Eaters” who feature amusingly terrifying names such as “The Porky Puff” (a nickname one of my cats now has) have been set on a course of mass destruction by Lupa Lupin, a mysterious yet genuinely scary ass looking creature who has decided he wants to destroy the tree by eating through its five core roots. As the six tribes begin to war over what action should be taken, the world descends into chaos and it is now down to you to decide the fate of the planet.
The adventure begins with us creating our Biomutant, there is a good selection of options starting with basic appearance through to stats and class type. Several classes are available and will dictate the type of gameplay you prefer; do you want to be a heavy-handed damage dealer or a more agile acrobat who favours Psi Powers (Biomutants take on magic) or something in between. The creation suite is well designed with each stat having a good explanation but the class you choose will not be completely set-in-stone as throughout your adventure you will be able to level up and pump various stats and resources into all areas helping to craft and define your character further and adapt your play style as you see fit. You can even find old exercise machines throughout the world to help increase strength and fitness, working out without being surrounded by the smell of fart and Nando’s, who said the apocalypse was bad?
If all else fails, there is also the possibility to find stations where you can respect not only your stats but your appearance too, making the creation suit more a starting template with which to get to grips with things and for those familiar with action-adventure games, you’ll probably see the blueprints for your favoured build and go straight for that. The main takeaway from the off is how diverse the Biomutants can look, create a truly unique character that has the body of Arnie and a face like Neville Longbottom or go down the cute and cuddly path with a more balanced creation that resembles something between a cat and a rabbit, the choice is yours.
Where must we go, we who wander this wasteland, in search of our better selves
Before the game lets you loose upon the world you must go through an obligatory tutorial and being perfectly honest, this nearly put me off the title completely. Although the Biomutant does not speak, it has a companion that acts as a narrator and initially takes the form of a cyborg grasshopper, Jiminy Cricket lives! Along the way, he will offer advice and knowledge about the world as well as translate the language known as “Gibberish” that its denizens speak. He is voiced by the talented David Shaw Parker and although the voice acting isn’t bad by any stretch, there is just so much of it, the guy never shuts up. Coupled with an extremely laborious tutorial that seems to drag on for hours, full of stop, start sections I began to find it exhausting to get through, the only thing that could have made it worse is if they had employed Stephen Fry to be the narrator!
Fortunately, as I found out later, there is a setting option to decrease the amount the narrator talks which means when the game does finally let you lose you can explore the beautifully crafted world in relative peace until you meet someone or interact with a puzzle, but there is a patch due any day now that should have the option to remove him completely should you so wish. Saving the world is no small task and to do so you must make a judgement call on who to help and how to help them. The amnesia element to the story works really well as it allows you to enter this world and take it pretty much at face value. Though you are guided by the childhood events that haunt you, will you carry hatred or peace into this world with you? Will you be a force for light or a force for darkness? Quite literally, this is the karma system that will affect your gameplay and the world around you as certain decisions will sway you to either side.
During key events a little white angel and a black devil will pop up and offer brief but humorous counsel on what decision to make, ultimately the choice is yours as are the consequences of your actions. At first, the system felt a little heavy-handed but as time rolled on the brilliance of it started to unfold through subtle character dialogue where you can speak about the type of person or creature you want to be but as the true nature of the world and its population reveal themselves, will you be able to stay true to your word when the time comes? Will you follow through on your threats or will recent discoveries lead you to a more peaceful solution? The issue I had here, albeit likely by design, was it rarely felt like I was pleasing anyone with my responses and actions, it often just felt like having a conversation with the in-laws. Though realistically, I feel it’s there to emphasise that you can never please everyone and staying true to yourself is a tricky task.
Art of Exploration
Experiment 101 are no strangers to building massive open worlds with plenty to do and that is no exception here. The world of Biomutant is a sight to behold. The game currently features no dramatic enhancements for the PS5 or Series X though the Series X version which we reviewed does benefit from native 4K and 60FPS with stunning results. We have been spoilt by some incredibly beautiful open worlds in recent years from Days Gone, Horizon, Breath of the Wild and so on but very few look as instantly vibrant and colourful as Biomutant. Exploring the land is a real treat with plenty of foliage and variation in landscapes from beaches and forests to “Dead Zone” area’s that are contaminated by various Biohazard radiation yet still provide a great palette to set them apart. To access these area’s you must scavenge the land to create a suit which will protect you from the hostile environments but the payoff is great, getting dressed up as Walter White to explore radiation filled factories has all kinds of benefits, more on that in a bit.
While exploring you will be doing all the things you’d expect from an open-world game, meeting characters, taming mounts, performing tasks big and small, cocking your leg against signposts to open up fast travel routes, discovering new locations from villages to forgotten towns etc. Each village will be full of characters to interact with, many of which will offer up useful information that will either provide you with a side quest or point you in the right direction of a useful NPC that can assist with upgrades or advance a particular subplot which was a great help. It’s so easy to become overwhelmed in open-world games but Biomutant has been really well thought out ensuring that you always know what you are doing, where you need to go and most importantly, keep track of key collection items. Completionists will be pleased to know that the majority of Achievements and Trophies are all tied to quest lines that are easily tracked so there will be no need to sneak onto YouTube if you are aiming to get the 100%, Sorry Maka, you have no power here.
Once again, the genius of the world took a while to sink in, partially due to the annoying tutorial but also because of how stale the genre has started to become. With so many huge worlds out there, particularly ones that rely on looting, we have become all too accustomed to instant gratification when exploring with title’s constantly offering a flow of chests and items all penis length apart throughout sprawling landscapes. When first exploring in Biomutant I felt like it was a rather baron affair, sneaking into all nooks and crannies, never finding anything felt like a waste of scenery but then it started to sink in, the exploration wants to reward you for doing what others have been unable to do. In a world where settlements and communities have been created using the scraps they can find, why would there magically be a badass weapon or useful tool just chilling in the trunk of that old car wreck? Surely someone would have scavenged that by now, and the answer is of course they have.
A Crafty Creation
Crafting will play a big part in your time with Biomutant, from melee and ranged weapons to armour and upgrades, tailoring your arsenal to your playstyle will be a very hands-on affair. Although there are merchants throughout the world, in true looter fashion, the merchants will sell nothing that can’t be outdone by items you can scavenge and combine which makes them a bit redundant. Loot can be obtained and tinkered with and even have its quality upgraded to make you a force to be reckoned with, useless items can be sold or broken down into components to use with additional upgrades of existing items which creates a fun cycle of customisation with outfits and weapons, the only real issue is there is no transmorg feature and annoyingly, all the best looking or most humorous looking items tend to have bad stats leaving you to look more out of sync than a clothing rale in TK Max!
Acquiring what scraps and loot you can from where you can allows for the creation of various outfits that grant protection in dangerous areas. These areas will of course contain the best loot and serve as “Dungeons” of a sort and feature a selection of obstacles to overcome from minor puzzles to enemies and for the most part will be worth the effort. Each item has a clear set of stats from basic armour rating to any additional or special abilities it may feature, one thing I would like to see is the ability to auto scrap items you find. Currently, you have to take the item and add it to your loot then go into the menus to locate and break it down into components, it’s a minor gripe but being able to auto scrap would be handy instead of going back and forth into menus all the time.
In such a wild world it won’t be long before you encounter all creatures great and small that might decide you’d look better on their dinner plate. Here is where the fancy combat discipline known as Wung-Fu comes in. Through a selection of combat disciplines, you can choose to fight barehanded, wield huge swords, dual wield smaller weapons and mix it all up with some ranged combat featuring shotguns, pistols and rifles and a variation of Psi Powers featuring Palpatine style lightning bolts to striking a line of fire across the floor or summoning rock fists to burst from the ground. Think along the lines of Devil May Cry meets The Animals of Farthing Wood and you’d be on the right track and for the most part, this combat flows together really well allowing for smooth combo chaining.
As you level up you can unlock a series of combos for each discipline allowing for special moves to be strung together. These combos are fun but minimal in number and the input selection will remain the same across each discipline. If you favour dual wielding but decide to switch to a two-handed weapon the input will remain exactly the same which helps to make the combat easily accessible for people who may not be “good” at action combat or for players new to the formula, but it, unfortunately, makes the combat feel extremely thin as time goes on. There is plenty of combat to be had with a great range of enemy types and boss fights, some of which have elemental abilities to consider so facing down a fire demon will be best handled with an ice powered weapon if you have one, but it all starts to become a grind when you realise the fights will follow the exact same routine with only the attack animations between weapon types breaking things up.
After chaining three varying special attacks together you can access an enhanced fighting technique called “Super Wung-Fu” which will give you a choice of several special attacks, unfortunately, I found the hit detection to be dreadful with these attacks and ended up relying mainly on a big jump attack that caused heavy AOE damage and that was only to speed the fights up and get them over with. Combat feedback was something I had an issue with in general due to gigantic swords feeling like they packed very little oomph upon contact and the majority of impacts feeling a bit light overall. Biomutant doesn’t offer the biggest challenge either, most fights can be breezed through with the odd enemy taking you by surprise with an unexpected elemental onslaught but nothing that can’t be overcome which again is good in one way as it allows players who aren’t proficient in fancy combat to play through and have minimal issues but without a doubt, it became stale for me pretty quickly and although the movement was slick and I loved how vibrant the explosions and elemental effects were, it just didn’t do enough to hide the fact that no matter how awesome your weapons look, they all revolve around a handful of basic combat styles, it just needed a much bigger range of variation.
A Worthy Experiment
Despite some misgivings with the combat and personal dislike for the amount of narrator waffling Biomutant inflicted on me, I have to say the general performance of the game was superb, even more so considering the small size of the development team. As mentioned earlier the visuals are gorgeous even without all the bells and whistles that the new consoles can offer. Though undoubtedly a perk of the Series X, loading times were pretty short and in-game checkpoints were generous enough to make any deaths or failed platforming sections (a nemesis of mine) less stressful as you tend to respawn very close by losing minimal progress. The combat, although lacking in depth felt fluid and responsive for what was on offer, minus the hit detection issues I encountered. Most impressively was how well the world itself worked, considering the plethora of established title that have had years and millions in budget thrown at them yet tend to release with levitating horses, foliage that grows through mountains and NPC’s whose eyes come out of their arses, the technical side of Biomutant has been really impressive.
I noticed very little in the way of “bugs” and while exploring the scenery detection seemed to be on point, no getting caught up on rocks or breaking into a seizure when standing between two logs only to launch fifty feet into the air and die spectacularly, Experiment 101 clearly have strengths in this department, and it shows. The vibrant world is complemented by a beautiful music score that you can just drift away in if the narrator ever stays quiet long enough and manages to compliment the deep and thought-provoking story that unfolds. I am not sure if Biomutant was aimed more towards a younger audience and if so, that makes sense due to the odd bit of over exposition but I feel like there was a genuine passion from the developers coming through with this story.
Biomutant in many ways reminds me of another favourite series of mine, Darksiders. No that doesn’t mean it features protagonists that look like the offspring of Skeletor and Cher, but it’s a title that draws many obvious influences yet wears them respectively on its sleeve while applying its own magic. Although the tutorial is a slog and the combat lacks depth, the world on hand and is a fun place to explore and I found myself losing hours at a time when playing. For younger players and those looking for a bit more of a relaxing open-world adventure, you will find plenty of entertainment here. It’s a great debut game from a passionate development team that I have enjoyed experiencing, I feel that if we get a sequel then the true potential will be displayed.
Review code provided
Format: PC, Xbox, PlayStation
Genre: Adventure, Action, RPG
Developer: Experiment 101
Publisher: THQ Nordic
Download link: Microsoft Store