Biomutant comes from a small team of just 20-people and has captured my interest every time it has been shown over the last four years or so. And how could it not? It’s an action-RPG about being a mutated mammal who knows martial arts, set in a luscious post-apocalyptic world where humans are long-gone and now it’s just weirdly mutated animals everywhere. I hope that if we ever die out as a species our planet gets taken over by some new, strange form of life that runs around in the ruins of our cities and spends ages making up strange-sounding words to describe our technology.
This is an ambitious and bold project, an adventure spanning anywhere from 15-50 hours depending on how you tackle it. It’s ram-packed full of different ideas, from the martial arts inspired combat to the weapon crafting to getting to pilot a mech. But with so much going on it quickly becomes clear that Biomutant doesn’t do any one thing very well, and each of its ideas are shallow. There’s a bolted together feel to Biomutant that speaks to a team trying to bodge together multiple concepts. Focus is what the game lacks and what could have saved it from being the fairly mediocre RPG that it is.
But there are moments of glorious brilliance within Biomutant. I mean, what other game lets me, as a strange rodent wearing a duck helmet and rocking a giant sword, pose next to the corpse of a big monster wearing cute pajamas after I just vomited toxic sludge all over it? It’s a game where you can magically conjure up mushrooms to bounce on and ride all manner of creatures with strange faces. It’s an adventure spanning an 8km x 8km map filled with radioactive zones and furry NPCs who…wait, is this just a game for Furries? Jesus, this explains so much.
The point is for all the many criticisms I will level at Biomutant throughout this review it remains a game brimming with great potential. It practically begs for a sequel, for a chance to be all it can be, and in some ways it’s almost worth buying Biomutant solely to support the developers and help them create something which could be an outstanding open-world action-RPG. But in the end, we have to review what’s actually here.
Let’s start with the coolest thing in Bioutant: it’s crazy setting. The game takes place on a version of Earth that has been heavily polluted. Humans are long-gone, and in their place are mutated animals that now roam the landscape, living in villages and getting on with their lives. They are an eclectic bunch, all covered in fur and often boasting baffling character traits, including sounding like Elvis for some reason. At the centre of everything is the world tree, a massive plant that has come under attack from four huge World Eaters which you need to defeat. The world is immediately fascinating and unlike most post-apocalypses it’s a riot of colours so strong it’s enough to make your eyeballs take a vacation. The grass is a luscious green, the water is a burning blue, the desert is…well, a desert, but a pretty one. There are mounts you can find and ride, all with the strangest faces I’ve ever seen. It’s not a busy world swarming with NPCs at every turn or even packed with stuff to do, but it does do a decent job of making you want to ride over the next hill or leap off a cliff and glide down.
Man, I wish you got to learn more about the world. But you don’t. This kind of game is screaming out for a Codex packed full of information that tells you exactly what the world tree is or how the World Eaters came about or why some animals seem perfectly intelligent while others aren’t. There’s so much about this awesome world I want to know and Biomutant doesn’t tell me any of. Even the various side-quests never delve into the history of the Earth and how it came to be like this. You get vague hints and that’s it. I’m not saying that everything needs to be explored and explained, but with so little information to go on it kind of feels like Biomutant is just beautiful set dressing that’ll fall over if I fart in its general direction.
You’ll be playing as a nameless furball that you get to create using a fun little character creator at the start of the game. There’s a circle and around the edges are the various base stats like strength and intellect and vitality, and as you shift the cursor around your character’s body type changes. Go for strength and you get nice and swole with a tiny head. Go smart and you’re thin with a big noggin. And then you can play around with fur colour and patterns, too, until you wind up looking like a Racoon that broke into paint store. Finally, there’s the choice of class which dictates what basic passive benefits you get.
I opted for the Dead-eye class and a fairly in-the-middle body style, mostly because that combination is what resembles the cover-art closest while everything else looked like some form of hamster on steroids.
As it turns out, though, the whole class and stat thing is kind of useless. Levelling up means having the option to increase any stat you like and you aren’t limited in any way when it comes to equipping gear or unlocking abilities. The class-specific perks you unlock and the starting stats mean your character is going to be a little bit better at certain things, but ultimately you can build toward whatever you like – a melee specialist, a ranged master or someone who can wielding psionic and mutant powers. Or a bit of everything.
Your mum and dad were killed at the hands of Lupa Lupin, a predator that stomped into your village one day with seemingly no provocation and destroyed your childhood. Now your back, armed with an eyepatch, the power of Wung-Fu and driven by a thirst for revenge. But things ain’t that simple: there’s four World Eaters to kill too, and you also have to unite the warring tribes by allying with one of them and beating the crap out of the rest. This is a classic hero’s adventure and Biomutant is happy to acknowledge that, its narrator frequently referring to it being a story for a hero.
Yes, the narrator. You have a handy bug automaton that tags along on your journey, a relic of the old days that records events and shares information about old-Earth. It’s this little robot that narrates your story, translates everything you hear and even lends a hand in fights. It’s ever-present, which winds up being a problem.
The narrator doesn’t just pop up every now and then to comment on things. No, you see the developers made the ballsy choice to have him be the only voice-actor in the entire game. Every animal you interact with speaks in squeaks, grunts and groans and the narrator translates for you. It’s not even a direct translation – he says things like, “Seems to think you…” and “Says he…” This creates two distinct issues: the first is that you hear the narrators voice far too often. In fact, an update now lets you tweak the frequency at which the voice pops out when you’re just out exploring the world. The second problem is that because of the single voice there are absolutely zero personalities within Biomutant. This could have been alleviated by some sharp writing skills to ensure that the dialogue was at least radically different for each individual, but alas that isn’t the case. Instead, everyone sounds and speaks the same, the words blurring into a mass of shallow chatter about morality.
I need to point out, though, that this is not a slight against David Shaw Parker who lends his voice to the game. In fact, it’s the furthest thing from it: Parker gives it his all throughout the entire game, sounding enthusiastic and enthralled with the world. He has done the absolute best that he can and I want to commend him for that and would like to continue staying on it.
An update for the game actually lets you reduce or even completely turn off the frequency of the narrator in the open-world and I imagine a lot of people will make use of it.
Within the fantasy and sci-fi genres there are a lot of crazy, made-up words that the writers use to help make the universe’s they’ve crafted feel more real and to differentiate them from our own. This can mean frequently having to wrap your tongue around odd phrases, but Biomutant might just take the prize for trying to cram the most into its story. The narrator spews forth all manner of baffling word vomit, highlights of which include Plink-Plonks, Chug-Chugs and pingdishes.
Dumped into the world I settled on trying to conquer or unite the various tribes, opting to ally with Myriad whose goals of uniting the tribes, killing the World Eaters and saving the world aligned with my own goals which included saving the world because I was on it. You aren’t actually locked into any given alliance, though, and can happily sidle up to any other tribe and join them. They’ll welcome you with open arms, despite you having previously wrecked their shit. I changed loyalties, mostly just to see what would happen. The answer is nothing interesting, and the different tribes are only differentiated between in basic ways, so I never did feel attached to any of them.
Anyway, Biomutant follows the old concept of people learning of your peaceful ways by conquering them. Whether you’re ultimate goal is to takeover or unite the tribes you’ll still need to rampage through their outposts one by one before tackling the main fortress. I admit that I envisioned a Far Cry style approach to outposts, letting me sneak in or go in all guns blazing and swords a swinging, but that isn’t Biomutant’s style. Taking on an outpost is actually…underwhelming, to put it mildly. You’ll fight through maybe a dozen goons and have to do a couple of very dull tasks, from blowing up a barrel to making a big foe charge into a sniper nest to destroy it. It’s all very flat and lifeless.
It’s probably for the best, then, that after taking over a couple of rival tribes the rest will capitulate, although you can also opt to keep fighting the if you’re feeling a bit aggressive. One thing the game doesn’t tell you, though, is that accepting their surrender means giving up the special tribe weapons which you otherwise earn by taking down each tribe’s main fortress. The trade-off makes sense from a design point, even if I still wish the game had let me know because I chose to accept their surrender without realising. Had I known, I would have happily continued to slaughter countless Furries in the name of getting some nunchucks.
As a master of Wung-Fu, as taught to you by your wise Mooma, there’s a lot of opportunities to fight some enemies using a mix of melee and guns with a couple of special powers thrown in for good measure. You can also equip some different Psionic and mutant abilities, activated by holding down the left-trigger and hitting a face button. There’s some cool stuff to choose from, like spawning a bouncy mushroom that can launch you or enemies into the air, a freezing AOE attack that turns the ground into ice, and being able to vomit up toxic sludge.
If you land three special moves you get to activate Super Wung-Fu which sounds much more exciting than it actually is. This special mode lets you hammer the attack button for a flurry of blows or unleash rapid gun fire. Of course, you get some extra damage. The system, though, encourages you to spam a few safe specials so that you can get Super Wung-Fu which can make fighting a boring loop of specials and Super Wung-Fu. If you do play Biomutant I’d recommend pushing yourself to mix up combat as much as you can, even if there aren’t a lot of ways to do that.
All that slashing and blasting lacks good audible and visual feedback, though. Like most of the rest of the sound your attacks are muffled, and enemies barely react to being smashed in the head, shot or sliced up. There’s no sense of weight or power to the combat, instead it’s light and hollow.
The systems themselves are equally light and hollow. Combat is passable, but it’s never anything more than that. And its never as smooth and flowing as you’d like from something inspired by martial arts.
With the tribes neatly stomped into the ground the World Eaters were up next, and here Biomutant tries to inject some more variety into the mix rather than maybe focusing on its core gameplay. Each World Eater is a short series of quests where you prepare to take it down by sorting out a special ride such as the stomping Mekton or a fancy boat. These rides let you access some other areas of the map like the Deadzone or…well, water. They’re perfectly okay. Fine. Just fine. Stomping around in the Mekton was probably the highlight for me, but outside of dealing with the big World Eater it feels pretty useless because targeting small enemies is like trying to swat flies and far less satisfying.
Each little series of missions working toward the World Eater is just another set of fetch quests. At least the big beasties themselves are a bit more entertaining, providing the only four boss battles in the entire game. That doesn’t excuse the fact that all the other missions are just dull fetch quests, too. Mission design in Biomutant is as basic as possible, tasking with you going places and killing a few things. Sure, loads of other RPGs have fetch quests and dull mission structure but at least they try to find interesting ways to disguise them. Biomutant doesn’t do that. The quests are dull and rote, and I honestly can’t remember any of them because they all feel the same. Go there, kill a few things. Done. No exciting stories, no fun set pieces, no interesting twists of the mechanics, nothing.
Special mention needs to go to the loot and crafting systems. You’ll gather all sorts of stuff to wear, from hoodies and backpacks to metal duck helmets, all while wielding toilet brushes, swords and wooden mallets. All of the stuff you collect can be lashed together to form new gear. Make a weapon for smacking, for example, and you choose the base of it (like the aforementioned toilet brush) and then strap a handle onto it, then chuck on some addons, like a sawblade and a pencil for some extra damage. Ranged weapons offer even more customisation via stocks, barrels, sights and handles.
Admittedly, they all feel the same. One sword is exactly like another from a gameplay perspective, with the only differences being the special effects they boast. But it’s satisfying to cobble together some daft sword or a gun that looks like it was designed by Nerf and painted by a toddler.
All the armour is pretty wicked to. Randomly sticking chunks of metal onto a jacket or equipping a skirt fits perfectly with the bonkers aesthetic of the game, and the result is some of the coolest looking post-apocalyptic gear outside of Mad Max. And there’s enough variety to look like you’ve either crawled out of a junkyard while wearing magnets or like a Ronin with a touch of steampunk. It’s good stuff.
I wrapped up my story at around the fifteen hour mark and then stuck around for another ten in order to compltete some side-quests before firing up New Game+. There are a couple of different endings to get, and so I’ll speak only to my one where I ended up with a complete Light Aura. It was unsatisfying and weak, and didn’t even seem to make sense. After uniting the tribes and battling the World Eaters the finale flew in the fact of it all, making the prior 25+ hours feel pointless.
It’s a theme I couldn’t shake throughout the story. There’s a hefty emphasis on morality but it’s basic, and the characters waffle on and on about nothing of substance. I don’t think even younger gamers will be enthralled or entertained because none of its funny, none of it makes them think and expand their horizons, and most of it will sound like drivel to them. Which is mostly is.
Ultimately I remember almost nothing about the story or its characters. What remains in my mind is the world and its rich colours, the fun mixture of post-apocolypse, colour and Mad Max with furry animals instead of Mel Gibson or a seething Tom Hardy. What remains isn’t so much Biomutant, but a fleeting glimpse at what Biomutant could be.
If you can accept Biomutant’s many flaws then there’s a rough, rustic charm to the adventure that I think could result in the game finding a following. It’s certainly ambitious and packed full of ideas that have flowed from a team who clearly wanted to do something spectacular but perhaps took on more than they could handle. If they reign in those impulses a little and take what they’ve learned from Biomutant then a sequel could be spectacular. And it really does deserve a sequel because if nothing else Biomutant’s world is a fascinating one.