There are a dozen open-world RPGs every single year, and enough of them are post-apocalyptic that it’s almost impossible to have your game stand out unless you have a budget running hundreds of millions of dollars. The solution is perhaps obvious in hindsight. Why not let players create their own weird playable hamster thing? Well, Biomutant has that locked down.
Yes, the world has fallen apart. Yes, the remains of ancient civilisations litter the landscape. It’s a rough life, filled with death and destruction. You must evolve your powers, strength and gunplay while slowly conquering this brave new world. But you do it all while playing as your choice of ravaged koala kitten.
And believe it or not it makes a difference.
Developers Experiment 101, probably aware of the competitiveness of their market, have focussed on creating a game that is utterly unique in areas where they can really shine. They’ve highlighted aspects of their game that make it feel like nothing else out there.
It stands alone in the league of environmental post-apocalyptic animal-focussed morality-based action RPGs. Try sticking that on the box. I dare you.
But in making all this unique, they fall down on too many of the basics. The shine just isn’t always enough.
Being a Biomutant
Of course, you have to define “basics”. Our view of what a basic open world should be is viciously warped by the incredibly high bar of something like Red Dead Redemption 2. The triple A-est of the triple A. Or even The Witcher or Ubisoft’s efforts.
That’s not necessarily what Biomutant is, and it’s not really what it’s trying to be. That doesn’t mean comparisons are unfair.
There are two things you’ll notice within the first five minutes of Biomutant: the character creation and the tone. If you’re one of those people that spend hours developing your avatar in every RPG, this is the game for you. It’s deep, and it’s amazing to see your character’s look changed based on where you want the stats or the powers you want them to possess. You end up with a starting character that fully represents the type of player you are. In a world of “male/female”, “black/white”, “brown hair/blonde hair” character creators, Biomutant stands out.
The tone is something unique as well. Everything is narrated, including other character’s dialogue (which is basically simlish before the narrator steps in). Because of that, it’s got a kind of faux storybook feel to it. It gives it a feel of both childlike wonder and seperation from the world. You’re a stranger in a strange land, discovering only what you hear through the God-like narrator.
It put me in mind of some of the old Lionhead games, complete with English accent. What sets it apart is its reliance on fake nouns – things the animals have come up with to describe weaponry or locations differently to us. Together with the pacing of the direction, it put me in mind of older BBC children’s programming, a decision that will be loved by some and absolutely hated by others.
Exploring the Wasteland
All this combined means the first hour is a absolute slog. Firstly the pace is slow, secondly you’re learning all these new words and systems. And, with it being the first level, you’re locked into a very specific path. In other words, I did not have a good first impression of Biomutant.
Mileage may vary wildly. This is just going to be one of those games.
The experience vastly improves as it opens up and you’re given more to do. The usual waypoints await you – things to discover, missions and side-missions to complete. The comparison to Ubisoft earlier is an apt one. You have stuff to do, go do it. Maybe you’ll progress at some point, who knows?
There’s more to it than just ticking off locations though. You must choose a tribe and lead them to victory by taking on fortresses. This is where Biomutant shines, showing off its great combat. More on that later.
Explorers will be rewarded for going off the beaten path, although the open world feels lifeless. It’s pretty enough, but there’s just not enough going on. It’s an issue that many open world games suffer from – games with clearly bigger budgets mostly – and this is no different. How do you make the bulk of travel interesting, without just resorting to loads of fighting or “hey, there’s an item over here”. This is made more frustrating if you die while travelling between spots, in which case the auto-save system makes you do all that travelling again.
This is made slightly worse – or slightly better depending on your take – by a host of open world jank. I’ve not come across anything gamebreaking, but little visual glitches are common. That’s usually just as bad as, say, jumping onto rocks, but your character can’t land there, so he just floats above until he manages to fall.
Battle and Biomutant
There are three styles of combat within Biomutant – you’ve got melee attacks, ranged attacks and “magic”. You can develop and utilise them all as you see fit, and all are available without switching.
This is going to lead to a lot of unique playstyles. You can hunt out better guns, using the impressive crafting system to level them up, then hiding as back as possible to pick of opponents. Or you can get up close and personal, mixing fire and poison with powerful swords. Or all three.
Not only can you evolve your character through leveling up and unlocking new abilities, but you can also significantly craft up your entire outfit, and your weaponry. There are so many choices that those who fall in love with the world of Biomutant will keep coming back for more.
Difficulty seems fair, although some of the bigger enemies can really ruin your day if you’re unprepared. And not just bosses – random opponents you see on your run.
Whatever you do, you’re going to end up in combat a lot. It’s a fantastic system and, if it clicks, you’re not going to feel the repetitiveness of the gameplay too much. Which is good, because the story isn’t enough to keep you driving forward.
Save the world, unite the tribes. This isn’t a bad thing necessarily, but it’s there because it’s needed to set everything up. It’s okay and mostly unobtrusive, which is about the best you can hope for from a bad point. Like the narration, the world building works best when it’s allowed to do its own thing.
Graphics and Sound
Biomutant is bright and colourful, and Xbox Series X owners can play it in 4k and at 60fps. PlayStation 5 players are reportedly not so lucky, with a lock at 1080p.
I’ve been playing on Series X, and while the developers have done a good job of making it look and run well enough, I can’t help but feel a dedicated next-gen version would be far better. It’s clear that a higher setting version would really make the world pop, and any little visual flaws disappear. There’s one planned, so hopefully it won’t be too long out.
Of course, PC players don’t need to worry about this, and I can’t wait to see what sort of screenshots they come up with. The graphics here have some decent potential, so let them shine.
Sound is well-designed, and special mention must be made of the narrator. Yes, I think the decisions made behind his “character” will put some people off, but he knocks it out of the park.
Biomutant Review – Conclusion
Biomutant is a game you’ll either love or hate. It’s not to the level of similar games in a lot of ways, but for some its uniqueness will be enough to carry the areas where it falls down. Others won’t be able to get past even the tutorial.
It is just interesting enough to be difficult to judge how people will react to it.
And it may be that it develops over the coming months into something that’s a much stronger product – the potential is certainly there. But for those who aren’t already sold on the location, on the trailers, it’ll be worth holding off.