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Personality. It’s a trait found in some games that is not clearly definable, yet you know it when you see it. While big-budget, triple-A experiences may showcase the most impressive graphics and incredible cinematics, they can feel lifeless. It often feels as though you’re playing a technical showcase masquerading as a video game. Enter Biomutant, a breath of fresh air in a climate of stagnancy.
Biomutant burst onto the scene in 2018 and immediately caused a stir given its unique look and martial arts style combat. Developed by Experiment 101 out of Stockholm, Sweden, it’s their first game release, though the team is made up of industry veterans who had previously worked on titles such as Mad Max and Just Cause. The studio was founded in 2015, but it was acquired by THQ Nordic in 2017 who presumably provided the funding and freedom to continue development on Biomutant until Experiment 101 felt it was truly ready for release. Primarily developed by just a core team of twenty, it’s staggering what they have achieved.
Biomutant is set in a post-apocalyptic world which was nearly destroyed by humanity due to their carelessness for it. Over time, it healed itself and gave birth to new life. At the center of this rejuvenated world is the Tree of Life, which provides life to all living things and the environment they exist in. However, it is currently being threatened by four monstrous beings known as the Worldeaters.
In parallel, six tribes are battling for territories spread across the world. They have contrasting opinions on what should be done about the Worldeaters and how they should coordinate, if at all, with the other tribes. Enter you, the hero of this story.
Character creation is extensive in Biomutant, and it allows you to tailor your hero in many ways. Providing this level of customization is always welcome and provides players with the feeling that their choices are both meaningful and personal. And while you are able to build a foundation for your character, have comfort knowing that you can still play in any way that you choose. From dual-wielding revolvers to carrying a giant, buster-like sword, player-choice is at the center of the game.
As you set out, you will be tasked immediately with aligning with a tribe and beginning down the path of Light or Dark. Aura plays an important role in Biomutant, and throughout the game you’ll make decisions, perform actions, and make conversational choices that will align you with either Light or Dark. As per usual, my instincts were to go maximum Light, and I was pleased with the overall direction and the results of my decisions. The extent to which different decisions will impact the various moments in the game is not fully clear yet, but it is a rather large focus in the game and you have a few options leading up to the end of the game.
The story presented by Biomutant weaves a number of themes together. The core story revolves around a tale of childhood trauma, which you will confront how you see fit as it ties into some of the aforementioned decisions. Aspects of this surprised me at times as it contained more depth than I was expecting. Meanwhile, while it doesn’t attempt to be political, the setting itself presents a larger message on the dangers of mass-consumption and a blatant disregard for our surroundings. It’s an important message, yet delivered with a levity that’s suitable for the game.
Both the Light and Dark auras are voice-acted characters who will often appear and bicker with one another as you make decisions. While this in itself is rather comical and a nice addition to good/bad feature, it’s the game’s narrator that steals the spotlight. Your entire journey is narrated as though you were being read a story, and it is both unique and delightful. The narrator (voiced by David Shaw-Parker) will comment on surroundings, provide hints, make puns, and generally guide you through the world. This is one of my favorite aspects of the game and, again, adds to the game’s personality. To note, should you simply not enjoy the narration, you can lessen its frequency or turn it off completely.
Biomutant throws a lot at the player early, with choices and compounding systems that can initially feel a little overwhelming. There’s always a tough balance for developers in this regard. If you don’t fully explain the nuances of game’s features, players can feel confused. However, if you take too long with explaining mechanics, players can lose interest before the game truly “begins.” In the case of Biomutant, I fear for the latter as it is several hours before the game truly opens up. Though I enjoyed it and take no issue with the progression, I generally enjoy large, complex, open-world titles. I feel it’s worth noting to set the expectation for players preparing to embark.
For those just starting out, we’ve also created a list of explanations and tips for new players which can be highly beneficial. You can find it here and it’s completely spoiler-free.
Biomutant’s game world is expansive, far more-so than I expected, and a joy to explore. From dilapidated buildings to hidden bunkers, I spent countless hours discovering hidden rooms, secret paths, and endlessly looting. You’ll also encounter a number of different biomes, each with their own unique intricacies and enemies. The environments are beautiful and further enhanced by a day/night cycle which helps to accent the stunning vistas. I found myself taking screenshots every few minutes, and thanks to an in-game photo mode, I was able to capture a glimpse of the variety on display.
Throughout the world you’ll encounter an abundance of characters who will aid you on your journey or simply present side missions. They are light-hearted and speak in a gibberish tongue that most reminded me of platformers like Banjo Kazooie. I found them rather endearing, and the game presents a mission scenario to you where you must choose a few favorites along the way. Without spoiling anything, this choice was more difficult than I imagined it would be due to their lovable nature. Though some of the quests they’ll send you on can be rather fetch-based at times, this age-old frustration is often alleviated by the discoveries you’ll make along the way. The funniest among these discoveries are now-ancient, human devices.
There is a tremendous amount of side content in Biomutant, with much of it relating to discovering these relics. Scattered across the map are everything ranging from TVs to microwaves, weight benches, treadmills, and more. Each of them has a corresponding side quest, and for each one that you find you’ll be treated with loot (sometimes unique) and/or attribute bonuses. While these missions certainly don’t break any boundaries, they are fun to track down, and the narrator adds his usual flair to each as well.
Looting is extensive in Biomutant and a large part of what you’ll be doing each play session. As someone who adores loot-heavy games, I was thrilled to learn just how deep the game’s systems are. Sticking with the post-apocalyptic theme, you’ll find salvage and pieces of scrap in a large number of forms, and from what I can tell, there is no carry limit either. You then use them to craft absurd weaponry that gave me a similar feeling to Ratchet & Clank or Sunset Overdrive. Create a gun with a banana as a handle? Sure, why not? Add a chainsaw onto the end of a giant hammer? Go for it! It’s a fantastic system, and even after 60+ hours of play and into my new game plus playthrough, I’m still experimenting and finding new combinations to have fun with. When combined with the clothing (armor) items you find, you’ll often step back and laugh at your monstrous creation.
Since its debut, the Kung-Fu aspect of Biomutant intrigued. Save for a few nitpicks, it generally delivers on fast, fun, and frantic combat. You can approach combat from a number of different ways, including the vast variety of weaponry along with powers and abilities. Melee combat includes a number of different combos and styles, and should you combine a few combos in row successfully, you’re able to activate your special Wung-Fu superpower for a brief period of time. Wung-Fu will make you feel as powerful as a villain in Kung-Fu Hustle, and it’s a joy to create a spectacle by knocking enemies high into the air and then crashing down upon them like a meteor.
Just as enjoyable are the ranged weapons, which vary from long-range rifles, to shotguns, to revolvers in a near endless variety of forms. I’ve crafted a machine gun that shoots saw-blades, revolvers that shoot toxic blobs and homing missiles, a rifle that electrocutes enemies as if they were struck by lightning, and many more fabulous creations. Each of them is fun to use and suitable for different situations and enemy types. And similar to the melee skills, you are able to unlock different combos and special abilities that add flair to the way you’ll utilize them in combat.
As you would imagine, some of the non-weapon based powers and abilities are rather comical as well. For instance, you can throw yourself in the middle of a bubble, roll around and stick enemies to it, and then explode it, thus shooting them in all directions. Another acts as a Hammer of Dawn, raining down destruction and demolishing everything in its area of effect. When combined with the over-the-top weaponry, agile movement, and slow-motion effects that would make John Woo proud, the combat often leaves me smiling with glee.
The largest battles you’ll face are against the Worldeaters who each have their own arenas and mechanics. Preparing for each of these is journey unto itself and requires the help of the side characters as they’ll provide you with the tools you’ll need. Given the name “Worldeaters,” you’d expect them to be rather large and imposing, and you would be correct in that presumption. These monstrous creatures fill the screen, and provide a thrill unlike any of the other battles in the game. I really enjoyed these encounters and, frankly, just wish there were more of them.
Perhaps what I find most impressive about Biomutant is that, despite the wealth of mechanics and systems it features, they all generally come together. Implementing a deep looting and crafting system, fluid combat, RPG character development, and choice-driven narrative is a major challenge for any developer. Loot-driven games are my forte, and I have thousands of hours in all the well-known entries, including Diablo, Borderlands, The Division, and many more. The fact that Experiment 101 managed to accomplish this with a small team on their first title is hugely impressive, and I feel it should be applauded. Hopefully, they’ll have time to implement a new game plus mode in the future too right? No need, that’s already here as well.
There are aspects of the game where the smaller budget shows, however. As you progress with the tribes, you’ll undertake a number of missions in which you must capture outposts. These missions are sadly one of the weakest aspects of the game, with rather bland scenarios and repetitive combat. It’s a shame, as being a core part of the story, they are not something you can overlook. After a period of time, you will also begin to notice reused assets in a number of areas, including buildings and even enemy attack styles. This applies to some conversational selections as well which will sometimes repeat. While these don’t detract from the gameplay too heavily, it is noticeable.
As of this writing, Biomutant is available for the PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4. While the development team has confirmed native PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series console versions are coming in the future, there is currently no timeline for the updates. Regardless, playing on my Xbox Series X, I experienced little to no issues. It runs at 4K/60fps, and save for a few moments during rainstorms or very fast movement, I rarely saw frame drops. And despite some lower resolution textures in areas, the game is still beautiful due to its artistic direction.
Biomutant is simply a joy. What it lacks in big-budget presentation, it more than makes up for by being unique, charming, and downright fun. Most importantly, it has heart. It’s a testament to what can be created by a small development team who have a vision, and the talent and passion to execute it. I can only hope that as the gaming industry grows, and new development studios emerge around the world, we see more games like it in the future. Triple-A developers take note: you can show us the most impressive demonstration the industry has ever seen, but if it doesn’t have any personality, then what do you really have?