I have been playing Biomutant every day since it released. It even took me away from the Mass Effect Legendary Edition. I still don’t really know how to describe it and I think that’s the best thing I can say about it. It really is it’s own thing, it beats to it’s own drum, it has it’s own style and I love that. But what is Biomutant, well, the simplest way to describe it is an open-world action adventure where you play as mutated trash panda who knows kung-fu.
Biomutant takes place in a distant post-apocalyptic Earth that was destroyed by human mass consumption and climate change. Humans have gone extinct and the wildlife have mutated and evolved. All isn’t well though. There’s six tribes that are all fighting with one another, and there’s four ‘Worldeaters’ that want to destroy the Tree of Life, which would basically end the world. Again. Enter you.
You start Biomutant by creating your character. Your character as I mentioned before, is a mutated trash panda. Like a Mad Max style Rocket Racoon. Character customization is pretty extensive and in a welcome surprise, your appearance and stats are actually tied to one another. You start by choosing a breed, which is loosely based on different animals. Each race have different stats and elemental resistances and then from there you tweak your appearance by moving a stat slider. The higher you make your strength stat, the beefier you get, the higher your intellect, the bigger your head, etc. Finally you choose a class which affects your combat abilities. Your character is guaranteed to be both cute and ugly at the same time.
From there you’re off on your hero’s journey where you’re thrust into this Tribe War where you must choose one of the Tribes to align with. You can change alignment later on but you’ll become an enemy of the one you betrayed. Three of these Tribes are ‘Good’ and three are ‘Evil’. It’s a pretty binary moral choice that runs through every choice in the game. The other part of the story is the Worldeaters who are trying to destroy the Tree of Life and it’s up to you to stop them. Much like Breath of the Wild, you can go after these four bosses in any order you want, whenever you want. Also like Breath of the Wild, the map is broken up into areas with elemental hazards that will make it difficult for you if you aren’t prepared, so exploring the world is encouraged.
The entire game is narrated. Not just during story points, but during your playtime, the narrator will comment on what you’re doing or give context to something you come across. Even all the dialogue is relayed through this narrator. All the characters speak in gibberish so it’s the narrator who tells you what they are saying. I personally loved this. I think the narrator did a great job at delivery and the writing was quirky and fit the tone of the rest of the game. I do realize that this is something that people might really hate but I enjoyed it and thought it worked. Even if I didn’t like it, I respect that the devs took an out there creative choice and ran with it. For people who do dislike the narrator, you can adjust his frequency in the settings.
Exploring the world of Biomutant is the greatest aspect of the game. The world that the twenty person dev team at Experiment 101 have crafted here is simply breathtaking. This is a beautiful game to behold. Graphically, it’s gorgeous and the art style gives it a timeless quality. It’s not quite cel-shaded but isn’t realistic either. It’s a unique look that makes it stand out from it’s competition. The game thankfully includes a photo mode that you will stop to use often.
Besides being pretty to look at, the world is interesting and most importantly, fun to explore. The map is big but not overwhelmingly so. A lot of games fill there maps with activities. It’s incredibly common to play an open world game whose entire map is covered in icons. Not Biomutant. While there is a ton to do, the map has a lot of empty space on it where you’re just meant to explore. I really love this. Too often, games these days fill their games with so much superfluous activities in the name of content that they become overwhelming. Biomutant has lots to do but gives you breathing room. There aren’t activities or quests every few feet. There’s a good distance between things to encourage you to explore instead of just going from marker to marker.
When you explore, you’ll find a lot of hidden areas that aren’t marked on the map. These hidden areas will usually feature armor or a weapon to loot and either a puzzle or some enemies to deal with. The world is also littered with interesting locations and items from the destroyed human civilization. You’ll encounter things like a lone washing machine or a toilet somewhere that the creatures of this world have whimsical names for. It’s a world that has enough to do for the players who just want a bunch of activities to go to but it’s also beautiful, interesting and weird enough for all the players who prefer to spend a lot of their time exploring a world.
Exploring or doing quests will inevitably lead you to enemies. You deal with enemies by partaking in combat which the game calls Wung-Fu. What is Wung-Fu, well, it’s Devil May Cry style hybrid melee/gun combat with a hint of Arkham. You mix up your hacking and slashing with shooting your guns to pull off combos which let you do special attacks. Combat includes visual comic book flourishes that flash on screen and movement is all martial arts based. There’s also enough slow motion to make Zack Snyder blush. Hitting enemies doesn’t feel quite as weighty as it should, there’s a lot of times where it feels like you’re hitting air. Fighting the bigger enemies fares better than the smaller ones but it’s still not as good as it could be. I didn’t find this to be a deal breaker as I still had a lot fun pulling off combos and hitting moves in slow motion like I was in a Furry Matrix. You’re mileage on it may differ though so keep that in mind.
Combat would be meaningless without weapons and boy does Biomutant have weapons. This game is filled with different melee weapons, guns, and armor to loot. In addition to finding equipment, there’s also a great crafting system that lets you make or upgrade your weapons and armor. If you’d like to keep things simple you can simply keep upgrading whatever your stuff. However, you’re really gonna want to be crafting, not just to make things with good stats but because you can make really fun weapons and armor. The design of equipment in Biomutant is just as weird and quirky as the rest of the game. It’s all based on objects from the pre-apocalypse and you can combine items to make ridiculous Dead Rising style weapons. Want a gun with a banana handle? You can make that. Want a toilet plunger sword? You can make that. Armor is just as wild. You’re gonna be dressed up in ridiculous, ugly outfits that you can’t help but to admire.
Biomutant does a lot of things. Most of them it does well enough to be a fun experience but it also feels too ambitious for it’s own good. It’s really commendable that a team as small as this could make a game like this but it feels like in a lot of places, they shouldn’t have tried to do as much. Slow motion isn’t the only thing Biomutant has in common with Zack Snyder. Much like a lot of Snyder films, Biomutant is trying to do too much, also like the polarizing filmmaker, what it does well, it does really well, and what it doesn’t do well is very obvious and holds it back from it’s full potential.
The story of Biomutant is a bit of a mess. It’s juggling too much and doesn’t catch it all nicely. The two story threads of the Worldeaters and the Tribe War don’t thread together particularly well. And there’s a third vengeance plotline as well. This causes a domino effect of neither being quite compelling nor memorable. The game really could have gotten rid of one to make the other stronger. The game also features choices you can make which are all binary that simply good or evil. Having choice in a game is nice but there’s no nuance to any of them, it boils down to whether you want to be a good guy or an asshole for no particular reason. Getting rid of this system honestly would have benefitted the story as it would have allowed them to just focus on telling a really good singular tale instead of having to work to make a story that weaved in these choices that don’t really amount to much anyway. The story is not what will be pulling you through this. The world itself will.
There’s also some jank on display. That’s no unusual in a AA game but I have to mention it. I already mentioned the combat but there’s also a lot of repetitive quests that have similar objectives. You’ll also do a lot of fetch quests. That is alleviated some what thanks to how great the world is to traverse through but it’s still a shame. There’s also a bit of reused assets that you’ll see pop up here and there and while overall the graphics are gorgeous, keen eyes will spot some low textures every once in a while. Nothing immersion breaking but it’s there. I can’t help but think if they reigned in there story ambitions and maybe made the world a little smaller, they could have have more resources for quest design and overall polishing up the areas where the game excels.
Biomutant almost crumbles under the weight of everything it’s trying to do. It doesn’t though because it’s so charming of an experience, with a world that is always making you tell yourself “well I’ll just see what’s over there before I stop” before continuing for far longer than you planned. For all the jankiness and imperfections you’ll find in it, you’ll also find a charming, quirky, odd game that is overall fun to explore. It’s a great foundation for a sequel or whatever the studio decides to make next. If this is their first game, then the next one can only get better and that’s exciting.
Biomutant isn’t remarkable and it won’t win awards but there’s something comforting about playing it. If the top tier open world games are a 5 star Italian restaurant then Biomutant is Olive Garden. It’s not anything to praise but it’s pretty good, easily digestible and does what it’s meant to do, which in the case of Biomutant is give you a good time.
This is the type of game we don’t get anymore that we need more of. It’s weird, it tries things that AAA games most likely wouldn’t and even though it doesn’t succeed 100% of the time, I’m glad it tried. AA games like this died out. In the PS3/360 there were so many of these smaller experiences that weren’t AAA but weren’t Indie. They were smaller games that tried to do AAA things in a way the AAA games never would, there were so many of this type of game that you probably could have 10 close friends each show off their gaming collection and there wouldn’t be many repeats. These days everyone is playing the same things, which is fine because AAA games these days are amazing but it’s a monopoly.
Everyone is playing the same AAA games that all follow one of 5 different formulas only taking a break when an Indie game is so much better than everything else that they have to take notice. It used to be that the same big name AAA games weren’t your only option to play. You could play something like Dark Void, or Enslaved Odyssey to the West or Wheelman, or 3D Dot Game Heroes or Army of Two or Binary Domain, or Mini Ninjas or Timeshift or The Saboteur, the list goes on. Games like that don’t exist anymore, there are some but they aren’t as plentiful as they once were and that’s a shame. Biomutant exists alongside those other games. AA games that try to be different than the homogeny of their AAA counterparts, AA games that might not be as polished as those AAA games but have just as much heart if not more so and just want to offer up fun. Games that become cult classics and inevitably get added years later to hidden gems lists.
That’s what Biomutant is. It won’t be for everyone, some won’t be able to get over some of the jank, some won’t respect it for all the creative choices it took just because they didn’t all work. I do respect it, I like that it exists and I can look past that jank because I found it to be a fun and enjoyable experience despite the flaws. I didn’t like all of it but that’s okay because I had fun and I think we’ve forgotten that. That games don’t all have to be masterpieces with zero flaws, they don’t all have to strive to be the gaming equivalent of an Oscar, games don’t all have to be as good or better than whatever AAA game was released most recently, they just have to be fun for the majority of the time you spend with them. To me, Biomutant was exactly that, a fun video game, nothing more and nothing less.
Biomutant is available now for PC, PS4 and Xbox One (reviewed)
Rating: Was Just About Halfway to Paddington before getting Distracted by Side Quests
This review used our old rating system, The Paddington Scale. To learn more please read this post