Biomutant slaps. It’s taken a long time to find the exact combination of flowery language to convey it but much like the game itself, I think it’s best to trim away the excess and focus on the point. Biomutant inescapably, properly slaps.
The end result of a very publicly protracted development cycle, Biomutant arrives on the fractured lines of a hardware generation divide. Fittingly then, it delivers an open-world experience that feels as if the lessons of the past decade have been well and truly learned.
It’s light on its feet and confidently dismantles the excesses of the genre, replacing them with myriad quality of life improvements and charming accoutrements.
Paired with an engrossing fable about the end of days and a world overflowing with surprises, Biomutant arrives after years of evolution to be an apex predator in a world of lemmings.
Biomutant is all at once congenial and bracing. While very much still playing with familiar beats and mechanics of the hybrid genre that defined much of the last generation, it extracts only the best elements with precision. In the absence of the glut of content that many of its contemporaries often fall victim to, it frees itself to be not exactly something new but something…evolved.
You’ll be playing as an outcast warrior of the furry variety, adrift in a world that straddles the line between mid-west Americana and Eastern mythology Pixar. Essentially, late-stage capitalism has done it again and doomed the planet to a toxic endgame that an assortment of mutated animal life is currently railing against. A wise old man tasks you with uniting the warring tribes of the land and slaying the four World Eaters; large beasts who have made warped kingdoms in each corner of the map.
How your mammal Ronin impacts the coming storm is largely up to you as Biomutant establishes immediately that customisation and freedom are at the forefront of its design ethos.
Biomutant’s character creation is one of the more gratifying ones I’ve seen in recent RPG memory. You’ll start with a choice from six different breeds of vaguely mammal origins. Each is more or less equipped for different gameplay styles; offensive, stealth, gunplay and the like. From this baseline, you’ll be tweaking your stats and your physicality through one sliding 3D scale. The changes in stats are instantly reflected in your character’s genetics. I wanted a brawler who could also manipulate psychic energy which required a brainier than average muscle lad.
By pushing the scales in the Intellect direction my boy’s head began to balloon and his arms grew smaller in cartoonish proportional swings. It’s an interesting blend of grunge and fur, something you’d see come out of Western animation houses in the 90s before the edges were sanded off by TV regulatory bodies.
But true to its nature, Biomutant is a game about mutations and evolutions, meaning your character never really stops changing. Your baseline build is the point of reference of course but if you get out into the world and discover a penchant for a different style of combat there is guaranteed to be a selection of equipment and upgradable skills to let you explore that new path. There are a handful of upgrade currencies in the game that allow access to escalating abilities both passive and active, as well as a decent selection of perks and combat styles for each type of weapon you find.
Combat in Biomutant is ragtag a collection of mechanics and stylistic inspirations combined and refined into its own wonderful thing. Three core pillars make up the bulk of the combat; melee weapons, ranged guns and Psi/Bio powers. Each core contains a plethora of options within, each of which can be freely combined into your own unique fighting style. Whatever you’re most comfortable with, Biomutant wants to accommodate you and it’s going to make sure you look and feel exceptionally cool while doing it.
Most encounters play out with similar beats. You’ll often be swarmed by mobs, occasionally led by two or more larger foes, who will deploy a variety of ranged and close encounter attacks against you. You’re equipped with a generous parry for up close and personal blows, as well as a slow-motion dodge that, when paired with your firearm of choice, becomes an immensely satisfying bullet-time experience. If Biomutant struggles anywhere with combat it’s the elusive “weighty” impact that the genre’s best nail. While sliding between foes is effortlessly smooth, it can sometimes make encounters lack satisfying collisions.
The game’s detailed animations and responsive play make for a brawler that sits comfortably in the mid-tier of the genre, never hitting the highs of its more refined contempories but never outright faltering either. Things are elevated to new heights during the game’s four major boss encounters, each utilising scenario-based traversal and weaponry that took me right back to the most daring days of Rare’s 3D platformers.
Trust me, that’ll make a lot more sense when you get to…the moment.
Like many of its contemporaries, Biomutant is also very much a game about loot and how it relates to self-expression. The game is littered with a seemingly endless supply of clothing options that range from new world spiritual garments to old-world jeans and Converse. Very early on in the game, I found a beanie with little ears on it and fell in love. I modelled my character’s entire aesthetic around it and just refused to take it off even in the face of much better equipment. Biomutant let me do this though, allowing me to upgrade my simple knit headwear at a workbench so it could keep pace with the legendary equipment of my foes.
It’s a small gesture but one that makes a world of difference to my investment. So by the time I was facing down the final boss of the game I was decked out in mid-2000s grunge wear. Ripped skinny jeans, dirty Connies, a low cut shirt with a leather jacket over the top and, of course, old faithful on my head. Each garment had armour upgrades bolted onto the sides, individual pieces of physical gear that boosted my stats and made me look like a Road Warrior who just wanted to find the right boy on a crowded bar floor.
Biomutant is the kind of game that wants that exact type of over-identification with your little rodent avatar. Whether it’s your fit of choice that speaks to your inner Emo teen or the combat that bends around your play style, the game is near-constantly finding ways to ensure you feel entirely yourself in its world.
Old World, New Tricks
The world itself is a misshapen yet oddly cohesive collection of biomes ripped apart by chemical fallout and retaken by nature. Biomutant’s sprawling world is littered with metropolitan remnants and echoes of humanity, far enough removed so that we as a species are entirely absent in the game but our footprint remains in the sand. Urban town centres with shell shocked high rises, unkempt highways and tracks, small farmsteads on the outskirts and even a handful of towering monuments to science remain in Biomutant’s world but it is unmistakably not ours anymore.
In humanity’s absence, both nature and animal life have claimed these spaces, some turned into makeshift homes and workshops, while others are left to decay in the hopes that one day the creeping branches and moss will cover the mistakes of the past entirely.
Between our leftovers, you’ll encounter fledging townships of clay and wood nestled into a variety of terrains and climates. Biomutant’s biomes are the usual selection of forests, deserts and wastelands but each is imbued with such distinct personality that these expected locales are exciting to discover nonetheless. My trip across the river into the hard cut red stone mountains remains one of my favourites, the transition from rolling green hills into the harsher unknown a familiar beat in this kind of game but somehow made new again by Biomutant’s relentless charm.
Scattered across the land are puzzles to solve, caves and underground facilities to plunder, travelling merchants to trade with and lost souls to aid, the list goes on. You’ll also need to traverse stretches of land that are still being ravaged by extreme weather or radiation conditions. These gauntlets house high-level enemies and loot, and are visible from miles off, making them a daunting task but a rewarding one nonetheless. To brace the elements you’ll either need a high natural resistance (which you can boost with your stat points) or deck yourself out in the appropriate attire, or even mount, for the occasion.
It’s an open-world game to be sure but one that has been refined, trading overwhelming scale for an intelligent scope without sacrificing sprawling planes to tear across on your mount of choice. It’s delicate work, not overcrowding the limited space with the litany of tasks and events Biomutant has to offer while also still allowing for emergent and immersive moments in the spaces between. For all there is to do in the game it also understands the importance of quiet, like Breath of the Wild before it, Biomutant is confident enough to let you sit with your thoughts as you trek across a vast open field with the sun at your back and the state of the world on your mind.
And it is undeniably the state of things Biomutant wants you to consider, weaving a fable of loss and/or hope depending on how you engage with its narrative. As far as the building blocks go the story is solid if a little workmanlike. The old world is dead and, in its ashes, a new one has begun with warring tribes vying for power and an orphaned chosen one destined to unite, or bring ruin, to the land. Again though, just as with the world design, Biomutant elevates this tale as old as time with consistently engaging writing and earnest subversions.
While the game’s melancholic final act remains my favourite of these, it also notably does away with the typically patriarchal bent of these stories. Your mother is the legendary figure whose shadow the world lives in, your path through it marked by her impact, for better and sometimes worse. There are “good” and “bad” guys in Biomutant but like the human structures of old, these binaries begin to mean nothing in the face of what’s to come. As such, your choice of tribe alignment dictates ideological shifts rather than moralistic ones – though I guess that depends on how you feel about liberals.
Biomutant does also implement a more explicit moral coding with its Light and Dark Aura system, a means of impacting both the physical state of the world and your abilities within it. Thematically and aesthetically speaking having a literal angel and devil goad you into choices throughout the game fits well within the storybook nature of Biomutant‘s world, even if mechanically it never quite finds its footing. In a world of nuance, such stark moral coding isn’t all that satisfying to engage with beyond the special abilities gated behind high enough points in either direction. Which, granted, are a dope selection of powers worth galvanising, or sacrificing, your moral code for.
Story Of My Life
In a similar vein, Biomutant’s frankly massive script is brought to life, and slightly held back, by its narrator. First up, massive props to voice actor David Shaw Parker’s work here, as Biomutant’s narrator he is ever-present and required for some of the game’s biggest emotional beats to work as well as they do. Memories are a crucial pillar of the game’s thematic work and Parker’s familial tone guides you through the best and worst of your characters, each one is given just the right amount of import and levity.
As a storytelling device, it wobbles somewhat when it comes to the moment to moment world interactions. The various animals of Biomutant all speak the same inflected gibberish that the Zelda series has traded in since its move to 3D, a collection of grunts and snarls in place of voice acting.
I love it.
Things get tricky when the game delivers these sounds before having the narrator convey to you a rough interpretation of what was said though. For greater story moments this non-precise understanding of intentions and meaning is quite fitting, less so when you’re just trying to engage with a vendor or minor side quest. The duel audio tracks make many interactions feel just slightly too long, an annoyance that never fully derails my enjoyment of NPC interactions but was consistently nagging at me.
If anything, this minor gripe only stays with me because Biomutant is an experience teeming with quality of life improvements and playability concessions. Take mounts, for example, the game is happy to offer them up to you both early in the campaign and make them summonable anywhere with the press of a button. Or the game’s navigational information, forgoing an intrusive header compass for a simplified single waymarker, freeing up the HUD. All while running at a consistently smooth 60fps with only a couple of small visual bugs, an achievement in its own right.
All of these fantastical elements are united in the game’s absurdly beautiful and punky aesthetic. Some smudged textures and reused assets aside, Biomutant is a heavy hitter in both technical elements and art direction. A dynamic weather system and day/night cycle make for moments of unscripted beauty, rain pelting down amid a toxic miasma or the sun nestling perfectly between a rocky outcrop on the horizon. Then there are the little touches, the overly cartoonish puff of smoke and dust kicked up while dodging or clash of your AOE elemental powers on already affected land. I could go on for hours about the many ways Biomutant delighted me with its style but these are surprises best seen for yourself.
That lengthy development cycle I mentioned about two thousand words ago has thoroughly paid off for Swedish developers Experiment 101. That a game of this calibre was brought to life by just twenty or so people is the kind of magical surprise I didn’t know the genre or AAA adjacent market could still produce. Biomutant is a statement of intent, a deliberate step away from the excess of old and toward a genuinely exciting reinvigoration of the genre.
The wait to explore this new world may have been a little long in the tooth but Biomutant has emerged as a game about, and of, spectacular evolution.
Biomutant was reviewed on PC using a digital code provided by the publisher.