In 2017, a German gaming magazine known as GamesMarkt posted an article detailing an up-and-coming title that was set to be a "post-apocalyptic kung-fu fable", before later that year being officially revealed as Biomutant. Little did we know this far away tale was about to become the stuff of legend, as only now, in the heady days of 2021 is Biomutant ready to make its mark on the industry.
Biomutant is a game that's become a "little engine that could" story, experiencing countless delays, setbacks and even entire revamps, yet this time period hasn't been one of rest for developers, Experiment 101. Instead it was more a chance to let their wonderful and weird creation gestate as they tinker with every facet possible.
What this has resulted in is a game absolutely stuffed to the brim with content and features set in a vibrant and exciting world, however as one might expect from a title so focused on mutated mayhem, there's a few strange moments and evolutionary dead ends that means it doesn't quite stick the landing across the board.
However, let's begin with what Biomutant absolutely nails, and that is the concept of player choice.
Straight out of the gate, players are afforded the ability to create a completely custom monstrosity that will serve as their furry avatar. From selecting a class that affects starting loadouts, powers and abilities, through to morphing the very skeletal structure of your creature - affecting stat displacement and physical appearance - to choosing fur designs, colors, and elemental resistances, this is one of the most in-depth character creators going.
It's at once hilarious and horrifying to see your creature's head balloon in size as you sink points into intelligence, or become swollen with muscle if you favor strength. Because of the granular tweaking you can do, each player will come out of this experience with a different looking beast.
And this is just the tip of the Bio-berg when it comes to player choice, as at nearly every turn you're met with a myriad of dialogue options, quest resolutions and endgame-effecting questions each of which are tracked by a literal Light and Dark system represented by two spirits who offer their thoughts on your actions throughout.
As well as unlocking new powers depending on your moral choices, these decisions will come to affect the lay of the land, as you can choose to ally with different tribes, each with different goals. Some characters may offer extra aid or even refuse to work with you, depending on who you've partnered up with.
What this means is that it's very possible to play through the same game multiple times and emerge with a completely different outcome.
And speaking of difference, I would wager that there will be no two characters that end up looking the same once you start applying the almost ridiculous level of loot this game has to the mix. Within about three hours of playtime I was carting around so many odd and ill-fitting clothes it looked like I'd robbed a charity shop as loot is EVERYWHERE, and I was constantly switching outfits to make use of elemental buffs, as well as exploring the game's incredible crafting system.
This system was a breath of fresh air for me because I'm a player who's tired of constantly having to forgo a piece of armor or a weapon I like in favour of an uglier one with slightly better stat. Biomutant, bless its heart, allows gamers like me the ability to upgrade their gear at benches dotted around the world to keep them competitive with even late-game loot.
So once I found an outfit I liked with a decent amount of add-on slots to chuck on even more stat-affecting modifiers, I was set for pretty much the next 30 hours or so, with a few bits of tinkering here and there.
It all fits into this lovely gameplay loop of heading out into the wild, exploring a run down settlement, hoovering up loot, breaking down the stuff you don't need, empowering your weapons and armor, then setting out once more, this time able to push further into the unknown.
Exploring the world of Biomutant, whether on the back of a horse with a creepy face, monstrous robotic mech, or liquid-smooth jet ski is an absolute joy, as no matter where you are, whether it's in a rocky canyon, lush open field, or oppressive swamp the game sings with a beautiful radiance and vibrancy. While your little critter might end up looking like a bit of a chewed dog toy, the environments sing with coloUr and are so varied that you'll be adventuring over uncertain horizons in the quest for loot and things to shoot.
Yet there is one thing that is very much for certain, and that's how much combat is going to be part of your day-to-day in the world of Biomutant, and as with the character customizer, your combat options are quite literally staggering.
From guns to dual-wielding blades to mystical spell-slinging, it's easy to get overwhelmed with just how many means you have to dispose your enemies, and that's before you realize that each weapon and class gets unique combos that can be unlocked to turn battles into bullet ballets.
I found myself tweaking weapons and spell load-outs constantly, and seeing what mad concoctions I could come up with, a personal favorite being to sprout a mushroom in the middle of a battle which bounced me up into the air so I could slow down time and unleash every bullet into the face of my enemies.
Sliding through an opponent's legs only to cartwheel out and unleash a barrage of fire before hopping over another enemy only to launch them into the air for another combo is the sort of joy that very few games could ever hope to achieve, but Biomutant pulls it off with style and grace.
For the most part, that is.
You see, while the world of Biomutant is beautiful in places, it's not a title without flaws, and for every few steps it takes, it seems to stumble on those wobbly mutated appendages.
For a start, the emotional tone of the game is lacking considerably, and while I felt compelled to save The Life Tree from demise and the world from destruction, I felt entirely less committed to avenging the death of my character's parents, the reasons for this being twofold.
The first is because the setup to this supposedly emotional undercurrent is woefully rushed, basically introducing your family only to kill them off minutes later, and secondly because they're referred to as Moomsie and Poopsie.
It definitely takes the edge off things when you feel like you're reading a children's book, right?
Well, get used to that my friend, because not even the dulcet tones of Kevin Brighting can save this script from sounding cringeworthy at best, and aggravating at worst. Every single thing has a dumbed-down "it's the apocalypse so we've forgotten how to say the original word" vibe, and when you're calling the monstrous World Eaters who are literally destroying the Tree of Life "fluffs", it can kill the mood somewhat.
Adding to the frustrations is how character interactions have gone down the route of:
- Animal says something in an unknown language
- Pause for a second
- Narrator translates the sentence before offering your response
Why the team couldn't have just lowered the volume of the character's speech and had Brighting translate over the top to save some time (and your sanity) is a misstep, especially when you consider the amount of dialogue in this game.
Even the Light and Dark spirits are voiced in a Saturday morning cartoon fashion, which again becomes grating, leading you to wonder why these actors, who are clearly putting in a lot of effort, were told to go so over the top in a game which otherwise details death, environmental destruction and quite a lot of suffering elsewhere.
Unfortunately combat too suffers slightly from a few missing features, namely a focused lock-on button and a camera that sits too close to your avatar, meaning it's very common to have your almighty combo ruined because an attack hit you from behind with no warning whatsoever.
Games like Spider-Man and the Arkham games knew to pull the camera back to give you a fair warning of incoming attacks, but Biomutant seems too focused on showing your admittedly very cool moves, and that can mask enemy movements.
One thing that is definitely on show, however, are the rather weak boss battles against the World Eaters, as thanks to attacks that are telegraphed for so long, I legitimately think they started in 2017. Each of these would be big-bads are reduced to pretty unremarkable conflicts, and it's a shame as they're built up to be much more than they end up.
However, before it sounds like I'm being too harsh on the game, these points definitely do not detract from what Biomutant does right, and that's present a sometimes breathtaking game, offer unparalleled customization options, a deep and hard-hitting combat system, and so many side quests and activities to take part in, it'll be weeks before anyone has seen it all.
From taking on tribal bases to roaming the deep wastes in the hunt for new treasures, there's always something new to do, see, or kill, and while there are a few rough edges here and there, this is an adventure game that defied the odds and has fought tooth and claw to even exist.
For that alone, it deserves your attention.