It's not often that a game gets a "what the heck is it" trailer mere days before its release. But it's clear that developer Experiment 101 is as confused as to how to market Biomutant as I am to review it. It's a game that tries to include as many systems and mechanics as possible, taking influences from games like Ratchet and Clank, Fortnite, and Monster Hunter, and then attempts to force them into one cohesive package. There comes a certain comedy with its assortment of parts, but, overall the result is a game that never feels at ease with itself. It's confused, confusing, and yet, I kinda like it.
Release date: May 25, 2021
Platform(s): PS4, Xbox One, PC
Developer: Experiment 101
Publisher: THQ Nordix
Biomutant has been a long time coming. Originally announced back in 2017, Biomutant has been plagued by delays – both from the key developer having major back surgery and from a change in vision and scope – but unfortunately, it hasn't benefited from being released in 2021. It has emerged in the shadow of other big, ambitious open-world RPGs like Assassin's Creed Valhalla, which has only further exposed Biomutant's flaws.
Past or future
The game is set against a backdrop of a post-apocalypse world, where humanity has been wiped out by pollution, corporate greed, and nuclear power exploration. The world left behind is dominated by the titular Biomutants – strange animal hybrids that are part cat, part rabbit, and 100% capable of wielding weaponry. These creatures have formed six tribes, who'll you need to either unite or destroy to bring harmony to the land, which is also plagued by four world eaters – known as Puffs, for some reason. These huge beasts have been attacking the world tree (the last bastion of life on earth), and it's up to you to defeat all four and protect what's left. Sounds dramatic, right?
Well, it's undercut by the fact the narrative is delivered in the most painful of ways. Characters will speak to you in gibberish, then after a pause, a narrator tells you what they've said. It's so slow that I found myself skipping the gibberish to get to the narration, only to accidentally skip over both, losing crucial slices of information or quest objectives. Like Horizon Zero Dawn, the characters have developed their own names for various human elements, which only adds to the fact the narrative can feel like a children's storybook. For example, a piano is a 'string plonk', a guitar is a 'twing-twang', and your mother is your Mooma, which is said with such drawn-out vowels it's almost impossible to take seriously. The childish language constantly butts heads with the old-world commentary, failing to strike the sort of tone you might expect from a game with such bright and inviting visuals, and the fuzziest of casts.
It doesn't help that the character creation is quite off-putting. Despite my best attempts – an almost an hour of tweaking – I couldn't ever settle on a character that I was drawn to or found even vaguely adorable. Big buck teeth, teenie eyes, mismatched body parts, and other oddities were seemingly the only options, with all of that exaggerated by the Biomutant breed you opted for. The Biomutant poster child that we've been seeing for years is far removed from the little fuzzy fighter I ended up with.
Who do you think you are?
The character creation and story beats are just the beginning though, as this game continues to feel at odds with itself. Struggle through the very linear opening, and the world folds out before you, only to reveal that Biomutant suffers from having an abundance of systems to get to grips with – none of which are ever particularly well explained. It's part looter shooter grind, with new weapons and armor hidden in old furniture and chests across the world, but there's also an odd and overly complicated crafting system too. I am particularly attached to an electric sword I made from an old toilet brush, but it's definitely far from the easiest system to get to grips with. There's just so much stuff.
Plus, you can upgrade your character in various ways, including enhancing abilities related to the class type you picked, your resistance to different environmental elements like the cold or radiation, and the option to unlock weapon-type specific combos. But Biomutant's nested sub-menus and use of different upgrade currencies are scattershot and awkward, especially when plenty of the upgrades can also be achieved using the mountain of gear you'll discover as you explore.
The same can be said of the combat, which regularly flips from feeling clumsy and clunky to brilliantly silly, with comic book-inspired exclaims and descriptions popping up for certain combos and movements that don't ever get used anywhere else – another of Biomutant's odd design decisions. Overly subtle button prompts can leave you mashing buttons trying to return the projectiles needed to smash through defenses, and the combo patterns all depend on what you've unlocked and what weapon type you're using. The combination of ranged and melee weapons, along with Psi Powers can be great fun, though their success does rely on finding the arsenal mix that really works for your play style and class type.
There's also a morality system, with your character capable of moving between dark and light polarities depending on the decisions you make. But, it constantly invades the story, makes little sense, and has seemingly no effect on the ending outcome – to the point where I am still absolutely seething about the game's closing moments.
The tree of life
That's not to say that there isn't plenty to love in Biomutant, especially when it comes to the world it offers up. It's certainly not a graphical marvel – even running on PC on maximum settings – but there's definitely a beauty to it. It's a game rich with things to discover, from remnants of the old world, to funky weaponry and unusual foes. Some areas will be inaccessible until you've found the right gadget or better armor to protect you too, which adds a level of unexpectedness to your travels. If you're partial to a little relaxing map mopping as I am, there's lots to keep you busy and that's meant I've spent 30+ hours enjoying Biomutant despite its flaws and oddities.
The main narrative is engaging too, with a whimsical cast of characters, excellent set pieces, and bizarre story moments. Plus, the four boss battles are particularly memorable. A core part of the campaign is unlocking new gadgets, like a mech suit and jetski, which you'll need to take down each of the World Eater Puffs – that are ridiculously named Hoof Puff, Jumbo Puff, Muck Puff, and Porky Puff, which sound more like types of potato chip than big bads. But that's just part of Biomutant's overwhelming jovial personality, which relies on humor more than drama to propel you through – even if it is a little puerile and toilet-centric at times.
But, every time you really enjoy a moment in Biomutant, it finds the capacity to frustrate you. Like the endless repetition of dialogue, side missions, and hidden areas. The assaults you mount as you try to unite the tribes are intensely formulaic – to the point that they reuse the same barrack and invasion sequence multiple times. Hidden vaults have exactly the same layout and aesthetics, to the point that, after you'd discovered one, you'll notice that loot and discoverables were in the exact same spots across multiple locations. And yet, there are moments where the game's attention to detail is great, such as using the ice weapon will make enemies skid across the ground like an excerpt from a Ratchet and Clank adventure.
It's such a shame, because there is a great game in here. Biomutant's world and its characters are wonderful and brilliantly silly, but these elements clash against some of the more serious elements of the core story. The intensely formulaic and repetitive moments distract from the brilliant ones that'll have you nodding in approval, or laughing at its bizarreness. And it all comes down to the fact it doesn't really know exactly what it is or wants to be. If you got Biomutant in a sale, you wouldn't be sad, but as a full-priced offering, it feels too confused to easily recommend.
Reviewed on PC with a code provided by the publisher.