Developer: Experiment 101
Publisher: THQ Nordic
Open World RPG
I’ll come right out and say it, Dear Reader: I’m disappointed with Biomutant. I thought a post-apocalyptic kung-fu game about weird little raccoons with superpowers looked promising from the moment it was first revealed in 2017, and I’ve been excited for it ever since through delay after delay. While I recognize that cases like that have a tendency to be letdowns even when the game is really good, my disappointment is more than it just not quite living up to my expectations; despite the long development period and some design aspects that are genuinely fun, Biomutant is still a deeply flawed game.
The game opens by allowing you to create your character using a system that’s already not great. The dial, for lack of a better term, that you use to determining both starting stat affinities and your characters’ appearance is a somewhat counterintuitive circle with each stat occupying a different place along the circumference, almost like a color wheel. Because of the way this works, giving yourself high values in one or two stats has to put you at a disadvantage with whatever’s on the opposite side of the circle, and while I certainly appreciate this approach, in theory, the execution leaves much to be desired because it’s hard to tell what exactly you’re getting any time you adjust.
All that said, it ultimately doesn’t matter too much because Biomutant isn’t a particularly difficult game. Combat, despite having a wide range of options for attacks and special moves, can be easily conquered with simple button mashing, and the gear and stat systems allow you to become very powerful very quickly. Getting to wail on enemies with a sword twice the height of your weird little raccoon’s body is fun, to be clear, just not complex, so don’t go in expecting Devil May Cry or anything. The looting and crafting is actually one aspect of Biomutant that I find very satisfying – with about seven exceptions, every weapon you can have in the game, be they guns or melee, is created from bits and bobs that you find while exploring. Experiment 101 really nailed making finding the last piece you need to finish putting together the perfect tool of destruction feels satisfying, especially since you never need to worry about saving good pieces for later on. Weapons are entirely modular, meaning you can replace anything as long as you have the materials to do so. Armor and clothing are a similar story. Though the base form of a shirt or pair of pants may be largely fixed, you can attach all sorts of things to them later on to boost the defense it grants, plus seeing the scrap actually appear on your character model can be really fun.
The exploration needed to actually find gear pieces, on the other hand, is a bit more of a mixed bag. While there’s no denying the world of Biomutant is gorgeous and mercifully small compared to many other contemporary open-world games, the experience is frequently marred by bugs, interface issues, and odd design choices. There were far too many times where I would get stuck on or in something, be unable to open a door because an enemy on the other side of it had somehow noticed me and thus put me into a combat state, or even have to reload my most recent save because I had suddenly stopped being able to interact with anything in any way. One particularly annoying glitch I encountered very early on which plagued the entire rest of my playtime was two of the item categories in my inventory being marked as having new items in them, despite none of the items being marked as new when I looked through. This in turn made it so that my inventory always thought I had something new in it on the main pause menu level, and eventually I just stopped looking through my new items until I was actively wanting to switch things up.
Even when things are working as intended the animations are often ever so slightly stiff and off-putting in a way I can only describe as “undercooked”. It’s especially noticeable in scripted scenes and when using the “Super Wung-Fu State”, a sort of berserker mode that allows for the use of extra-powerful attacks that look much less fluid than the more common combos. Moreover, cutscenes often suffer from underwhelming sound design, with actions and events lacking a sense of impact or presence within the world.
As for the story, it’s about the same as much of the rest of the game – not bad exactly, just not presented as well as it could have been. Your weird raccoon avatar is given three major tasks: taking down the “World Eaters”, enormous beasts devouring the Tree of Life, becoming a scale-tipper in the territory wars between six tribes of other weird raccoons, and avenging the death of their mother. It’s standard video game fare, and in concept, I have no problem with its relative simplicity. However, there are a few key problems, the most egregious of which being that there is a very limited voice cast. The narrator, played by David Shaw Parker, actually does a fine job with the narration – the problem is solely that Parker is also pulling double, triple, all the way through centuple duty as every NPC in the game. Conversations with any of the dozens of furry denizens of the game world are characterized by “gibberish” (to use the game’s own terminology) from the mouth of the NPC themselves followed by an interpretation by the narrator to the effect of “Says such and such” or “claims this and that.”
Not only does this slow dialogues down, it also makes the characters all start to run together very quickly, such that it made me think about how important it is to have characters sound different in an RPG in a way I never had before. This issue is exacerbated by the fact that the dialogues are all very generic and repetitive. Of slightly lesser concern is the random platitudes the narrator frequently interjects with while exploring, often totally unprompted. These can be turned off, at the very least, so if they start to get on your nerves too much (they very likely will) it’s not a huge issue, but still.
Biomutant is another of those odd cases where despite having a long list of criticisms of it, it’s honestly not that bad. Whether because I grew up in a time when a game’s flaws were often far more egregious when they were present, because of my fondness for games with small budgets and even smaller development teams, or because I have a huge soft spot for games’ charm factor, I enjoyed my time in Biomutant when I was able to ignore or forget about its flaws. And rest assured, dear reader, that there’s charm aplenty to be found in this weird world full of critters that have an at-best surface understanding of the industrial society that preceded them, leading to all sorts of funny outfits and slightly wrong terminology for things from the old world. Plus, as I said previously, the exploration, crafting, and furry-on-furry violence combat are all enjoyable, and since Biomutant is after all an open-world game those are the things you’ll be spending most of your time doing. I don’t know that I’d recommend paying full price for it, but if it’s on sale a few months from now and you’re curious? Go fur it.
There’s plenty of fun to be had with Biomutant if you’re willing to dig through a fairly solid layer of jank to get to it.