Biomutant – Review

Biomutant is the first game from Experiment 101, a Swedish studio founded by alumni from Avalanche, the studio behind the Just Cause series. Taking place in a valley around the dying Tree of Life, players explore and fight as an unnamed furry bipedal creature, the prodigal child of a wung-fu master who developed the fighting styles that led to the fracturing of the valley’s people. The Tree of Life is being destroyed by the four Worldeaters, huge beasts that have each taken up on one of the tree’s roots. With a world inspired by several Asian styles of dress and architecture, and blended with post-climate collapse environment design, Biomutant is an overly ambitious and imperfect exploration of how life will persist, even after humans have ruined the Earth.

Biomutant is, ostensibly, an open-world game, but it’s probably the most linear open-world I’ve explored. In direct opposition to the trend in other contemporary open-world games, your character can’t climb. Not only can you not climb, there’s a lot of world geometry that is simply too steep for you to walk up, so you’ll have to find your way to an intended path. This isn’t a huge deal when you get used to it, but it does feel very outdated. It mars the experience of the genuinely beautiful world, seeing some structure in the distance and knowing that you can’t run straight for it.

The environment design of Biomutant does have one huge mark in its favor, though: the density is just right. Biomutant does not suffer from the open expanses of nothing that Breath of the Wild features, nor is it overly packed like Fenyx. The pacing of travel, discovery, and overworld combat is well-measured, and doesn’t bore or overwhelm.

Populating this beautiful if straight-forward world are plenty of abandoned towns, left over from the age of humans. In the lore of Biomutant, one mega-corporation called Toxanol was responsible for all energy production, and they did it very, very badly. Waterways are choked with oil and slime, dead nuclear reactors stand filled with radioactive goop, and some areas have become so corrupted they are perpetually on fire or choked of oxygen entirely (don’t ask me how that last one works). In spite of all this, huge chunks of the world are lush and green, and the various creatures farm and live safely-enough in their fortresses, sustained by the last energies of the Tree of Life. 

If you want to hold your own against the other scavengers and irradiated monsters, you’ll need some weapons. Weapons are assembled from parts – starting with the base melee damage type or gun action, and then slapping additional parts on like handles, stocks, or additional blades. Parts for weapons are scattered liberally throughout the world, but having the parts isn’t enough – you’ll also need various pieces of skrap, which you can collect by breaking apart resource totems or from dismantling pieces of equipment. This is an incredibly tedious process, and you’ll find yourself resource-starved for about the first seven hours. Once you finally have enough resources to build your own weapons, though, combat really starts to open up.

For combat to feel good, you need to have weapons that actually do damage and whose attack cycles feel good, and you need to have their special attacks unlocked. You get special attacks by unlocking them with perk tokens, which you can receive for leveling up or completing quests. Then, you need to come to terms with Biomutant‘s combat expectation that you simply will not be doing most of your damage from melee.

It might seem odd that a game so clearly inspired by kung-fu and “gun-fu” movies does not actually lean into melee fighting, but you’d be surprised. Guns simply outclass melee weapons in DPS throughout the game, and provide distance from the janky hordes of enemies that gang up on you, immediately flash their barely-noticeable “parryable attack” icon, and then clobber you down into the dirt. There is simply no reason to get close until you need to get off the third special attack in your “Super Wung-Fu” activation sequence. Performing a special attack fills in a Super Wung-Fu icon, and upon filling in three icons by using different special attacks, you can enter the Super Wung-Fu state, which has its own moves. The attacks you perform during Super Wung-Fu are kind of boring, but they do inflict a lot of damage – which is useful for finishing and cleaning up fights, which is what you’ll find yourself doing when the enjoyment of combat runs out. The special attacks leading into Super Wung-Fu are all actually pretty cool, and can be tricky to pull off – lining up those attacks provides some enjoyable challenge to combat that often feels like shooting bullets into sponges.

Weirdly, the kung-fu fantasy is almost completely absent in your fights against the Worldeaters, whose boss fights are all vehicle combat (with the exception of the final phase of the Horky Puff). Not only are the boss fights all exceedingly similar, the path up to those boss fights is exactly the same. Preparing to fight a boss in Biomutant involves finding an NPC who’s working on repairing a vehicle, and then finding that NPC some parts for that vehicle. Afterwards, they’ll ask you to find some different parts for the vehicle. After that, they’ll ask you to find a different NPC who can help you catch some small creatures, which you’ll use as a distraction during the fight. Finally, you’re ready to go, headed off to what is essentially a cage the Worldeater has been politely hanging out in, and you use your vehicle to run in circles around the boss, shooting it until phase two, at which point you’ll need to use your distraction creatures. Shoot, repeat, boss falls over, NPCs say “great job,” and then you go do the whole thing all over again in a different corner of the map.

The final boss fight with Lupa-Lupin, the carnivore who killed your wung-fu master mom, is the first good boss fight in the game. It’s a little long, and the second part of it is in a dark cave that’s a pain to see in, but it feels like it actually leans into the supernatural kung-fu media that inspired the game in the first place, and a lot of that fight is enjoyably challenging. 

But then comes the ending. The ending of Biomutant might be one of the worst game endings I’ve ever seen, which is unfortunate. Some context:

Your mentor, Out-of-Date, has discovered and been maintaining a spaceship called the Ark, buried underneath the Tree of Life. He has suggested that if you aren’t able to kill the Worldeaters, you should find four people to join you, Out-of-Date, and your tribe Sifu on the spaceship and leave the planet. He tells you all this after you defeat the first Worldeater.

After defeating the last Worldeater, and therefore also saving the world (I assumed), Out-of-Date insisted that I go and finish the Tribe War, a thing I had zero interest in doing. But I did it, because that’s what remained of the main quest. After conquering another tribe, all the other tribes I hadn’t even met yet said “please don’t kick our butts, we’ll surrender if you let us” and of course I let them because I didn’t want to repeat the same three tribe outpost quests another nine times across the remaining tribes. So, Worldeaters defeated, tribes united, world super saved.

I go back to Out-of-Date. He says “well, you didn’t kill the last Worldeater, so we have to leave the planet! Go fight Lupa-Lupin.” And I went, “uh, okay, is the implication here that Lupa is the last Worldeater?” and I fought Lupa and I spared his life and then the game made me get on the spaceship, despite the fact that multiple characters had told me that if I beat all the Worldeaters we wouldn’t have to use the Ark.

Huh?

Sidenote: why are we still doing this, in 2021? Why are we still making narrative endings in open-world games that force you to either reload a save from before the last fight or start a New Game+? There are plenty of monsters still roaming the valley. There are plenty of un-tribed bandits who I can still fight! If I beat the Worldeaters and saved the Tree from collapsing and ending the world, I want to still be able to run around the world!

Narrative is not the game’s strong point, which is exacerbated by the inane decision to have one man do all of the dialogue in the game. David Shaw-Parker, bless his heart, is the voice of every single living creature, and the way that the dialogue narration is written is a crime against language. Sentences are fragmented, the narrator repeatedly starts dialogue with “Says,” like you don’t understand the character is talking to you, and NPCs give answers that are fully unrelated to the question you asked. It would have been so much simpler and easier to understand if 101 had just written dialogue like dialogue, instead of framing it through the narrator. The narrator isn’t even a meta-character! He’s just some disembodied voice doing your internal monologue and every single line of speech…

…except for the voices of Dark and Light, two little Keroberos-looking things in your brain who are trying to each lead you to their side. They have posh little British voices, and they speak in weird little light-based puns. They’re absolutely insufferable. The whole “aura” system is kind of a mess, which is exacerbated by the weird dialogue choices that appear when Dark and Light are talking to you. It’s often unclear which answer will lead to which result, as often doing the Dark or Light action doesn’t actually change your aura, but saying whether you meant to be Dark or Light does.

I’m going to end this review on a positive note, with my absolute favorite thing in the game, which I hope everyone will steal to put in their own game: the overworld map is alive. Major NPCs populate your map near their homebase, and the Worldeaters and minibosses breathe and look back and forth around their dens before you come over and kill them. It’s incredibly charming, and such a delightfully weird touch. I wish the rest of the game had that level of polish and experimentation.

GameRev was provided with a digital download of the game for the purpose of this review.

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