There’s a forgotten tier of gaming that’s rarely rolled out these days. The old ‘double A’ section used to be full of somewhat familiar games like Binary Domain, Inversion and anything from the old THQ, and while they generally couldn’t compete with the budget of the biggest titles they wouldn’t let that stop them from having a damn good try. These plucky underdogs have always found plenty of mildly misguided fans, and with the arrival of Biomutant these lost souls will find a new champion for the not-quite-there club.
Biomutant’s environmentally aware setup takes us to a post-humanity Earth where all of the toxic waste and detritus dropped into the world’s oceans and landfills has led to a planet populated by sentient furred creatures evolved from cats, weasels, moles and various other lower mammals. Despite how far they’ve evolved, they’ve seemingly not got any further than us stupid humans, and the different tribes are divided and at war at the outset of the game.
Besides that, the Tree of Life, a tree which, erm, gives life to the world, has been poisoned and it’s up to you to head to the end of each of its five roots and weed out each of the Worldeaters that’s gnawing on it. Beyond the post-apocalyptic setting, Biomutant is a Kung-fu fable through and through, with you taking on the role of a travelling Ronin who’s capable of saving the world – or bringing it crashing down.
One of the key features that will likely make or break the game for some players is your Automaton. This tiny mechanical mantis is both storyteller and translator, and his dulcet tones are the only ones you’ll hear throughout the game, setting the scene, providing context and translating the burbling sounds that the animalistic cast make. Personally, I’ve really come to enjoy the storybook feel it gives the game, but I can see it being a divisive design decision.
Experiment 101 have certainly tried to make the world of Biomutant all the more unique via its language, but it performs the cardinal sin of overloading you with new vocabulary every few moments. When a relatively early line of dialogue features the words Sqvips, Steepdeepo, Moog and Kannon, you find yourself struggling against the narrative tide, and it all becomes a bit of a linguistic mush which is a shame when it’s clear that a lot of work has gone into making the world fully-formed.
It’s certainly an attractive enough landscape, with lush grass and trees constantly swaying in the breeze, and grotty, disused buildings providing just enough decay to truly sell the post-apocalyptic fiction. It feels quite empty though. There’s plenty of charm to the world’s appearance, but so far there’s just not enough happening in it. That’s somewhat balanced by the idea that this is a world that’s dying, and that its best years are behind us, but I found myself consistently wanting more.
The exception to that is the search for loot. You’re rewarded for exploring every nook and cranny by finding new weaponry, pick-ups, stat bonuses or parts to craft new weapons, and it all works as you’d expect. It’s quite fun sticking random pieces of tech and scrap together to create some seriously ugly thing to mash enemies with, and there’s hundreds of different combinations to keep things interesting.
Biomutant does make your life harder at the beginning by throwing system after system at you, in an often rushed and unhelpful manner. You’ll spend the first few hours trying to come to terms with a host of upgrades, stat increases and the crafting, and it’s just not done incredibly well. Though you’ll settle into it, there’s something slap shod about the way it’s all presented to you.
Combat falls into a gap between the button-mashing excess of a musou title and Batman/Spider-Man style dodging, with a hint of Devil May Cry/Bayonetta thrown in there for good measure. It’s less refined than all of those other titles, and it’s fairly easy on the standard difficulty, but it’s not without its charm. You’ve got access to various toxic and physic powers too, as well as a range of close and ranged weaponry, so there’s lots of different ways to tackle those bad guys, even if they are slightly shonky. The character creator lets you focus in on different skill sets, and alongside the extensive visual options available to you, you can really make a creature that feels like your own little mutant. You’ll come to love the ugly little thing.
If you had to pick a console family to buy the game for right now, it would have to be Xbox. The game is only played through backward compatibility on the new generation of consoles, but as we’ve seen on plenty of occasions, that leaves Xbox Series X owners able to play at 4K, while PlayStation 5 players are running at last-gen resolutions and frame rates. In this case, the game is stuck at 1080p on PS5, and even then the frame rate has been a bit variable. That’s improved through pre-release patches, and will hopefully continue to improve.