Time and time again, small teams have proven that they are capable of incredible gaming experiences. I’ve played countless titles made by a handful of people, or by a small group, and come away impressed. Of course, the balance here is between the ambition of the team, and what they can realistically accomplish.
Biomutant, the first title from Experiment 101, published by THQ Nordic, is a title that has been in and out of the spotlight for several years, always garnering interest, but fraught with delays. Now, the full game is here, and I’ve played it on both PS4 and PS5 via backwards compatibility. How did this small team fare in their battle of ambition? Let’s find out.
An Ambitious Action RPG that Struggles to Reach it’s Potential
Biomutant makes a strong first impression with its CGI opener and a unique character creation system. Things like choosing a class, your primary fur colors, and base stats are all here, but the game also changes your appearance based on how much you lean towards things like intellenct or strength. The former will give you a big head, while the latter will shrink your head in favor a muscular build.
Tying your appearance into your stats isn’t something I’ve seen since the days of Fable where your decisions between the good and evil path changed your outward appearance. Biomutant doesn’t take things this far, but the connection in the character creation offers a streamlined approach across your looks and your stats.
While you are asked to pick a class, Biomutant allows you to refine your decisions as time goes on, so really the only permanent choice in the beginning are your base stats and your appearance. The rest can be molded as time goes on, which is a level of flexibility I appreciate in my RPGs.
So, with your character made, you set out into the world. This is where the highs and lows of the experience become apparent.
The first few hours of Biomutant aren’t incredibly inspiring due to inconsistent pacing and a litanty of tutorials. Flashbacks to your childhood are also prevalent and a little too long for the story they’re trying tell. I felt like these could have been cut or streamlined. Given the sheer number of systems at play here, I think the tutorials could have been given a little more room to breathe as well.
From a story perspective, Biomutant presents a lush and vibrant world that suffered from an environmental apocalypse that wiped out humans, leaving mutated creatures to take over the planet. While things are regrowing and nature is returning to the world, the “Tree of Life” at the center of the map is threatened by creatures known as Worldeaters that threaten to snuff out this central aspect of the world.
Among this, your character is the child of someone who once united the tribes of the world and perfected a style of combat called “Wung-Fu.” Your backstory is predictable, but sets the stage for your pursuit to unite the tribes and save the world while also seeking personal revenge for things that happened in the past.
All of this is delivered through a dialogue system that starts interesting and quickly becomes repetitive. Biomutant is narrated entirely by a speaker with a British accent, which feels whimsical at first, but then becomes oddly misplaced in the larger world. When you explore, the narrator will comment on various things (you can turn down the frequency of this in the options), but in dialogue with characters you must listen to them speak in their native language before the narrator jumps in to translate.
This means that there are two audio tracks for every line in the game, and while the immersion of hearing the native language before having it translated is interesting, it quickly becomes tiresome, and trying to skip the gibberish audio often results in accidentally skipping the dialogue you were waiting to hear.
Used in moderation, I could see this approach being interesting, but in practice it just makes conversations go on far too long, and without compelling conversations or lore to keep you engaged, it often becomes a test of patience to get through the conversations. Not even the dialogue choices really bring back interest either, as they rarely garner a significant response.
Now, despite all of this, the character designs and the inclusion of a good and evil mechanic do lend some weight to how you make decisions through Biomutant. Given the look and feel of the game, I would have expected more of a comedic or edgy tone, but Biomutant instead waxes philosophical and leans into aspects of its Eastern philosophy, but does so in an inconsistent manner that struggles to really captivate the player or drive home the concepts of the door, beyond the obvious message regarding environmental destruction at the hands of a corporation.
Once you’re into the open world, Biomutant presents an impressive map size, with various regions and four “Worldeater” bosses to content with across the main story. Of course, you can’t just waltz up to them, there are certain zones that require a specific type of mount or resistance to enter, keeping you from just steamrolling through these major enemies.
Apart from the main quest, there are fairly basic side quests and a tribal system to consider as well. Essentially you can align yourself with tribes in different regions and take over rival fortresses to raise your position in the aligned tribe, which gives you bonus armor and some pretty powerful weapons.
It’s a solid concept, but the fortresses don’t have enough variety to feel interesting each time, and too often they require some sort of preparation before you can take them on in the form of a fetch quest or something similar.
I mention the tribal mechanic first because it’s representative of the games mechanics as a whole. Biomutant tries to incorporate a lot of varying mechanics and functions into the experience, to the point where it feels like the developers were happy to welcome and any all ideas without any regard to how they would pan out in the long-term.
Some work better than others. The tribal system feels fairly surface-level, but the crafting for example showcases a wonderful level of flexibility in its systems, allowing you to customize everything from the hilt of your blades to the various pieces of your ranged weaponry. Furthermore, you can swap out parts later or attach add-ons as you’d like.
Amid all of this, you’ll also receive upgrade points to purchase new skills, Bio Points for a separate list of abilities, and Psi-Points for yet another list. The numerous currencies and how they are accumulated can be a lot to take in, and it’s yet another example of something that could have benefited from some trimming to keep the scope in check.
Of course, what really matters among all of this is how it feels in motion. Biomutant’s combat is certainly flashy, but it often lacks the punch it feels like it should have, given the size and power of certain weapons. It’s certainly flashy, with plenty of acrobatics and flourishes in some of the more powerful Wung-Fu attacks, but due to the lack of weight it can come across as floaty.
Combine this with a camera that struggles to keep up at times, and you have combat that’s both thrilling and inconsistent in equal measure. Encompassing all of this is also a quest structure that doesn’t offer enough variety, despite throwing different types of enemies at you. Too often you’ll travel across the map for small tasks, and while I did enjoy exploring key areas of the world, the rest of it feels barren in the sense that there’s not a lot going on as you travel.
I did find some excitement in the regions where you need to use a specific type of mount to traverse the harsh environment. The first one I did, for example, let me pilot a customizable mech through a barren zone as I chased after one of the Worldeaters.
When you put it all together, Biomutant is a game of highs and lows. It tries to juggle too many ideas at once and ends up dropping the ball far too often, but those moments stand in stark contrast to the ones where the world’s beauty takes your breath away, or you find a fancy new weapon and are excited to craft it into your own, or even the moments when you face down a massive boss.
It’s no surprise that Biomutant is divisive, but before we close out the review, let’s discuss the presentation on both PS4 Pro and PS5.
A Mixed Presentation, Depending on Your Console
I played Biomutant on both PS4 Pro and PS5 during my review process, but spent the majority of my time on PS5 after seeing the difference. The game offers a 30 FPS or 60 FPS mode, but neither felt very stable on PS4 Pro. Furthermore, the PS5 offers a 1080p image upscaled to 4K, which looked much better than the PS4 Pro on a large screen TV.
The frame rate was also far more consistent on PS5, with occassional dips and stutters, but given the option I would much rather play it on the newer system. While the game isn’t upgrade for PS5 at launch, it seems like an update is in the cards, and I think that type of enhancement combined with some polish in other areas could help stabilize the more frustrating elements of the experience.
Biomutant is a game that showcases the ambition of its creators at every turn, but it also acts as a warning to those who try to take on too much at once. There are plenty of good elements here, but depending on your patience and ability to look past the flaws, this will either be a game that goes down in history as a title with a cult following, or it will be remembered as a title that bit off far more than it could chew.
I can see the bright spots myself, but your mileage will vary. Even so, I will be interested to see if a PS5 patch further polishes the experience, and will be keeping an eye on this studio’s upcoming work.
Final Score: 7.0/10
Article by – Bradley Ramsey
Insert date – 5/25/2021