Ever since its initial reveal many years ago, Biomutant’s unique design, open-world RPG gameplay, and unique combat mechanics have made it look like exactly my type of game. As much as I love big triple-A releases, the smaller, unique ones often strike just as much of a chord with me.
It’s because of this love that I’ve been keeping such a close eye on Biomutant. I’ve been eagerly awaiting the day it finally released and looking forward to exploring its beautifully weird world. It’s because of this excitement that it pains me to say that Biomutant doesn’t live up to those expectations, and for all of its weird charm & entertaining RPG mechanics, it’s a surprisingly generic, open-world affair that still needed a few more years in the oven.
Biomutant’s premise is arguably one of its most unique elements. You play as a customisable animal protagonist, a one-eyed shinobi on a quest to avenge their family and village after it was attacked during their childhood. It’s up to the player to save the Tree of Life from dying by defeating four great beasts and to unite the warring tribes who all have different ideological views on what should be done for the world.
Sadly, besides a few good moments exploring your character’s childhood, the story really doesn’t go anywhere or do anything interesting. Beyond the ending being amusingly abrupt, I can’t remember much of what happens beyond just completing objectives and interacting with some mildly quirky characters. Although there are moral choices to be made, they’re as cut and dry as they come (be nice or be rude). I rarely felt the impact of them beyond characters proceeding to treat me like a messiah and having a few different unlockable mutations. This is a shame, considering the game actually has a pretty unique way of displaying your morality, as every time you make a decision, you get little cartoon avatars of a light spirit and a dark spirit arguing about your choices. The more light decisions you make, the more confident the light spirit gets, whilst the dark spirit shrinks away and becomes less cocky. It’s a cool way of showing your character’s progression, and I was surprised at how many varying lines the two spirits had.
The morality system ties into your choice of tribal alliance, and it’s equally as disappointing. It essentially boils down to siding with one tribe and then doing Ubisoft-esqe hideout takeovers that let you gain territory and make your way to a boss. Every single time, I was able to talk my way out of these conquests with one dialogue choice, and eventually, the game just let me finish the war entirely and unite the tribes because I’d done two without killing. It was cool to be offered the option, but it felt like Biomutant knew these sections were uninspired and just got bored of its own idea. Once again the choices seem insignificant beyond some unlockable weapons, and the different ideologies are all really on the nose.
One of the more distinctive elements of Biomutant is the fact that all of the voice lines are done by a singular narrator, who translates the animal noises and describes the world around you. It’s certainly unique, but I soon found the dialogue to be extremely repetitive and uninteresting. Because I played as a morally good character, nearly every encounter I had resulted in other characters praising me and saying how great I was, which felt unearned. I also found a lot of repeated dialogue lines, and combat was too full of annoying quips from the narrator, which can thankfully be toned down. Having one narrator deliver all of the game’s dialogue with the same intonation and chirpy voice just only contributes to things getting old fast, something that even dialogue-heavy games like Disco Elysium knew to mix up.
This is a shame because Biomutant can be quite charming at times, with some funny puns and a few memorable character interactions. Moments like seeing your character pee on something to mark it on the map are funny, and the childhood flashbacks are also pretty heartfelt. I liked seeing how the game explained things from our world like trains and cars, and the joy of seeing your rabbit-y character’s growing wardrobe can carry the game through some of the more boring sections.
To be more positive for a second, I was actually pretty impressed overall with Biomutant’s creation options, and feel that it’s a high point of the game. Starting the game you get to choose your appearance and breed to change your starting stats, as well as picking a class that’ll influence some of your unlockable perks and starting weapons. I went with a saboteur (I’ll get to why that was a bad choice later), which gave me two small knives, and some unique perks that affected my movement speed. There are also classes that focused on guns, mutations, and swords that all felt pretty distinct from one another. In the end, you can upgrade and change your character enough to make them your own regardless of class, but the number of options is nice.
One of the highlights of the main gameplay loop once again ties into the customisation and player choice. Not only are the game’s costumes pretty fun to mess around with, but Biomutant’s crafting system is a lot of fun and allows the player to make some pretty unique weapons and outfits. All of this helps to show that customization is Biomutant’s strongest trait. Even when I’d beaten the game, I felt like jumping back in to create a new class and see how they differ from the rest, which is impressive considering how done I was with the actual gameplay by that point.
Biomutant’s main gameplay focus is combat, and it’s the prime example of a “mixed bag”. Melee attacks are mainly based on one button hit, with the option to do special combos with a second button prompt. The bigger twist to combat is that you can also shoot your guns to combo alongside the melee attacks, and the moves change depending on which weapons you use. You can also unlock mutations and powers that give you traversal and combat abilities, which gives you a fair amount of options to use in combat.
“Game feel” is hard to describe, but initially, Biomutant feels very floaty, and sometimes like you’re not attacking whatever’s in front of you. Once you get used to it though and get some new weapons, it can be fun swapping between your options and taking enemies out in a flurry of moves. It never quite gets away from that floaty feeling, but for the first 20 hours, I was happy to fight whatever was in front of me. My biggest issue is that gunplay is far more viable than swords and clubs (hence why choosing a melee-focused class was a bad idea), which can make using other weapons feel a little underwhelming in comparison. Overall though, combat can be dumb fun and at least feels a little distinct compared to other elements of the game.
When you’re not in combat, you’ll spend the rest of your time exploring the world with basic platforming, finding gear to explore specific environments, and completing generic side quests like taking down bandit camps and finding special pieces of loot. It reminded me a lot of Ubisoft’s open-world design, with lots of content that just didn’t seem that interesting or worthwhile. Saying that, I was also surprisingly happy cleaning up the quests, which I guess is indicative of how most open-world games manage to keep players playing. Even though I enjoyed it, I sort of wish Biomutant had a more distinct gameplay loop, rather than just apeing an open-world formula.
I wouldn’t mind the gameplay being strictly focused on those two elements if the missions and objectives were a little bit more distinct, but the open-world design hits the game hard here. You’ll be doing the same thing over and over again throughout Biomutant, and even the story missions have you following the exact same pattern. You’ll meet someone in an area on the map, help them build a vehicle, upgrade the vehicle, and then use it on the area’s boss. Do this four times in total and you’ll beat the game. It’s bafflingly similar every time, which is a shame because the different areas of the world feel like they could have had unique gameplay elements.
In both its combat and its traversal, Biomutant feels janky. Movement feels like you’re walking on air, attacks can be interrupted by the lightest of breezes, and the world feels like it’s held together by string. Sadly, I also need to discuss Biomutant’s performance, and it’s one of the things that soured my experience the most. Weirdly, the style used here is actually something I have no issue with- the characters are all clearly supposed to be a mix of ugly & cute and the environments are all pretty and well-detailed. It’s the crashes that got me down.
In my time with Biomutant, playing on a PlayStation 5, I had over 20 crashes over 20 hours, which is more than I’ve ever had with any game. It happened so frequently that I almost felt like giving up, especially when combined with some nasty frame-drops and screen-tearing issues. Since finishing the game, a patch has been released that aims to clean the game up and prevent crashing, but after trying it out, I had two more crashes. They were much further apart admittedly, but I still can’t confidently say that the issues have been fixed based on my experience
I wish I could be coming away from Biomutant recommending it to other players. In fact, before starting it I was damn near certain that I’d enjoy it, but it sadly didn’t live up to my expectations. It’s charming and has a great suite of RPG mechanics and customisation, but it’s also surprisingly generic in most of its mission design and has combat that is unique but unsatisfying. I had some fun with it, and I’m sure others will too, but I walked away from it mostly feeling nothing, which is the biggest shame of all.