The Post-Human Future Is Furry
HIGH Battling a giant floof while wearing power armor.
LOW There’s no excuse for melee combat this awkward.
WTF The giant monster that wears teddy bear-themed pajamas.
The action-RPG can be a difficult nut to crack. Combat needs to feel fluid and visceral so that it doesn’t seem like fights are won by stat checks instead of skill, but at the same time, character builds need to feel different enough for players to get the sense that they’re crafting their own personal take on the world. Biomutant, which takes players on a journey through a post-apocalyptic landscape packed with… adorable fur monsters… does its best at finding a balance between those poles, but ends up struggling as much as it succeeds.
Biomutant is set on a future version of Earth, long after humans have fled the planet and left behind enough toxic waste to mutate the remaining wildlife into bipedal martial artists. The plot kicks off with a battle between the main character — a one-eyed ronin designed prior to the campaign — and “The Meat-Eater”, a giant wolf famous for being the only non-vegetarian left in the world. Once each has gone their separate ways, the ronin runs into an old friend who explains that giant monsters are feasting on the roots of the enormous tree which is filtering poison out of the water and soil. Unless they’re stopped, the world is going to go through a second, more final apocalypse.
It’s not difficult to pinpoint Biomutant’s greatest strength since the creature design here is stellar. There are seemingly endless variations on each type of monster that the ronin can come up against — from tiny balls of fur and teeth to enormous behemoths, each new type that appears is a delightful surprise. In addition, there are a half-dozen factions of humanoid enemies, each with its own style of armor and weaponry, ensuring that the player will constantly come up against new foes for the length of the campaign. The only problem I had here was that some of them were so cute that I hesitated to kill them off.
Biomutant‘s map is also a marvel. Learning the key lesson (see: ELEX) that a world should be both easy to traverse and constantly providing strange new sights, Biomutant’s areas are some of the best post-apocalyptic landscapes I’ve ever seen. From green fields to icy tundra, and from sun-flecked beaches to blackened plains, each new biome offers distinct environmental features and unique threats, not to mention dozens of locations to investigate. One of my main criteria when judging open-world titles is to see how much time I spend exploring the world before getting around to pursuing the main questline. Biomutant’s world is so intriguing and dense that I was level 20 before I checked in on the giant world-eaters threatening creation.
While Biomutant may look fantastic and has one of my favorite open-world maps, it stumbles badly right out of the gate when it comes to the story.
The developers have made the strange choice to not voice the game’s characters — the ronin and all the people they meet speak gibberish, and a narrator explains what’s going on in the conversation, which has the effect of distancing players from the characters and their concerns. Other than the ronin (still ticked off about the time his parents were killed by the Meat-Eater) I didn’t make a connection with any other characters. In a larger sense, it feels like Biomutant has a premise more than it has a story. A threat is established and the player has to defeat it, but the details of that threat don’t resonate because the lack of detailed characterizations makes it feel like there aren’t any stakes.
Another large problem is the combat, which is balanced terribly. Well, that’s not entirely accurate — the gunplay and magic powers work fine, but the melee is mess. The developers are obviously going for weighty, impactful fights full of dodges, perfect parries, and brutal counters, but they don’t let players lock on to enemies. Instead, players get a ‘soft-lock’ on whoever the game decides that they’re attacking. It’s needlessly awkward, and made more so by the fact that it’s strangely difficult to stagger an opponent. Enemies barely react to being hit, making it tough to open them up for combos — especially frustrating with giant humanoids and large beasts who can attack continuously without any clear way to interrupt them.
Biomutant‘s combat would be a complete wash if it weren’t for the fact that every type of gun works great, and they all come with infinite ammo. As a third-person shooter that focuses on close-range gunplay and flashy dodges, it’s quite good– but as a brawler, Biomutant is inexcusably bad. If players had to rely solely on melee combat, it would be nearly unplayable.
Biomutant’s saving grace is how willing it is to get weird and different with its gameplay. There are puzzles to solve, walls to climb, ancient fallout shelters to plunder, and more — behind every corner, there was something new to uncover.
The game is also unusually helpful when it comes to sidequests. Once players know about a type of quest, such as repairing an old radar dish or watching a filmstrip, all of the information on how to complete that quest turns up in their journal. Then, the moment that quest is finished, the next iteration of it pops up on the map, taking all of the frustrating searching out of the process. This makes things considerably easier to complete than a traditional open-world RPG, but it feels right for Biomutant –– the developers are obviously proud of the world they’ve built, and want to minimize obstacles that would keep players from seeing all of it.
It’s rare that I’ll forgive lackluster story or mediocre combat, but the unbelievably positive energy in its other aspects creates such a winning atmosphere that I find it hard to hold its failures against it. Yes, Biomutant‘s story could be a lot better, but it’s also an adventure where an otter in a wetsuit builds the player a jetski so they can cruise to an archipelago and battle mutants around the rusty remains of ancient shipwrecks. I wish the fighting was more thoughtfully designed, but then again, a lemur taught me how to use a submarine so I could fight a giant turtle in an underwater city.
What Biomutant lacks in polish, it makes up for in audacity, and I appreciate that.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Experiment 101 and published by THQ Nordic. It is currently available on PC, XBO/S/X and PS4/5. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PS5. Approximately 30 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. The game has no multiplayer modes.
Parents: This game was rated T by the ESRB, and it features Alcohol Reference, Blood, Crude Humor, Fantasy Violence, and Use of Tobacco. For a game about murderous beasts stalking a post-apocalyptic world, Biomutant is fairly wholesome. Yes, people talk about drinking and smoking, and there’s quite a bit of blood and tragedy in the game, but by and large, even younger teens should be fine playing it without any trouble.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: I played the majority of the game without audio and encountered zero difficulties. All dialogue is subtitled and all vital information is provided visually. Subtitles can be resized. This game is fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: No, the controls are not remappable.