Biomutant – Heart Goes A Long Way
PC, Xbox One/Series, PS4/5
I want to tell you a little story, a story about an underdog from Philidelphia. He was an undersized, amateur boxer, who went on to win the heavyweight championship of the world. He wasn’t the most technically sound boxer, he wasn’t the quickest fighter and he didn’t hit the hardest. He won through determination and heart. His gigantic ticker got him through when the odds were stacked against him, when he seemed destined to fail.
Why am I talking about Rocky Balboa in a review of a game about small mutated rodents? Well much like Rocky, Biomutant isn’t the most technically amazing game, it is put together by a small team, it has numerous flaws and it is going up against competitors who have it all, but in the end, it wins you over with its giant heart.
Biomutant is, for all intents and purposes an open-world RPG. Its structure is essentially the same as what you have seen from Ubisoft, Rockstar and Sony for years. A sweeping world with tonnes to discover. Repeated objectives whose only tasks is to distract the player from the main story littered throughout. Combat, RPG skill trees, enigmatic NPCs, you name the open-world gameplay trope and Biomutant has it. This is not a title that is going to win awards for innovation. But what it is likely to do is win over gamers with the clear passion that has been infused into every portion of the game. Rarely has a game struck me as a labour of love as completely as Biomutant does, especially in this often commercialised and homogenised genre.
The game starts with one of the coolest character creation screens ever seen. Instead of picking my height, weight and looks like most creation tools do, I was asked to design my character’s genetic code, which then shaped how the character would look. High intelligence with low strength leads to an oversized head and scrawny arms. An aptitude for agility lead to a lean, athletic look and a large constitution conveyed a sense of sturdiness. It is such a refreshing way to approach this tried and true staple of the genre, something that gives players a sense of ownership of the character, yet surprises at the same time.
The creator also ties into the themes of the game nicely. You see, Biomutant is a game with a message and it isn’t shy about putting that message forward. Set in a world that has recovered from a human-initiated apocalypse, the main goal is to prevent a second apocalypse from happening by taking out mutated creatures called “World-Eaters.” along the way you will face a meat-eating nemesis, stop a tribal war and clean up destroyed and damaged parts of the land. Biomutant wears its environmentalist themes loudly and proudly, sometimes using all the subtlety of a sledgehammer to make its point. That’s fine for the most part, but it does get preachy on occasion, something not helped by the narrator’s constant prattle using made-up words to describe what is going on. Fair warning for all parents out there, if you had to suffer through “In The Night Garden” with your little ones there is every chance Biomutant may give you PTSD, it sounds just a little too familiar in this father’s opinion. Thankfully you can turn the narrator’s random comments off and only have him pop in when the story requires.
Combat is a mix of ranged and melee that never quite hits the peak of the games it tries to emulate. There is a range of melee and distance styles that can be used and upgraded but the flow never feels genuinely exciting, simply serviceable. Rarely was I frustrated with the combat, but at the same time outside of the very entertaining boss battles, I was rarely excited. What is exciting is the crafting system. It is a little unwieldy at first, but once you get your head around using all the bits and bobs you find lying around the world, it is wonderful to see your creation come to life. I loved taking a plunger, some nails, a bit of a chainsaw and a piece of a fridge and making a fantastically unique weapon, with all of its component parts visible. It is one of those touches that tells me this is a game the developers poured their souls into and is greatly appreciated.
As for upgrading your little critter, there are three skill trees plus stat boosts to consider. Each skill tree utilises a different resource to upgrade. Mutations are linked to finding bio-waste in the open world and add a range of different combat and traversal abilities like a poison that causes enemies to attack each other. Skill upgrades are awarded when the player levels up and can be used to improve the player’s proficiency with melee or ranged weapons. Finally, Psi powers can be upgraded with psi points found throughout the world. The Psi Powers involve elemental attacks like a fire dash or an ice explosion and they are linked to the game’s morality system so you can only access powers that are in line with your chosen “good” or “bad” path. Speaking of morality, the game places a great emphasis on choosing to follow the light or dark path and offers little reward for people that want to play things down the middle. It is all a little binary for this day and age, but it does add a nice slice of consequence to actions and their effect on the world.
As far as looks go, it is easy to see this is a game that has been made by a small group of people. There are quite a few rough edges, slight graphical glitches and a general feeling of muddiness regarding the game’s look. It presents very much like a game from early in the generation and as a result, some players might be put off. That being said, it all runs wonderfully smoothly, with no noticeable framerate issues or stutters and the enemy and character design is wonderful, all giving off a hand-crafted feeling rather than the look of a generic baddie. It is just a shame that these designs often get lost against the background and aren’t given the canvas space to shine.
Unlike the aforementioned Italian Stallion, Biomutant doesn’t win the title, but it shares that undefinable trait that I call heart. Sure the combat is a bit underwhelming and it doesn’t look the best, but there is an undeniable feeling that this was a game that was made with passion, with soul. The developers have poured themselves into Biomutant, you can feel it at every turn, and that carries the game a long way, a lot further than it really has any right to go.
Just like Rocky, Biomutant punches above its weight, taking players on a journey that is heartwarming and engaging, allowing those who take the journey to experience a game that is both familiar, yet unlike anything else in the marketplace. It isn’t a perfect journey, but it is a memorable one.
Biomutant was reviewed on the Xbox Series X with code kindly supplied by the publisher.