I remember seeing Biomutant a long time ago and wanting to dive into this wonderful world of mutants and kung-fu and picking through the detritus of a fallen civilisation. But after the wait, Biomutant has let me down by trying to do too much and not getting enough of it right.
This seems familiar
The game tells a cautionary but tongue-in-cheek tale about how corporations destroyed the planet, dumping toxic waste and byproducts into the earth and sea. This led to their destruction and the rise of mutants.
Biomutant is an open-world game and it has a large, beautiful area for you to explore. It is pretty massive, with an impressive colossal tree surrounded by verdant plains, abandoned power stations that are covered in radioactive fog, and large swaths of scarred land where nobody can breathe. Everything is bright, with grass that is almost too green, and the spraypaint on ruined buildings is still highly visible. Even the dreary places, like zones so badly destroyed there is no breathable atmosphere anymore, have this almost oversaturated feel to them. It is whimsical and lovely, but mostly it just feels like something you did before, many times, and many years ago.
Ruined towns have the same house again and again, making it difficult to keep track of where you have looted already.
Biomutant, while trying very hard to not fall into the trap of open-world design, has very much fallen into it. There are so many systems in the game, all with their own resources to collect and none offering any substantial depth. For instance, the crafting system of the game has you picking up hundreds of different doodads to attach to your armour or your weapons. You can make new weapons altogether. The issue is all of these different bits all just end up in one of four broad categories because everything is either a slashing weapon or a bashing weapon. The same goes for ranged weapons and while it is fun at first to attach a toilet brush to a handle and call it a weapon, eventually you stop looking at the funny bits and just at their stats. Every time you collect loot the gameplay stops for a short while as the loot you acquired flashes up across your whole screen, shouting for your attention as you get the 50th health pack or some such scrap.
The game spends a lot of time discussing morality and your choices, showcasing some fight between light and dark inside of you. Your aura affects which psi powers you use, but in general it just never has any depth. You can pick to do whatever you want and most people just go along with it, with no mention of it being out of character or surprising.
Saving the world… and ruling it
The big goal of Biomutant is to take down four big creatures that are eating the roots of the world tree. Each of these beasties is too large and fearsome to beat on foot, so you will use a mech of some description to take out these big enemies. Each boss has a different mech, which you do a quest to get the final piece before being given a mech to traverse a specific biome. The game warns you to collect loot to upgrade your mechs before the big boss fight, but the boss fights are easy enough without any upgrades. On one mech, the “upgrades” were all cosmetic anyway, making collecting them all feel like a waste of time. In fact, I found some normal enemy encounters more challenging than the bosses because the game just uses more mobs to try and make a fight difficult, rather than having foes with any really challenging mechanics.
On top of saving the world from destruction, you are also taking over forts for whichever tribe you join at the beginning of the game. This gets you access to the various tribe weapons, like a boomerang or a bo staff, and while each fort you lay siege to feels different from the others, it feels out of place compared to the rest of the game, some padding to make the game longer or make use of locations in the massive world map.
Biomutant, while trying very hard to not fall into the trap of open-world design, has very much fallen into it.
It is difficult when looking at an open-world game to not compare it to the likes of Breath of the Wild or the latest Assassin’s Creed title. Biomutant was made by 20 people and it shows. Ruined towns have the same house again and again, making it difficult to keep track of where you have looted already. Sometimes I just walked around hoping to see the black UI dot that indicated loot, rather than looking at the same house once again.
A lot of this would be forgiven if the combat with tight, fun and engaging. But it isn’t. After spending way too long thinking about which class to play and which stats I wanted, you get to the action and it is weightless and hard to read. Even seeing big comic book style SMASH and KABOOM popping up doesn’t make my attacks feel like they have weight, and having infinite ammo means that almost any fight can be won by just strafing and throwing enough lead in one direction. When multiple enemies enter the fray it becomes really hard to read what is going on, with ranged enemies stunning you or interrupting big attacks on nearby threats.
But worst of all is the way that people communicate in this game. Your character is silent except for a few questions, most of which make them sound like an idiot and everyone speaks a language that the narrator needs to translate. You can tell the narrator to put a sock in it, but he is still around for almost everything and while at the beginning it is funny that some of the names of things have been garbled, it becomes overwhelmingly tiresome to be told to be careful in the dark (when there is almost no noticeable reduction in vision for you) or while you fix a flush-stool from the back-in-time, or un-sunk some plip-plops or whatever. Sometimes a sentence has so much gobbledygook it took me a while to parse what was needed of me before solving another inane puzzle, which is presumably one of the only reasons to get the intelligence stat.
Even seeing big comic book style SMASH and KABOOM popping up doesn’t make my attacks feel like they have weight
Too much of Biomutant ends up being half-baked, and exploring this massive world becomes a chore as you find far too much junk for too many unfinished or unwieldy mechs before laying siege to people because the game told you that you need to save the world AND conquer everyone to win, for reasons, all while some narrator talks to you like you are a toddler. Did the game really need a character creator where your stats morph the look of your rabbit/racoon/hero? Or could it have spent more time on making combat shine?