Let’s cut to the chase: the sci-fi, third-person, open world, action-packed role-playing game Biomutant (Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC) is epic, effortlessly engaging, and entirely worth your time. But man, I wish it had gotten to the point as quickly as I just did because this sure takes its sweet time getting good.
Set in the distant future…
(but in a world that’s somehow deeply influenced by samurai culture), Biomutant casts you as a sentient and bipedal rodent who must save the world from a pox that threatens the Tree Of Life. Or, if you prefer, you can help destroy the world. The choice is yours. Either way, it’s good you know how to use guns, both sharp and blunt instruments, and Psi-Powers (this game’s version of magic) because there are a lot of sentient animals and mutant plant people who are trying to stop you.
In other words, it’s like Kung Fu Panda meets Dragon Age if Po was packin’ heat.
Now, anyone who’s played a bunch of open world action-RPGs will know what to expect from Biomutant. Wandering the land, you engage in a variety of missions — some of which advance the story, some for fun and profit, and all for the purpose of self-improvement — while getting into tons of fights, which you do by using the weapons and armor you crafted after foraging, breaking & entering, and looting the bodies of your fallen enemies to “find” better parts. There are also factions to align yourself with, a lot of conversation, and, of course, opportunities to customize your character’s look, skills, and life choices.
Biomutant‘s setting will also be familiar to people who play RPGs. While it has a mix of lush forests and environmental desolation, there are still signs of human society in various states of decay: half-destroyed buildings, rusted trains, and the like. Though this is decidedly closer to the overgrown approach of Horizon: Zero Dawn than the somewhat still intact one of The Last Of Us 2 or the total annihilation of Fallout 4.
Biomutant also finds ways to improve upon established RPG doctrine. For instance, the icon that indicates something can be interacted with is often visible from a greater distance than in similar games. More importantly, you can reload your gun even if you’re in the middle of deploying a Psi attack or whacking someone upside the head.
How you get the good guns and melee weapons…
is also a bit different in Biomutant than in other games. While it’s hardly the first to allow you to modify your weapons, it’s one of the few where the best ones usually come from modification. Which is why, after only a few hours, I started to dismantle every new gun and melee weapon I found, and then checked to see if these new parts were better than the ones on my current weapons.
Biomutant also pulls mechanics from games in which you’re not role-playing. Melee combat, for instance, employs a button combo system as deep as an action game. There’s also some Horizon: Zero Dawn-ish rock climbing (complete with yellow paint marking your way), a customizable Titanfall 2-esque combat mech for exploring some environmentally hazardous areas, and not only can you dodge attacks like Kratos in God Of War, but you can even dive and shoot like you were Max Payne in a former life. There’s also a variety of BioShock-y puzzles, some God Of War-style quicktime events (albeit non-combat), while many of the characters look like they’re Fox McCloud’s second cousins twice removed (and are still annoyed about Star Fox 2 getting cancelled).
Unfortunately, Biomutant also has some of the same problems as other games…and some that are unique. As I mentioned earlier, it takes forever to get good. Far longer than in any other action-RPG in recent memory. And I’m not talking about the uneventful linear opening that serves as a training mission. Even after the world opened up, and I’d been exploring for a couple hours, this still had me wondering if there wasn’t something better I could be doing with my time.
This was largely because, at first, the combat was both dull and frustrating. It was hours before I finally found good enough parts to construct a gun with some kick and a sword that was sharp. And even then, it was still irritating that I couldn’t look down the barrel of my gun for added accuracy, which is especially problematic when you’re trying to shot an explosive barrel being tossed at you by a talking bear. Though having unlimited ammo did mitigate this…somewhat.
Even after I did get some good weapons, though,
Biomutant still found ways to piss me off. There’s a rather chatty narrator, for instance, who offers cliché aphorisms when not telling dad jokes (though you can, thankfully, tell him to dial it back). It also doesn’t help that the story, which you mostly hear from him, is convoluted and not that interesting and wastes its somewhat interesting premise.
The irony being that there’s times when Biomutant actually needs more sound. Specifically, some sound effects, which are sometimes oddly absent. Like when I lit a pile of hay on fire and watched as it burned down a nearby deserted house…in silence. None of that wood burning sound.
There are also some visual issues, including times when everything looks hazy and washed out, and others when you realize you’ve seen this building layout six or seven times already. This, coupled with the massive number of missions available, and how those missions are often the same, if not similar, is another problem: this game is too damn long. And yes, I know it is illegal, immoral, and unethical for a reviewer to say a game is too long, but I don’t care: Biomutant is just too damn long.
It’s also infuriating how you can sometimes call for a boat, a ridable goat, or the aforementioned mech, and the game will tell you no…until you take one step to the left or right, then it’s like, “Here you go!” And I really wish it wouldn’t automatically bring up the world map every time I found a new fast travel marker.
Biomutant also makes the mistake of throwing most of its mechanics at you in a relatively short amount of time, but without explaining them well. Though it’s more annoying that the game doesn’t actually pause when you hit the pause button; y’know, like when you want to figure out one of the mechanics it didn’t explain very well.
Biomutant also has a weird mix of the serious and silly, like it can’t decide if it wants to be a Kung Fu Panda version of Dragon Age or a Dragon Age spin-off influenced by Kung Fu Panda. Not only does it have words pop up during combat like the ’60s Batman show, but for every freaky-looking, Tim Burton-esque enemy there’s two incongruously goofy ones, including skeletons wearing pussy hats and what I assume are bok choi puppets from a school play about nutrition who’ve magically come to life. And it doesn’t help that some enemies have stupid names that make them sound like rejected Muppets (Boo Weps) and brands of cheap weed (Hoof Puff). There’s also some unnecessary and unfunny toilet humor, like how you activate a fast travel marker by, well, marking it (and yes, you see the yellow puddle).
all of this probably has you thinking that Biomutant is good but not great, but also not terrible, and that they probably should’ve picked a lane, and maybe play tested the thing a lot more before sending it out into the world. And you’re right.
But something funny happened on my way to a middling review. Once I got into the heart of the game, realized what it was all about — and, admittedly, got some actually effective weapons — I found myself getting drawn in. When the battles became frantic and exciting, and not slogs that were just about slowly wearing enemies down, the rest of the game came into focus, and where before there was frustration, now there was effortless engagement.
So much so, in fact, that I would sit down to play for an hour, only to find that two or three had slipped by unnoticed. It’s very much one of those games that makes you think, “I’m just going to do this one quick thing, then I’m going to take a break,” only to have it turn into another and then another and then another, until the next thing you know it’s 2AM, and where the hell are my pants?
And no, the story never got better, the narrator never got less annoying, nothing compensated for the lack of iron sights, and the game never decided if it wanted to be a silly RPG for kids or a serious RPG for adults. Which is why this never got as good as, say, Borderlands 3 or Mass Effect 2 or some other great action-RPG. But it did get good, as good as the open world Mad Max RPG that came out around the time of Fury Road, and was also problematic but fun.
All of which is why,
as I told you earlier (you never listen to me!), Biomutant is worth your time. Maybe not until the price comes down, and you clear out some of your backlog, but if you enjoy open world adventure games with post-apocalyptic sci-fi settings, and mixed method combat that has you using weapons you crafted yourself, Biomutant might be your next great adventure…if you give it time.