I often found myself markedly impressed at the scale of Biomutant. It is a game developed chiefly by a mere 20 developers, some of whom are alumni of Avalanche Studios, the team behind the Just Cause franchise. Yet despite the relatively small development team, the world they have created is sprawling, vibrant and a true showcase of their blockbuster potential as a game studio.
The game makes an excellent first impression with its presentation. The world looks incredible in action, with particularly striking use of depth of field. In combat, it adds considerable scale to the bigger enemies and highlights the art that has gone into creating them. Motion blur is a divisive effect amongst the gaming community, but it is utilised well here, adding fluidity to the animations and believability to the protagonist’s ludicrous movement capabilities when in battle.
Other elements of the presentation, including the texture work, lighting, and draw distance, are also top notch. The dynamic time of day system is the absolute highlight here, increasing the immersion by organically demonstrating the passage of time whilst the player traverses the terrain.
The artwork in Biomutant is strong across the board, with elements of the pre-apocalypse world clearly visible, although overrun by flora. The layering of nature over collapsed architecture like power plants and railroads echoes themes that are brought up throughout the narrative about the effects of rampant industrialisation on the environment, and how eventually, the game world’s inevitable destruction will bring about new life, free from the destructive previous inhabitants.
It is a theme that could have felt heavy-handed, but Experiment 101 finds a great balance in delivering the high stakes with a side of nutty charm that ensures neither the narrative nor the world ever feel out of balance or preachy. Even character names are hilariously tongue in cheek with names like “Out-of-Date” and other self-aware lines that play off the tropey elements of the story.
The NPCs are not laden with depth, but have fun dialogue and each of them serve as an effective counterbalance to the stoic protagonist. The initial dialogue with each main NPC also provides an opportunity to discuss the player’s choices whilst playing the game and while my choices were heavily panned by almost all of them, I appreciated this added element to the interactions. There is an interesting main quest that emerges in the mid-game that brings these characters into focus and in retrospect, it was a smart way of lending even more importance to them. Unfortunately, discussing this revelation further risks ruining a brave choice by the developers in regard to the narrative.
The narration in Biomutant is a mixed bag, with a single narrator relaying each character’s dialogue and providing commentary on what’s happening. While the actor is not at fault for this, I would have preferred separate voice actors for each of the characters, as many of them differ in their species and personalities. In its current state, the narrator does a decent job with most interactions but his uninterrupted musing whilst in the open world can become tiresome quickly. Luckily, there is a setting that allows the player to turn this down, should they desire.
As I have already alluded to, the open world is fantastic. It is packed with things to do and designed in a way to reward organic exploration, instead of dozens of icons cluttering the map, telling the player what to do and where to do it. You’ll find entertaining sub bosses, resource totems, puzzles and hideouts to all over the map. The rewards are worth seeking out as the game is often generous with its rarer loot. The enemies are creatively designed with a lot of variety, and their designs contain unique spins like a brutish creature being agile and able to roll on a barrel. The encounters with these special enemies are the game’s absolute highlight, as they are the product of exploration and combat, the two things Experiment 101 undoubtedly nails in Biomutant.
The combat strikes a nice balance between traditional action combat, special abilities and ranged combat. There is a rewarding variety of weapons that relate to both action and ranged combat provided to the player throughout the completion of certain objectives in the story. Each of these weapons are unique in how they handle in gameplay, and I found myself eagerly awaiting the next reward to utilise in battle. The variety of attacks and combos available as well as the player character’s versatile movement means fights are always exciting and while the first half of the game is rarely challenging, areas in the late game will require the player to use all three styles in conjunction in order to defeat the tougher enemies.
The combat is also affected by the “Aura”, essentially the morality of the player as certain special abilities require dark or light points which can be accumulated upon making specific choices. This creates an interesting dynamic where the player’s choices are not just impacted by how they want to shape the narrative or interact with NPCs but are swayed by the powers they wish to wield in battle, resulting in a fun melding of the role playing and core gameplay mechanics.
The main boss fights are every bit as spectacular as the NPCs build them up to be, however these battles are unnecessarily lengthy and the gimmicks featured within them will prove divisive. I personally was not a fan. Yes, bosses should be tougher and grander in scale than a typical enemy but Biomutant takes it a step too far by only making them vulnerable in relatively small and difficult to reach areas, whilst taking away a lot of the mobility that makes regular combat exciting. There is still enjoyment to be had from the spectacle of these encounters but many will be underwhelmed by what is delivered here.
The story is structured in a heavily linear fashion which means the main bosses cannot be challenged without completing a number of missions sequentially, usually for the improvement or repair of a gimmick mount that will be used in the battle. These missions are practically glorified fetch quests that simply do not belong in a game where organic exploration is so rewarded. These fetch quests are also bizarrely familiar in their structure, many of them consist of talking to an NPC who gives the player instructions to raid an abandoned place to find an object or catch some creatures with a net.
The tribe outpost missions, where your allied factions attempt to take over or subdue rival factions also fall into this trap, each outpost raid after the first three follow the same structure and upon the completion of these raids, the enemy fort takeover is preceded by another fetch quest. These missions come off repetitive and are peppered throughout the journey, with their disappointing presence tanking the pacing of an otherwise wonderful adventure.
A Word on Technical Performance
My PC closely matches the recommended specifications provided by the developer and I was able to run the game at 1080p at the High preset, at a locked 60 FPS with a Switch Pro Controller. Technical adjustments are inevitable as this was a pre-launch build, but for the most part, I would recommend turning down the Post-Process and Object Detail settings, as they are quite demanding at the maximum setting, especially if your computer is right around the recommended specs. For those with higher end Ampere or RDNA 2 GPUs, feel free to dial up the quality to your heart’s content (resolution and FPS considered) but for those who do not meet the minimum specifications, I would advise picking this game up on another platform or using a mixture of low settings and the dynamic resolution feature to maintain desirable framerates.
In short, Experiment 101 delivers an ambitious experience in Biomutant. Repetitive mission design and shoddy pacing at disparate points in the story hold it back from being a true masterpiece in its genre, but exhilarating combat and meaningful incentive for exploration make this an entertaining open-world game.
Developer: Experiment 101
Publisher: THQ Nordic
A review copy was provided to Shindig by the publisher.