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Biomutant review: a solid foundation, but tries to stack too much on top

Should you buy this bleep-toy with your green?

In Biomutant there is a crafting system to add values like energy regeneration or elemental resistance or extra armour to your gear. What you do is you take an item of clothing - a hat made out of an old animatronic, say, because the hats are really cool - and you strap different bits of post-apocalyptic junk onto it. The sole of a shoe, or a bit of metal scrap with nails through it.

And to make a Biomutant, you take an open-world action RPG. It's set in a post-apocalyptic future where humans are long dead and have been replaced with mutated mammals living in a culture with vaguely Pan-Asian influences. Cool. Then you strap on a load of different stuff that was popular in games about 5 years ago. And a bunch of it is fun, but some of it is clanking around getting in the way.

Biomutant has a clear setup. You're a wandering warrior, taught to fight by your mum (the martial art is called "wung-fu") but still scarred by her death at the hands of a big hulking carnivore when you were little. At the same time, the big magic tree that sustains life on the planet is dying because giant boss-sized monsters called Worldeaters are gnawing at its roots. Unite some warring tribes, grapple with your past, defeat bosses; you can get on with that.

How you get on with it is by scampering around the world, gettin' in fights. This world is very beautiful, and separated into a few different biomes: rocky bits, beachy places, swampy swamps. It's punctuated by towns built by the weird little mammals, and the wreckage of the old human world. You might run into a gas station or a slice of suburbia, all falling to pieces.

There are also some areas that are polluted (like grim oil-splattered bits near old freeways, or radiation around old power plants) and will hurt you if you stand in them. You can get greater resistance with different gear, or with special machines that you also need to fight the different bosses. It's a fun place to explore.

And dotted around, of course, are the baddies. Initially these will include rival tribe soldiers, but as you conquer them it becomes mostly the mutated fauna of the new world. I like these designs too. You run into hulking brutes using an old toilet, pipes attached, as a cudgel. There are giant rats and strange goopy oil monsters; huge crocodiles in hoodies and angry plants.

You can dodge and block, with parrying and stunning if you time you block right. There's also a non-specific lock, so it feels a bit like the combat in the Batman Arkham series. It's way less precise, though, and there isn't a different warning icon for attacks that you can't parry.

You're mutated, too. If you pour points into strength, your little rat-fox thing will look beefy. If you wanna go fast you'll have longer legs. Investing in intelligence changes the shape of your head, and so on. Naturally enough, you feel the effects in combat the most, because it's what you do most routinely. You can get special attacks, like spitting green goo or leaving a trail of fire.

The combat is fun if you take the time to really engage with it. You get your main-hand melee weapons, and a gun that you can switch to instantly, all cobbled together from old-world junk. You can use one of your levelling currencies to buy new special moves. If you perform three different special attacks in a row you can go into super awesome fighty-boy mode, doing extra damage in slow motion. But there's not a lot of incentive to persevere with it at the start of the game, because much of the basic combat feels weightless and unsatisfying - especially with dual-wield or faster weapons.

Crafting is similar, in that if you start getting into it you can stack different damage types on weapons or resistances on your armour, and have a hell of a time with really stupid-looking gear. But the system itself is opaque, and the menus are so frustrating to navigate, that I can see a lot of people giving up. It's possible to muddle through a lot of fights without engaging with it at all.

The core ingredients are decent enough, is what I'm saying. But then you have a bunch of other stuff that gets in the way. There's a Black & White-esque morality system that goes almost nowhere. There are shops and currency that I can almost guarantee you won't use. You can tame or buy weird steeds, but I don't know if any are faster or more hardy than others, or if they just look cool.

Sometimes you can persuade a villager to reveal a secret location, or the head of an enemy outpost to surrender, and I have no idea what governs your ability to do so. There are puzzles to colour match and flip switches on machines that use electricity, and these seem to exist just so the intelligence stat has an active effect on the world, 'cos you get more moves to play with if you're smart. Some of the tutorial bits are done as flashbacks to your childhood, when it could easily have just been a tool tip going "hey buddy, this is how you swim".

I'd have preferred this because I also just didn't care about any of the characters. Partly this is because the only voice actor is the narrator, and he does a good job, but it means nobody speaks to you directly. All the conversations are written in the second person: "He tells you" this and "She says you should" that. There's no sense of the individual.

The other thing is that, unfortunately, I really hate the stylistic choice made with the writing. You know those pictures that go around sometimes, where it's a baby goat and someone has labelled it so the feet are floofy stompers? It's like that.

Everything is a fry-sparker or a gunsflexer or a chugyard. It was like running a cheesegrater over my brain while being forced to watch back-to-back episodes of In The Night Garden. I skipped so many conversations. And you might not hate it, of course, but Biomutant tries to engage with some serious themes around morality and war and so on at the same time. It's definitely a bit dissonant to talk to a big dude who is heavily implying he is an alcoholic and using words like nim-him-bibble to do it.

But even without that, there's too much going on in Biomutant. Maybe if there weren't so many unnecessary things then the devs could have spent more time making the annoying bits less annoying. Making those menus clearer and easier to use, properly signposting critical QTEs in boss fights, and tightening the combat lock so fights feel less chaotic and you can be more intentional with your attacks. Who knows? In the end there isn't loads wrong with Biomutant, it's more that the bits that are wrong are pervasive, and you have to wade through extraneous fluff to enjoy the bits that are right. Really cool hats, though.

About the Author

Alice Bell avatar

Alice Bell

Deputy Editor

RPS's dep ed. Small person powered by tea and enthusiasm for video game romances. Send me interesting etymological facts and cool horror games.

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