Longtime readers are aware that I can look past games with considerable flaws, provided there’s a central throughline and a distinctly memorable core experience. It’s because of this that everyone I talked to insisted I’d probably be the biggest fan of Biomutant. I was rooting for it before launch and still curious despite its divisive reception.
Indeed, Biomutant is almost inarguably a game that is everything its developers wanted. Each aspect of its design has the sort of personalized touch you normally only see in solo-dev indie projects. The question is whether any of that amounts to an enjoyable experience. Do all these disparate parts add up, or is it just an evolutionary offshoot that won’t make it five inches beyond the gene pool?
Well you read the headline so you can probably guess.
Biomutant lacks that crucial central pillar. In fact, I have never played something as utterly, profoundly, jaw-droppingly unfocused as Biomutant. After pouring through its content for hours upon hours, I couldn’t begin to tell you what it actually wants to be. It’s not even a simple hodgepodge of a specific genre or style. This isn’t The Evil Within trying to be every horror game that’s ever existed. If anything, it feels like Biomutant would like nothing more than to be every single game that’s ever existed.
It’s a free-aim third-person shooter, lock-on shooter, brawler, CRPG, ARPG, sailing, mech, platforming, open-world, sandbox, post-apocalyptic, Monster Hunter meets Far Cry meets anthropomorphic Fallout 3… blob. The story is told in medias res and in increasingly forced flashbacks, complicating an otherwise painfully simple narrative about your customizable ronin ferret. And I’m probably still forgetting a few other aspects.
It’s to the point that even Biomutant’s core goal changes repeatedly. First it sounds like you need to track down and kill the Worldeater beasts. Then there’s the tribal war over what to do about nature’s decline that becomes so boring that the game even offers the ability to skip the majority of it. Yes, you can skip over six hours or so of content because apparently Biomutant gets bored of itself as well. After that, you need to choose some ideal candidates to Adam-and-Eve themselves on a new planet via a space ark that humanity conveniently left behind underneath a tree. It’s confusing, to say the least.
Biomutant is all about being in balance with nature and exploring what that means. Yet then the big climax is about how none of that matters and you’re going into space anyway. That’s… definitely a choice. It doesn’t help that the game’s morality and narrative presentation make you care so little about your decisions that none of it holds any weight.
I can’t fault the sole three voice actors, the Narrator and the spirits of Light and Dark. They’re all clearly capable actors who just had absolutely nothing to work with. Biomutant wants to simultaneously be a dour, serious exploration of the apocalypse and a cutesy Pixar movie you can play however you want. I’d call it tonally inconsistent, but with how bloody inconsistent the rest of the game is, being consistent now would be even more inconsistent.
Whole narrative elements never connect. In your childhood, the future leaders of all the tribes you either align with or defeat were the students of your mother. Yet, for some reason, this is never a real point of conversation when meeting with any of them. If Biomutant really is about finding harmony and balance, then why not examine this through reconciling or defeating your childhood bullies in a more personal manner? That would be more meaningful than fighting wars for them.
Even the core conceit of evolving dynamically doesn’t result in much combat variety. There’s a small set of combat moves, skills, and feasible character builds. It’s less Spore and more Far Cry in that you start off specializing, but eventually you realize it’s best to have a bit of everything. While some of the later powers and gear look cool, style is the only thing Biomutant really has going for it. It’s gorgeous, with great sound design to bolster the beautiful art direction. None of this is enough though.
If you took a mere third of Biomutant – in every respect, from its story to its scope and gameplay – you’d have a great AA-tier game. A post-apocalyptic mech shooter with some on-foot platforming in a bombed out wasteland. A Mount & Blade-style sandbox game with rival animal factions that you can tip the scales of. A feudal Japan brawler starring adorable yet ferocious animals a la Kung Fu Panda but with a dieselpunk aesthetic.
But all of them at once doesn’t work.
Is it an accomplishment that Biomutant even functions? Yes! Despite containing a variety of frustrating bugs, nothing is truly game-breaking. And is there an immense amount of creativity on display? Also yes! Experiment 101 clearly has a talented team on its hands, but it needs to zero in on a focal point with whatever it works on next. As it stands, Biomutant is just too many ideas without any of the depth they deserve.