Hands On With: Biomutant

The day is finally here after what seems like ages of waiting. After all, 2017 feels like a lifetime ago, even more so with just teases of release dates and collectors edition info being released sporadically. Experiment 101 and THQ Nordic are finally ready to share with you the world of Biomutant and I’ve been playing it on my PS5 for the last week or so to give my first impressions with the game and whether or not it does enough to separate it from a crowded release calendar. At first glance it’s hard to figure out why they’d release this environmentally themed RPG sandwiched between the juggernaut that is Mass Effect and the fur covered arsenal that is Ratchet and Clank, two games in which Biomutant shares a few similarities. Perhaps chalk it up to the confidence that the small team of twenty developers has in this charming game that would make Captain Planet more than a little worried.

I went into Biomutant knowing very little outside of what was shown back when it was first announced, that was enough though to entice me and I did my best to avoid the recent streams and gameplay videos that got the rest of the world on the Bio hype train so that I could come in fresh and ready to be surprised, and surprised I was. You are treated first and foremost to a breathtaking opening cinematic. While a pre rendered cut scene is not indicative of in-game graphics, it certainly did it’s intended job which was to get me excited to take control. Once in game, the graphics are still really stunning. The environments are filled with lush greenery and crisp waters and you are never too far away from a stunning shot of the moon with the tree of life in the foreground. In contrast to the beauty there is also vast amounts of biomes slick with oil, blooming with toxic air and buildings antiqued by pollution and decay.

As stated, I am playing on a PS5 with native 1080p upscaled to 4k. At time of writing, native 4k has been reported to be experiencing issues on the PS5, but the Xbox version is all good. So hopes for a patch later down the road. Still, the scenery and animations look great for a game announced in 2017 and releasing in 2021. Where the visuals do let down a bit are in some of the interior design of outposts and bunkers. A lot of the detail that went into the world seems to be replaced with cookie cutter interiors with far less detail. Animations are slick and crisp, and there are so many details to your character due to all the customization options and crafting systems at work, you never lose focus on your character model and seeing the armor or weapons you’ve crafted. Swinging my crafted sword around I could always tell it was crafted from an old ceiling fan. Enemies are varied enough, warring tribes have different armor and clothes, main characters are all different and beasts and wildlife have all seemed a good deal different.

Almost right out of the gate you’ll be thrust into the character creator. Depending on your build and playstyle you will get a vastly different looking character from the one on the box art or from any of your friends that may play. Since you play as an anthropomorphic rodent, animal kingdom rules still apply. For instance if you want to build more of a tank character, your going to be built like a brick house with a tiny head to house your tiny dumb brain. The more points you want to put into intelligence the more head heavy you become to house all those book smarts. Toxic resiliency even becomes part of your appearance and of course you can customize the fur color and look. Nothing will probably look as cool as the default and some builds I toyed around with had me straight up cackling. I really loved this system and it’s relation to animal evolution and survival traits and is probably one of my favorite customization tools in recent memory.

The customization does not stop with the color of your fur, there is also a deep crafting and upgrade system to learn. Craft, mod and equip different pieces of armor for different effects and survivability and craft and mod new weapons from found old world junk. Currently I am switching back and forth between an old ceiling fan, a one handed toilet bowl scrubber and a hammer made with a baseball bat. Through the use of upgrade points you can unlock mutant abilities ranging from gross bubbles of snot that stick to enemies, acid vomit, bouncing mushrooms and a fire dash. You can also unlock skills including duel wielding ranged weapons and new combo moves, it’s clear you’re going to be spending a ton of time working on your character.

Let’s talk gameplay, another highlight for Biomutant. You have three main ways of dealing damage: ranged weapons, melee weapons and mutation powers. You’ll be using all three to seamlessly to deal with enemies both big and small. In several scenarios I found myself having to dodge enemies jumping at me and detonating themselves while also being fired at by ranged attacks and being charged by behemoths. These encounters are some of the best and have you feeling like the absolute world saver you are supposed to be. Its all about using your abilities together with dodges, parries and combos to build up your special “wung-fu” meter to help you deal extra damage. In more hectic battles the camera and auto targeting feature worked fine enough but not always as well as I would have liked, and in some cases larger enemies could be cheesed by getting them stuck behind items in the environment. Other times if you gain just a bit of distance, the enemy will lose track of you or decide against pursuing you. These are small downsides to an otherwise exciting combat system.

I found myself doing a lot of experimentation with powers and weapons for different scenarios. Depending on if you choose to go down a dark path or walk the path of good locks some abilities for you. For instance you can’t use telekinesis if you choose to be a truly righteous hero. Dodging perfectly slows time to get a few extra hits in and parrying can have dizzying effects on enemies leaving them open to brutal counter attacks. Ranged and melee weapons all have a different feel to them and no two guns sound or shoot the same, and there is an active reload feature much like the one in Gears of War. Combo moves are pretty simple, usually only requiring three inputs to perform and vary depending on melee, ranged or aerial. Combat is a big selling point of the game and you can tell it’s where a lot of the time and care went.

The story of Biomutant is similar to that of an old Akira Kurosawa samurai film mixed in with some good ol’ environmental warnings like the kind you’d find on Saturday morning cartoons. After being chased from your childhood home and witnessing your parents brutally murdered by the games big bad. You spend years in the wasteland surviving and honing your skills only to return to your homeland to find it on the brink of destruction by the world eaters. To save the tree of life you must find old allies of your mother, unite the surviving tribes and prepare yourself to face some truly powerful beings. What this all boils down to is a whole bunch of quests, and the quest system can leave a bit to be desired. It’s an open world that you are freely allowed to explore, so you’ll stumble upon quests you that aren’t meant to be at yet which can confuse the plot a bit. There is also no level cap on the quests themselves so you may follow a shiny new quest marker into certain death against overpowered enemies. Thankfully, getting back on track is just as easy as getting off of it by opening up the world map and selecting quests from the map and fast traveling to the nearest sign post (you unlock fast travel posts by “marking” them).

The story is also fully narrated, a feature that can be changed depending on how well you like hearing a charming English voice tell you the sun is rising or that the world is yours to discover. That narrator is the only “real” dialogue in the game, with all of the other characters speaking in a type of gibberish language (another option that can be turned down). Its with the storytelling and overall themes that I had the most problems with, perhaps the urge to name items like “Zippy Zapper” or “Globermagizer” should have been taken down a notch as it can be a bit much, but I guess in a world where humanity has become extinct and animals evolved further…what else are they going to call a microwave?

There is so much going on in Biomutant that it can be easy to feel overwhelmed every time a new system is introduced and the little explanation box pops up with the narrator chiming in, but once you get used to how everything works, it really works well. There is so much to explore and so much to do that you can expect to be playing this game for a long time, even more so when you consider the new game plus and photo modes. I’ve really enjoyed my time with Biomutant. Experiment 101 really poured some serious skill into the world and you can tell this game means a lot to them. I cant wait to continue to push forward in the story and defeat each and every world eater, unlock all the tribe weapons, and save the tree of life. The game feels like a blend of systems that you’ve seen before, but delivered in a new package. We may be well into the next cycle of consoles but this is a game that shouldn’t be left in the way before times. Its a unique game that packs a good message. While I have not rolled credits yet, I feel confident in telling you to check this game out.

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