Like the bipedal marsupials that are its heart-and-soul, Biomutant is a strange evolutionary confection. It’s a game that borrows liberally from the action RPG genre, and wears its inspirations as a badge of honour. The ambition of the thing is striking, but it ultimately gets away from the 20 person team at first-time Swedish developer Experiment 101.
It was a surprise to find that Experiment 101 is a Swedish studio. I may be biased but the look, the feel, and overall vibe of Biomutant felt distinctly Australian to me. It posits a world left behind after what is almost certainly a nuclear conflict. The decaying remains of human civilisation have been overrun and recycled by a race of mutated, intelligent animals. They fight and scrap over tiny hegemonies, little fiefdoms carved out a crumbling, overgrown world.
This is where most of Biomutant‘s genius lies. Its character designs, critically the furry, mouse-like creatures that are the player models, are its brightest spot. They perfectly evoke the world the game lays out, adorned in clothes from the world-that-was that let the player imprint a personality.
Better still, your choice of where to apportion stats will affect your character’s physiology during character creation. Give them lots of charisma, they’ll be prettier. Make them clever and scientific, they’ll develop a huge brain. Make them a melee character and they’ll be thicc and mean looking.
Other characters you can run into have cobbled their own personalities together from leftover popular culture — one in particular models themselves on Elvis Presley and was maybe my favourite NPC in the whole game.
It’s all so delightfully weird. This is why I mistook it initially for Australiana — we tend to make things just like this here in Aus. We love bush stories, we love post-apocalyptic stories, we love dark or scatological humour, and we love our marsupial wildlife. To discover that it wasn’t made in Australia at all came as a bit of a shock.
Where Biomutant starts to struggle is in its wider gameplay. Everything from Breath of the Wild exploration to Borderlands rolled-stats loot drops gets a look in. There’s even a bit of Devil May Cry leapy gunplay thrown in for good measure. That sounds pretty good on paper, doesn’t it? In practice, these borrowed mechanics don’t sit flush. Instead, they grind noisily against one another. Sometimes it feels like things have smoothed out and everything is working in harmony, but it never lasts. The whole thing feels … off. It’s like standing on a building scaffold and feeling it start to sway in the wind. It’ll stay up, but you aren’t sure for how long or if it’s even meant to do that.
The weapons your character can wield are admittedly quite enjoyable, provided you’ve spec’d your character for combat. Characters that aren’t proficient with guns can still use them but, like any good RPG, it’s the stat bonuses that make all the difference. This is something Biomutant gets right — every little nudge of the stat graph has important ramifications for your character’s build and power creep. It means stat apportioning matters. It means you have to really think about your build. Among a sea of similar games where that doesn’t really matter a jot, its nice to see someone that this seriously.
The main campaign is honestly the game’s biggest drag. I actually found everything around it to be far more interesting. Side quests, exploring, and getting into generalised trouble were all far more enjoyable than the quest at hand. It certainly filled out my playthrough a great deal more and, if you find the campaign isn’t hooking you in, I’d recommend getting off the beaten path as quickly as you can. It might turn you around.
You can tell that Biomutant‘s 20 person team threw every last ounce of talent and experience they had at their game. I’m glad they did, and I’m glad publisher THQ Nordic let them take a risk. I cannot, and would never, fault them for taking a red hot punt like this. Experiment 101’s ambition is dizzying, especially for a new studio. That they didn’t quite manage to actualise it is a bummer but, I think, also a good learning and growing experience. I am eager to see what Experiment 101 can accomplish with time, more hands, and a larger budget.
Though it may not be much to write home about at launch, I think, with time, Biomutant will find an audience that loves it very much. It is a perfect game for the Xbox Game Pass era — a bit weird, a bit rough around the edges. It might surprise you, but I don’t think it will keep you for long either.
THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Highlights: Great character design; Big ideas; Big heart; Bold creative vision
Lowlights: Can’t quite get its mechanics to stick, impacting enjoyment
Developer: Experiment 101
Publisher: THQ Nordic
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows PC (PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S versions available via backwards compatibility)
Review conducted on PlayStation 5, via backwards compatibility, using a pre-release code provided by the publisher.