In one of Biomutant’s promotional videos, Art/Creative Director Stefan Ljungqvist of Experiment 101 Studios runs down the ‘genetic sequence’ of the game. His summary of the inspirations for the “open-world post-apocalyptic kung-fu fable” reads like a highlight reel of gaming’s last decade. Biomutant’s world map and traversal options draw comparison to Breath of the Wild, while the combat mixes Ratchet and Clank’s over-the-shoulder shooting with the freeflow combat of the Batman Arkham series.
So why isn’t Biomutant as good as any of its predecessors?
To be fair, the game starts out promising enough. The first thing the player engages in is shaping their furry Fallout protagonist with a shockingly in-depth character creator. Selecting skills visibly changes the player model, and that’s before even choosing a character class. Seeing psychics, ronin, and guns-for-hire on the menu promise a wealth of options for making your mark on the world that awaits.
Then the game starts, and it all goes downhill from here.
That ‘kung-fu fable’ part from earlier wasn’t just a cute bit of marketing. Biomutant, for better or worse, has fully committed to the bit. From the very opening, the actions of everyone in the game are narrated by what comes off as a British nature documentarian reading someone a bedtime story. Once character creation is done, the player is then introduced to the good/evil alignment system.
To Wung-Fu, Thanks For Nothing
This alignment system revolves around the player’s central quest for The Tree of Life, which lies at the center of Biomutant’s expansive world map. Determining the fate of the Tree of Life requires defeating the four ‘Worldeaters’ attacking it and uniting the various factions of other creatures scattered across the land. Factions have their own good or evil alignments, along with access to special styles of…sigh, ‘Wung-Fu’.
Now, who’s to say what the ethnic make-up of Biomutant’s dev team looks like? As the product of a Swedish development team, however, one can hazard a guess. Where thus far Biomutant has been annoying, here’s where it gets Orientalist and annoying. ‘Wung-Fu’ is the umbrella term for Biomutant’s combat. Factions have access to their own particular style of ‘Wung-Fu’, which is gained by either aligning with that faction or conquering them.
The first two factions the player meets wear samurai helmets or turbans, respectively. Sure, the following faction the player meets in the game rock football helmets; but reducing any culture to a hat is not a good look. As for the combat itself? To draw comparisons between kung-fu, wushu, or even John Woo; and the floaty, sloppy battles of Biomutant is an insult.
This impulse to crib from gaming contemporaries without understanding what makes them work consistently rears its head in the game’s design choices. For instance, the world’s inhabitants speak a sort of Animal Crossing-style gibberish. Biomutant subjects these interactions to running commentary by “Sir David At-A-Bargain” and the cutesy alignment system that makes one long for the silent plains of Hyrule.
Crafting seems to be the only system with any depth here. Bizarre and varied modifications can be made to the player’s equipment, echoing the robustness of the game’s initial character creator. Beyond the novelty of customization and its lush world map, however, Biomutant’s potential unfortunately never offers more than the sum of its parts. In the words of the game’s own narrator, “Just being new never lasts.”
Biomutant’s reach not only exceeds its grasp, but its price point. The game might find a second life as an ‘underrated hidden gem’ when it goes on sale — most of its best ideas are present in games that are already part of ‘Greatest Hits’ collections. Perhaps if this furry Frankenstein’s monster survives long enough to get a sequel mutation, Experiment 101 will bring out a better beast.
5.5 out of 10 Stages of Evolution