Biomutant is a boring game that survives on charm. What other open world game stars a bipedal mutant cat-thing that specializes in martial arts? This is an RPG in which you can leap from your grotesque, grinning horse, summon a ball of mucus around yourself to roll up your enemies like ants on a moist jawbreaker, 'detonate' the mucus to send them flying, and finish with a slow-motion Max Payne-esque volley of electric bullets from a gun with a trumpet horn for a muzzle. It's tragic, then, that hollow progression and an incessant narrator suck out so much of the joy in Biomutant.
Biomutant feels like it's going to be much more, but in practice it's an endless stream of new ideas that go nowhere and beautiful, toxic landscapes with little to offer except an excuse to use photo mode. (I'm at 127 screenshots and counting.) It's especially disappointing because Biomutant's nonchalant, optimistic vision of the post-apocalypse is a refreshing take on the end times, with a weasel dressed like Elvis for every fascist cannibal emperor in Fallout.
But if you strip out the gangly, affable muppets, all that's left is a broken open world RPG with little else to discover except another cheap riff on the same color-matching puzzle, plastered over a rotary phone or microwave or whatever. At least it looks amazing.
Biomutant's human-free post-apocalypse is both stern and sweet. It imagines the worst case scenario for mankind: total eradication from pollution, late-late-capitalist greed and exploitation, war—it's a who's who of the biggest bummers. But it also depicts a vibrant world teeming with life after we're gone.
Even though there's another apocalypse on the way, it's embraced with curiosity and inevitability by most of earth's future fur citizens, from a hulking chef who only aspires to make the tastiest food possible to a mousy fashionista who wants everyone to dress how they feel before the earth implodes. Aww.
I respect stories that give the void a warm hug, so I'm surprised how much the narration and writing made me wish Biomutant's world ended yesterday. David Shaw Parker's performance as the omnipotent narrator isn't bad, but his saccharine tone clashes with the fragmented English in the writing, which is often embarrassingly twee. I never want to hear a Shakespearian voice describe piss and shit as "yellow juice" and "brown bobs" ever, ever again.
The way it's paced prolongs the pain, every conversation opening with a few seconds of cute mutant gibberish, after which Parker reads the text I've already skimmed in the same indulgent full-throated tone and primitive syntax, no matter the context. Simple sentences take a couple seconds to decrypt because every other word is replaced with a complicated compound. "That's a Pling-plong-booth from the by-gone, back when you needed to cable words via buzz-wire instead of air-waving them" instead of 'People used to stand in boxes to talk'. When Parker reads these lines aloud I feel like I'm being mocked. It's unbearable.
The characters don't help. They're written more like fuzzy parables than three-dimensional fur-people. Cute glimpses of their personal lives are interrupted by long-winded lectures on morality, intercut with your character's inner monologue, all narrated by Shaw.
If I couldn't slam spacebar to move things along, Biomutant would be made irredeemable by the narration alone. It's a case of subtraction by addition, a performance that washes over and homogenizes the impressive breadth and creativity in the mutant models, and glazes over their surface level allegory with lethal levels of pomp and circumstance. Biomutant's beautiful world is much better off speaking for itself, from a distance at least.
It's easy to see why Biomutant draws so many The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild comparisons. There's my little ferret guy coasting through the air on a paraglider, the gnarled roots of the Tree of Life spiraling off in every direction, grassy knolls cut through with rivers and roads, an old highway crumbling above it all. Orange buttes jutting up in the east, a massive black scar to the west, a crumbling city skyline sinking into the crust—it looks amazing on a good PC. Every vista is a promise of adventure, but nearly every journey is the same.
The classic open world mantra applies here: If you see it, you can go there. But should you go there? Probably not. That eerie tower at the top of the mountain and the deep cavern buried beneath the suburbs are both just full of junk loot and simple puzzles like every other location in Biomutant. Sidequests are bland too, most of which involve finding old world technology to complete an impressive breadth of variations of the same spinning dial, color-matching puzzle.
The lack of imagination is so absurd that you'll even rotate measures of sheet music to solve some puzzles—like, strips of music pinned to paper. Other objects laminated with the same orange and white node-matching puzzle: TVs, arcade machines, fuse boxes, film projectors, radios, record players, microwaves, globes, meteors. Meteors! It's never fun.
So I'm still surprised, after dozens of pointless collection quests and puzzles that are barely puzzles, how often Biomutant forces me to stop and reckon with what I'm looking at, be it a weasel in a space suit piloting a hot air balloon over a blackened chasm, or a huge ancient tortoise shuffling around the continent looking for a carrot to match their metabolism. Biomutant is a pretty good time if all you want is something strange and nice to look at.
The first lap around the map, I was drunk on Biomutant's scenery. It's a genuinely stunning setting and you get some fancy rides to unravel it with, including a huge mechanical hand that turns into a literal hand cannon. Is it useful? Almost never. But is it cool? Yes, which defines the bulk of Biomutant, really. Because whether stomping around the ruins of a city in a huge mech or gliding through a toxic swamp on a homemade jet ski with an iron dragon head bolted to the front, the terrain is rarely an obstacle or threat, and the creatures in the farthest corners of the map are rarely a bigger problem than those in the starting area.
Combat scenarios almost always consist of a burly mutant accompanied by some little guys, and a few melee and ranged minions, but they're easily taken care of by any means. Dodge, shoot, punch or slash—your verbs are limited—I can't recall a single fight that forced me to take a look at my gear, stats, and powers to do some serious theorycrafting.
Enemies are largely the same basic archetypes with different fur coats, and while they're all incredible to behold—from huge tigers in denim vests to oily-eyed tree stump wolves—they're not much fun to fight after a couple hours, in part because of how quickly your stats and powers balloon in Biomutant. Layer in perks, per-level stat boosts, and psi powers, and your cute little mutant will hit demigod status alarmingly fast.
It's fun to suck up everyone in a giant mucus ball and dive around the arena like a John Woo action hero at first, but combat is so easy I didn't ever have to think about where I was spending my perk points or stat upgrades. Even if I played messy I always had a huge stock of scavenged health kits to dip into. By hour five I didn't have any psi powers left to acquire. Besides the occasional gear swap, I didn't have to think much about Biomutant's stat game at all.
A bummer, because there's an impressive breadth of combat styles and weapon types to work through, everything from hammers and boomerangs to dual pistols and bo staffs. There's a hypnotic rhythm to fights: melee combo, ranged weapon peppering and repositioning, psi-powers for elemental damage procs or crowd management, and then back to melee. It feels alright!
Thank goodness for The Power of Cool though, because combat never gets much deeper. Every attack comes with unique animations, replete with dramatic slowdown and blur effects to sell the drama and athleticism. It's exciting at first, but perfectly timed dodges and exquisite weapon combos don't matter much when you've crafted gear that makes your HP kiss the moon and a single punch deadly enough to kill god.
I love the expressive, experimental potential of Biomutant's crafting system. Bolting nails onto beanies to juice my fire resistance, or cobbling together a freeze-inducing shotgun with a fast reload speed should speak directly to a min-maxer's heart. But it's all lost on flat combat design that never encourages you to spec out gear for unique challenges.
In my first few hours I put together a toxic toilet brush and fiery rolling pin for a dual-wielding melee build, forcing every enemy into comical puking or pants-on-fire animations, health bars collapsing in seconds. A few hours later I assembled a gun that mutilates the most difficult enemies, from towering elephant sasquatches to bus-sized raccoons, even faster, sucking the air out of every challenge thereon.
I mean, I love it when RPGs reward gear tinkering and careful customization by shooting me ahead of the difficulty curve for a bit, but Biomutant never humbled me with a powerful new enemy or combat configuration so that I could repeat the experience.
Biomutant's irradiated zones require some gear tinkering, but for small returns. Sticking around in these areas for too long in armor without the proper resistances will kill you, so building outfits around specific biomes is touted as a key driver in Biomutant's progression.
But what you find in these deadly, alluring areas are just more simple fights and some rare loot you probably don't need. There are no huge narrative revelations or truly unique encounters to dig up. The irradiated zones are just like everywhere else in Biomutant, only dressed up with some extra visual effects to sell the danger of burning alive, freezing to death, suffocating, or sprouting a third arm.
Just a few hours of running off to explore and do sidequests gave me a surplus of high level loot, rendering most of the vendors, upgrade stations, and the basic crafting systems themselves useless for the bulk of my playthrough. With no need to buy or upgrade items, I didn't need to put any leveling points into my barter skill, and I can only recall two minor conversations that benefited from my high persuasion stat. So everything was funneled into health, strength, agility, and my mutant psi powers. The hard difficulty option can't account for the glut of gear and simple combat design in Biomutant. If you take any prolonged detour, you'll quickly outpace whatever it throws at you.
But here's that charm again, barely keeping me afloat in the form of my Kylo Ren-looking ferret decked out like a JNCO jeans catalogue model. If only my huge pants made a damn difference. And I guess they kind of do, because for all its problems, I still liked parts of Biomutant.
I enjoyed it with a big pained grin much like the horrific smile of my spherically domed horse. I grit my teeth through the painful narration and groundless progression, if only to see what kind of fucked up muppet it would throw at me next. Biomutant is an extravagant cartoon diorama unlike anything on PC, it's just not much fun to play or listen to.