Back in 2017, indie studio Experiment 101 took the stage at Gamescom to showcase a bold, ambitious new game- Biomutant, an open world action RPG boasting mechanical depth, set in a vivid post-apocalyptic setting, and promising an adventure with a completely unique flavour all of its own. Its fascinating premise and the fact that the game was being developed by former Avalanche Studios developers who had worked on the likes of Just Cause and Mad Max promised exciting things, and all eyes were immediately on the game.
But its development didn’t go exactly the way one would have hoped. Originally due out in 2018, the game was pushed back from its target launch window to a 2019 release. And that was the first of many delays. Bits and pieces of the game would be shown off here and there over the coming years, and though hands-on impressions would often remark on how rough the game was feeling, by and large, the unique vibe and aesthetic of the whole experience was drawing even more people in. And now, at long last, after a protracted development cycle (during which the studio and the IP were even acquired by THQ Nordic) and multiple delays, Biomutant is finally out- and critical reception is far from glowing.
We’ve seen this more than a few times in the games industry, sadly enough. Games build up hype and anticipation for years and years, with developers making exciting promises and said games themselves generating excitement based on their interesting concepts and ideas. But then, after a lot of anticipation, they launch to less than stellar critical reception. Much to the disappointment of the legions that had been anticipating the game’s launch, the experience turns out to have fallen way short of expectations. And sadly, it seems that has been the case with Biomutant as well. At the time of writing, the game has a score of 67 on Opencritic, and 62, 68, and 67 on Metacritic for its PS4, Xbox One, and PC versions respectively. Our own review of Biomutant, in which we gave it a score of 5/10 and called it “too derivative for its own good”, wasn’t exactly overflowing with praise either.
So what the hell happened? Where did Biomutant go wrong. How is it that a game that was looking like it had the potential to be the next big open world darling and one of the biggest surprise hits of the year has turned out to be a bit of a damp squib?
Well, it’s a tale as old as time- overreach. Simply put, Biomutant is too ambitious for its own good.
As much as we all bemoan cut content and good ideas that fail to make it into the final product, it shouldn’t be forgotten that that is a crucial part of game development. Coming up with exciting ideas is crucial, of course, because if you don’t have ideas, you don’t have a game. But knowing when to pull back and when to abandon some ideas when it feels like they’re not being implemented properly, or that they’re conflicting with other parts of the game, or that they’re just not gelling with the rest of the experience, is just as crucial, if not more so. Of course, we don’t know the behind the scenes story of Biomutant, so we don’t know what was cut out. Obviously, some things must have gone on the chopping board during the course of development. But playing the game makes it clear that many more things needed to be cut out as well.
Because really, Biomutant is a classic case of feature creep. It feels like the developers at Experiment 101 kept on coming up with new concepts, new mechanics, new ideas, and just kept cramming them all into the game, with little to no regard for whether or not things that must have sounded good on paper were good in practice as well. This is a studio of less than twenty people, who have been working on this game for many years- rather than overreaching and trying to do so much and not managing to do most of those things well, what they should have done was identify fewer key mechanics, polish them to a sheen, and build a game around them. That’s crucial in any experience, but especially so in an open world game, and in an RPG.
On top of that, some of the decisions that Biomutant makes are just… baffling. Take the narrator, for instance. Every creature you encounter in the game speaks in a made up language, when is then translated by a narrator. Which means that every conversation is twice as long as it should be- someone says something, stops, the narrator translates, and on and on it goes. Not only does that mean that characters end up being robbed of any unique voice and personality, it’s also just a very basic problem that shouldn’t have made it into the game in the first place. The more time you spend having to sit through conversations that drone on an on, the more time you’re spending away from actual gameplay. And of course, it doesn’t help that crucial pillars of the gameplay – such as the floaty, unimpactful combat and the frustrating camera – are highly unpolished.
What’s frustrating is that Biomutant has a lot going for it. There are a lot of really interesting things in the game, most of all its vibrant, varied, imaginative world. Simply existing in that space, learning more about it, and exploring its environments can be a lot of fun on its own (even though, frankly put, Biomutant has absolutely no restraint when it comes to dropping lore or world building). But those good things are buried under a haphazard mountain of frustrating issues, conflicting ideas, undercooked mechanics, and baffling decisions.
It needs to be acknowledged, of course, that there are a lot of people who are definitely enjoying Biomutant- and that’s great! This is a game that’s been anticipated for many years now, and if it’s living up to your expectations, or at least coming close to doing so, that’s great news. After all, something like Mad Max, which was developed by a lot of the same people, wasn’t exactly a critical darling (it has a Metacritic score of 69), but there’s a legion of people out there who swear by that game and sing its praises. Biomutant may very well be another one of those open world diamonds in the very, very rough.
Even so, it’s undeniable that there’s a lot of wasted potential here. If Biomutant was a much more focused game, it in turn would have been much more polished, much more enjoyable, and much more coherent. Right now, it’s a bit of a jumbled mess. And that jumbled mess can be fun for a lot of people- but this game could and should have been so much more.
Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, GamingBolt as an organization.