‘BioMutant’ Hands-On Preview

BioMutant, a post-apocalyptic kung fu RPG, is like Redwall mashed with Fallout

They had us at “open-world, post-apocalyptic kung fu fable.” BioMutant, the newly announced game from Experiment 101, a Sweden-based indie studio founded by Avalanche Studios’ (of Just Cause fame) former creative director, Stefan Ljungqvist. BioMutant drew us in with a world that we’ve never quite seen before—one that’s colorful and detailed, with a style that’s equal parts gritty and cute,

We played the upcoming PS4, XB1 and PC game on the floor at Gamescom, experiencing its mutant martial arts first hand.

Of Mice and Mutants

BioMutant is set in a colorful, post-apocalyptic valley, populated by anthropomorphic, mutant rodents. Cluttered with the overgrown ruins of a modern, industrial society, nature has started to reclaim territory. While it’s possible that the fallen society also belonged to the anthropomorphic creatures, it seems more likely that, like in Adventure Time, the world is a colorful fantasy borne out of the mutagens and radiation left behind in man’s hubristic fall.

It’s a colorful post-apocalyptic world, populated by anthropomorphic, mutant rodents.

You wander the world as a scruffy, sword-and-gun-wielding creature that bears a more than passing resemblance to Rocket Raccoon. He appears to be a travelling warrior, wandering the world with a tiny, robotic cricket, and seeking adventure.

The story starts off at least with a standard hero’s journey. As the game’s website explains, “A plague is ruining the land and the Tree-of-Life is bleeding death from its roots. The Tribes stand divided, in need of someone strong enough to unite them or bring them all down.”

It seems that there will be some amount of choice in how you approach your quest, since the game early on introduced a binary morality system reminiscent of the Paragon-Renegade axis from Mass Effect. During the demo, this was entirely informed by a handful of dialogue choices, with corresponding numerical values (positive for being heroic and selfless, negative for being more cynical and selfish). It isn’t clear what effect this may have on gameplay or the story.

Everybody was kung fu fighting (supposedly)

In contrast with the fresh and compelling world-building, the game’s mechanics felt bog-standard. The combat is the usual third-person action fare, with the four face buttons of the gamepad corresponding to a melee attack, a ranged attack, dodge, and jump. Holding a shoulder button allowed for variations on each.

We also acquired several mutations over the demo, which gave our hero special abilities, like blasting foes with electricity or spontaneously creating large, springy mushrooms on the ground that could catapult us into the air. In practice, it plays like Darksiders or Kingdom of Amalur, so fans of modern action-RPGs will be able to jump right in.

There’s also a Fallout-like need to scour the ruins for bits and bobs of equipment and junk that can be used to craft better weapons. Although we found a crafting bench during our time with the game, the systems involved were not explained, and it was difficult to tell how potent and game-changing the options would feel—whether you’re making a lot of incremental improvements to stats, or if you can really reshape your fighting style.

The game’s materials put a heavy emphasis on customization, allowing players to alter both their abilities and their appearance with gear, mutations, and bionic prostheses, as well as, “acquiring new Wushu combat styles through progression, and learning from masters you’ll meet.” We didn’t encounter any of these masters, so we can’t really speak to how deep the combat system runs. What we did play felt a bit overly-familiar, however. It’s possible that they are simply using a standard foundation that will build into a more esoteric and evocative combat system as the game progresses, but we have no evidence yet.

While the incorporation of kung fu into the game’s language certainly provides cool flavor, the combat we saw didn’t evoke real kung fu in the way that, for instance, Absolver more compellingly does.  The non-specific invocation of kung fu, combined with the pan-Asian style of the player character’s outfits, risks verging on a questionable Orientalism, particularly given the studio’s European provenance. This could be avoided with greater specificity in its cultural references.

Impressions

Although its gameplay wasn’t outstanding, BioMutant’s world offers more than enough to keep us interested. Horizon Zero Dawn was one of our favorite games of the year so far, and while its core combat certainly stood out more, its story was largely a by-the-book hero’s journey, and its RPG mechanics weren’t imaginative. BioMutant also seems to rely on standard systems to flesh out its gameplay, but that could be forgivable if it uses them to present a colorful, engaging, and original world.

BioMutant’s compelling world and lush, painterly visuals put a strong foot forward. If Experiment 101 can follow through with a story and world that elevates the tropes it’s built on, and combat that is fluid, deep, and fun, then it could be something special. Its set for a 2018 release on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.

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