Biomutant Is PAX West's Sleeper Hit (Again)

SEATTLE – Biomutant is one of those games that came out of nowhere, but has already amassed a surprisingly dedicated fan following. This action/RPG follows a customizable animal protagonist in the distant postapocalypse, and its appealing mix of melee combat, gunplay and charming narration helps it stand out in a sea of similar open-world adventures.

Credit: THQ Nordic

(Image credit: THQ Nordic)

I went hands-on with Biomutant at PAX West 2018, the first time I'd seen the game since I went hands-on with it at PAX West 2017. Whereas last year's demo showed off an early stage, introducing me to basic combat and crafting, this year's demo was a full mid-game mission, showing off Biomutant's fine balance of exploration, combat and platforming.

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The first thing you do in Biomutant is create your own anthropomorphic animal avatar. I didn't want to spend too much of my 20-minute demo in the character creator, but everything I attempted turned out a little vulpine. However, I could customize a great deal about my warrior, from the texture of his fur, to the color of his mane. I couldn't resist making him blue and pink; not the most realistic color combination, but then again, Biomutant isn't the most realistic game.

After that, I jumped right into a mission. I had to traverse a swamp, which was full of both enemies and toxic gas that could slowly sap my health. Here, I had my reintroduction to the game's fluid, rhythmic combat. Using a combination of melee and ranged attacks, I took on small foot soldiers and larger ogre-like creatures. After getting enough blows in, I could activate a "wushu" mode, where my avatar would zip around the battlefield and carve through foes like a whirling dervish of destruction. So far, so good.

The first major addition I noticed was the platforming skills. In order to jump across large gaps, I had to cover myself in a huge bubble of mucus (gross, but effective), then use specialized platforms to launch myself high into the air.

(Here, I got a firsthand example of why the game is still in its alpha stage. During one such jump, my character went careening off into the sky, only to fall to an ignominious death in a pond. A developer remarked that another player earlier that morning had actually produced the entertaining glitch first, though, so I can claim no credit for it.)

Another feature that got much meatier this time around was the narration. Biomutant has a cheeky British narrator, who narrates both the story and your actions within the world. Hearing him compliment my combat prowess, my good karma (a morality system that gauges your decisions) and my enemies' strategies made the world feel a little less lonely, and a lot more entertaining. The narrator won't be an overbearing presence in the final game, but he definitely has a distinct personality and an important role to play.

Toward the climax of the mission, I found an abandoned mech suit, and claimed it for myself. This shook up combat considerably, replacing my rudimentary weapons with a machine gun and a rocket launcher. The suit came in handy when I squared off against an enormous, maggot-like creature known as a World Eater. In order to defeat it, I had to wear it down until its gigantic tongue lolled out, then stomp on the tongue for massive damage. Along with a fully destructible battlefield, it made for a memorable fight. A developer explained that there will be five World Eaters in the final game, and the one I fought would be, by far, the easiest of the bunch.

I'm not sure exactly what makes Biomutant so engrossing, but something about the mix of colorful graphics, tight combat and interesting environments has rubbed a lot of gamers the right way, if the long lines at the booth are any indication. The game will be out in summer 2019 for PC, PS4 and Xbox One.