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Hands-on with Biomutant’s adorable — and deadly — critters

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Melee combat highlights Experiment 101’s unusual adventure

Experiment 101/THQ Nordic

There are many kid-appropriate games with furry woodland creatures. Then there’s Biomutant, a game about a post-apocalyptic world inhabited by scarred and angry, yet adorable, critters.

Developed by Experiment 101 (a studio owned by THQ and founded by former Avalanche Studios creative director Stefan Ljungqvist), Biomutant is an open-world action RPG that plays like a dream. It all begins with designing your Biomutant by finding a perfect balance of Strength, Agility, Intellect, Charisma, and Vitality.

Depending on the DNA cocktail you choose, your avatar’s appearance will change. Taller. Beefier. Longer ears. Each coordinate on the circular stat grid has its own 10-digit code. Unfortunately, that is strictly cosmetic (at least for now). There’s no way to share your DNA sequence with another player so they can try out your build.

You’re not locked in for the entire game at this point. You can spend skill points later to completely rewrite your Biomutant’s DNA and adapt to new situations.

There is no shortage of open-world action games, so Biomutant has a hill to climb to stand out. Experiment 101 hopes to succeed with slick combat. Ranged attacks appear weak (at least at the start) and offer little style. Melee combat, however, is a far more interesting proposition.

Experiment 101/THQ Nordic

It feels great to slide through a large enemy’s legs and catch them unaware from behind with a devastating combo. During my demo, I got to try out combat with a sword and a power fist that can be charged for bonus damage. Each weapon has its own play style and a unique “super wushu” attack that can be charged over time. Firearms and melee armaments can be customized with different parts and add-ons to tailor play style, as well.

My demo started as I crash landed in a snowy region with extreme cold hazards. I could have just as easily started in a desert biome with extreme heat. The map layout would have been the same, but Biomutant serves up randomized hazards the first time you enter a dangerous zone. Gear can help mitigate the different conditions you’ll encounter.

“It mostly puts you on a timer,” Bolt says. “Some of them will be amplified by weather. We have a dynamic weather system.”

As engaging as the combat is, I was most intrigued by the story and setting. Experiment 101 isn’t revealing too much yet, and we may never know why the world is overrun with mutated forest creatures or if there were ever humanoid creatures in the game’s world.

“That’s not something we’re going to talk about,” says programmer Oliver Bolt. “It’s more about what’s going on right now. The backstory is a bit loose. We’re not defining anything.”

The PAX West demo did a solid job of selling Biomutant’s combat, but the most intriguing part of its promise has only been briefly touched on in demos. Mutations found throughout the world can be used as attacks or for traversal. Spitting moths out of your mouth might be good for distracting foes, but a giant mucus bubble makes it easy to cross gaps and get the bounce on enemies.

Experiment 101/THQ Nordic

The demo concludes with a battle against a massive world eater, a gigantic beast with a chip on its shoulder. There are five of these monstrosities in the world, tied to the polluted oil rising up through the surface and killing the planet. Destroying each will heal a root of the Tree of Life, but it’s not necessary to kill all of them to complete the game. You can also decide to join up with the world eaters to usher in a new apocalypse.

The battle with the world eater takes place in a mech suit with live ammo (reminiscent of Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath’s unique weapon system). After a protracted, multi-stage fight, the battle concludes in the belly of the beast, fighting tides of bile as I tried to cut it apart from the inside.

While this could have been gruesome, Experiment 101 has maintained a lighter touch. The creatures are a delicate balance of cute and vicious, evoking the same kinds of feelings I had when I first played Ratchet & Clank.

There’s still clearly more work to be done on Biomutant, and the mutation system doesn’t seem to have fully coalesced yet. However, with the tight combat, engaging world, and intriguing randomized elements that will make each playthrough unique, this is certainly one to watch.

Biomutant will be out in 2019 for PlayStation 4, Windows PC and Xbox One.