Far from a game you'd expect to see from a new studio with 14 employees, BioMutant is an action-RPG set in an open world setting with deep gameplay systems underpinning a game structure that is closer to Breath of the Wild than say the more linear Horizon: Zero Dawn.
The studio was founded by longtime Avalanche Studios art director Stefan Ljungqvist and a couple of fellow Avalanche veterans with backing from Goodbye Kansas, a studio that works on visual effects for movies as well as CG trailers and in-game art assets for games. You'd be forgiven if you thought that games like Just Cause and Mad Max would be the foundation of BioMutant, but even if there are sure to be lots of design decisions made on the back of that experience, this is a very different game.
"BioMutant is a post-apocalyptic kung fu fable," says Ljugqvist when asked to describe the game. "By that I mean, you play as an animal. If you really want to give the elevator pitch it's a Kung Fu Panda, it has a touch of, you know, Mad Max in it, but it's not brown or dystopian in the same way. It's more like Zelda in a way, but the game is semi-realistic looking and it's about player freedom and choice more than telling a linear story."
In fact, the first prototype was a top-down action-RPG design, but 24 hours before flying out for a meeting with Sony about the game, the three people who made up the studio at the time made the decision to flip the perspective and that proved a major change for a game that, apart from the setting and theme, has little in common with the original prototype.
We got to sit down and spend some quality time with the Gamescom demo, which basically features a somewhat altered start of the game and lasts for about 30 minutes. We start at the character creation screen where you get to customise the look and attributes of your mutant pirate racoon (or whatever it is we're playing as). Basically, a longer, thicker character means you're slower, but deal more damage, whereas the opposite is true for a short slender one. You can also customise the fur, fangs and other attributes, but just how this will influence your character stats is not decided. It may or it may not. We opt for something fairly mid-range, giving us a bit of extra survivability while not being overly sluggish.
Even if our build wasn't extremely quick the combat was still fast-paced as you dodged in and out of melee range, firing your gun(s) from a distance and unleashing various combos up close. The basics sees you jump, slash and shoot, with the shoooting being semi-automatic where you'll hit enemies as long as you're facing the right direction. It's more RPG than action game in this sense.
You will be able to pull off some rather fancy moves, juggling enemies, using various mutation powers to stun or cripple them as you chop down their health bit by bit. For the purpose of the demo we were a bit overpowered, and unlocked new mutations faster than you will in the proper game where mutations will be unlocked as you gather resources and chose them from an ability tree, and it's easy to see how larger mobs with mutation powers of their own could present a challenge later on. Overall, the combat feels fast, fluid and accessible.
Some of the abilities we got to try included sending a swarm of flying critters to confuse an enemy, using telekinesis to throw objects at enemies, conjuring up mushrooms that work like jump pads, and sending bolts of electricity through the tips of your fingers Palpatine-style. In addition to the mutations, you'll also be able to equip your character with "cyborg reinforcements" that include cybernetic wings or a jump pack.
The demo also introduced us to the ying and yang-themed karma system that's reminiscent of what you might be familiar with from Knights of the Old Republic or Mass Effect. This system will play into your interactions with the various factions as well as filling a role at the end of the game. In this demo, it was represented by a few different paths you chose at the very beginning, but in the game, it will revolve around your interactions with characters, your choices, and how you deal with the situations you're in.