Biomutant is one of the most exciting demos at Gamescom this year

Despite the many post apocalyptic open-world games available today, I'm yet to play one inspired by kung-fu movies. Enter Experiment 101's Biomutant, a sprawling action RPG headed by Stefan Ljungqvist—whose credits include the Just Cause series and 2015's underrated Mad Max. His latest venture is more ambitious still. Despite not being able to play the build shown at Gamescom, Biomutant is easily the most intriguing game I've seen at the show so far. 

"It's going to be more in depth in the final product," an Experiment 101 rep tells me as his colleague tinkers with the appearance of the game's anthropomorphic protagonist. What's on screen already looks pretty comprehensive—I counted eight different manipulatable skill traits, for example. We set off having adjusted our critter's fur colour and applying war paint to his face.     

Biomutant's world is dying. It's up to you whether you want to heal The Tree of Life it or let it expire—and your in-game decisions, governed by a Yin and Yang-style karma meter, will determine your final outcome. Decisions made throughout the game will lock off certain dialogue paths. While players can occasionally revisit important decisions, being mindful of your approach makes sense if you're pursuing a specific outcome. 

Our hero runs into the game's central and recurring antagonist, The Meat Eater. The ensuing fight offers a glimpse of the game's combat, which offers a smooth mix of ranged, melee and Max Payne-style bullet time. We're yet to develop our character, though, meaning we're not yet up to the task of bringing the world's last carnivore down. Our nimble critter instead takes cover in a nearby cave. Within, we find a cluster of Morks—biocontaminated creatures that spawn from the oily ooze that is the reason for of the world's sickness.

Biocreeps are the gateway to mutations—special abilities that can be mixed and matched to better deal with baddies. The first I'm shown is moth mouth, which lets you spit out a swarm of bugs. Telekinesis and Funghi follow—the latter of which lays mushrooms that can bounce you to otherwise inaccessible areas, or to fling hostile pursuers skyward. With that, there's a strong Metroidvania element to Biomutant, and Experiment 101 confirms specific mutations will help players reach areas within the game's world map.    

The flip side of pursuing these mutagens, though, is that Biocreeps release infection upon death, which can cripple players and their teammates. If an NPC dies as a result of said infection, he or she is gone for good—forcing players to weigh up the value of hunting specific skill-altering toxins against the threat of losing comrades.

Biomutant's world is also littered with weapon upgrades, and a comprehensive looting and crafting system will expand the range of possible builds. "I think we're up to 500,000 combos of ranged weapons and a similar amount of melee weapons," says Expriment 101. "Again, we'll have more in the final game."

Towards the demo's end, our plucky protagonist joins forces with a wise old man who knows about the Tree of Life and, crucially, how to save it. We're tasked with healing the roots of the tree, of which there are five scattered around the world—each with numerous smaller segments. Biomutant is a whimsical RPG tale that integrates combat and levelling systems with nuance. 

Expriment 101 explains that much of what I'm shown is on rails, so as to best portray the systems and structures of the game. But before we wrap up, the devs take the protagonist out into open territory. It's a 16-square kilometre world, I'm told. "Some parts require some special gear or special vehicles, but otherwise you can just go nuts." Airships, gliders, mechs and even an oversized mechanical hand akin to The Addams Family's Thing are but some of the modes of transport you'll use to get around.

"We also have a fast travel system. They're animals, so they mark their territory", Experiment 101 adds, as the furry protagonist drops his drawers and unlocks a fast travel marker post by peeing against it. So far as side quests are concerned, 101 stresses they'll be dynamic and interesting and won't require players "collect 1,000 feathers", or other similarly tedious retrieval tasks common for the genre. 

Even at this early stage, Biomutant looks incredible polished. If it can live up to its promise, it will be one of the best games of 2018. Very rarely do I come away from a hands-off demonstration quite so excited, but this is testament to the ambition and promise Biomutant shows. Experiment 101 is onto something here and I'm now desperate to see more.