Punch, kick and jump your way across hilariously violent rounds of fighting.
PC Release: Q1 2017 (Early Access)
By Ian Coppock
Friendships can be built or broken in the crucible of multiplayer video games. This is potentially true of any title but only particularly true of a select few. Anyone who played Mario Party back in the day will remember that friend who stole a Star from them using a Boo. Perhaps you, reading this right now, were that friend, and your relationship was forever altered the day one player stole the other person’s victory out from under them. In the years since Mario Party was really big, there have been few video games that offer a comparably visceral multiplayer experience. Gang Beasts is one of those few. Perhaps the best of those few.
Gang Beasts is a chaotic multiplayer fighting game being developed by the immortally named indie studio Boneloaf. Players can create their own character from a selection of gelatinous humanoid fighters and compete in what can only be described as a drunken free-for-all. The word “drunken” is no hyperbole— the characters (or pugilists) in Gang Beasts have intentionally slippery controls that make piloting one feel like stumbling home from the bar. Players can compete in matches of up to 8 fighters; whoever can throw everyone else off a ledge, shove them into obstacles, or simply survive all of these things wins the match.
Matches in Gang Beasts are usually short, violent, and hilarious. Because of the clunky controls, players are in as much danger of putting themselves in harm’s way as another character. The hilarity comes from seeing these jelly men square off in ludicrous environments (like two trucks speeding down a highway together) and their inevitable, violent demises.
Before jumping into the arena, players can customize their Gang Beast using an impressive palette of color and accessory options. Players can craft an amusing caricature of almost anything, from a drunken Santa Claus to a naughty office worker. They can also kit out their characters with trench coats, dinosaur suits and other eyebrow-raising wardrobe choices. The amount of character customization in Gang Beasts is impressive, and players can access all of these accessories from the get-go. No need to grind for a toupee.
Once they’ve created their character, players can jump into an online or local multiplayer match and compete for the title of World’s Silliest Pugilist. Each match arranges the players in a random order before the battle begins. The game uses a single Super Smash Bros.-style panoramic camera to capture the action, even on local mode. Gang Beasts has a thriving online multiplayer community and its local beat-em-ups work flawlessly, so finding a match is little challenge.
As previously mentioned, controlling a pugilist in Gang Beasts is made intentionally challenging by the game’s lurching controls. Characters veer wildly from side to side even as they run, and their punches and kicks can easily miss the mark. The point of this system is not to make Gang Beasts difficult, but to provoke laughter, and holy cow does it succeed in that regard. Players can’t defeat an enemy through sheer punching and kicking, though—they have to force players to either plunge off a ledge or into a conveniently placed deathtrap, such as a pit of lava or that nuclear chimney in the screenshot.
As one might imagine, a gang of 4-8 drunken little jelly men trying to beat the crap out of each other can be absolutely hysterical. The controls also level the playing field, making it difficult for the most experienced players to maintain an edge over new arrivals. In so doing, Gang Beasts‘ gameplay both allows for humor and fairness, since only so much can be done to keep these creatures from bumbling into danger. As one might expect, Gang Beasts is best enjoyed in local multiplayer, where friends can laugh and swear at each other’s ludicrous fighting antics. To that end, this game has full controller support.
The overwhelming majority of Gang Beasts‘ maps bring those aforementioned deathtraps to each match’s forefront. From a precariously placed exterior elevator to the top of a damn blimp, these creatures seem to have no inhibitions when it comes to picking fight club locations (oh crap, I talked about Fight Club). This further levels Gang Beasts‘ playing field by making it remarkably easy to kill other characters—maybe not at first, especially for players new to the scene, but soon.
It’s also worth noting that each map is colorful, with big, bubbly environments for the characters to tussle around in. The lighting and colors in each environment are exceeded only by the riot of colors in which the titular Gang Beasts can be painted. To top all of this off, the game also has a minimalist techno soundtrack that provides solid audio background without drowning out the dumb chuckles each character emits from time to time. The sound of landing a hit on another character is also satisfying: a quick, crunchy thud that can sometimes cause a knockout.
Although Gang Beasts is arguably the penultimate party fighting game at the moment, there are a few caveats to bear in mind for any aspiring cage fighters rushing to Steam with credit card in hand. For a start, local multiplayer is really the only way to play Gang Beasts with friends, as the game’s online matchmaking is essentially nonfunctional. Boneloaf has disclaimed that in Gang Beasts‘ description box, to be fair, but it’s perplexing that this mode hasn’t been built yet. The lack of online matchmaking with friends has certainly become reviled in the Steam forums, probably more than strictly necessary, but not without some merit.
The reason Gang Beasts might not have this multiplayer mode in place yet is because, well… the game’s in Early Access. Early Access games are rarely reviewed here because only about 20% of them actually see completion—given the amount of skeletal indie garbage drowning Steam these days, that percentage now seems way too high. However, Gang Beasts is one of maybe three Early Access games on Steam (along with Besiege and The Long Dark) that has enough polish and content in its current state to warrant a buy. Boneloaf has also announced that the game’s full release is right around the corner. Sure, they wouldn’t be the first Early Access developer to promise a full release and then delay on it, but the studio’s done a good job of responding to the community and being consistent with their updates, which is more than about 99% of Early Access devs can say.
The other factor that makes Gang Beasts challenging to review is its physics bugs, which the game has in abundance. At any given moment, players can expect to see their characters shoot off into space or have their bodies stretched between a fast-moving train and the platform their lower half was just standing on. Bugs are ostensibly a problem in any video game, but in the case of Gang Beasts, they’re actually more of a benefit. They add another layer of hilarity onto the game’s already-chaotic fighting, and it’s difficult to fault them when they provoke so much laughter. As Forrest Ross, my co-host on Ian Lost in The Forrest once memorably said, “I will refund Gang Beasts the day it works properly.”
It’s rare to say that physics bugs are a positive for a game rather than a negative, but it’s also rare to find a video game where physics bugs add to the experience rather than detract from it. For anything that’s implied by the presence of bugs in the game, they sure do make Gang Beasts even funnier. The game’s stated goal is to provoke hilarity through fighting, and since the bugs are in line with that goal, it’s difficult to fault Boneloaf for them.
Luckily for Gang Beasts, physics bugs are where the buck stops for the game’s potential performance issues. The game could run on a potato, and it comes with a decent, though not amazing, options menu for tweaking performance hiccups. Although it goes unstated on the game’s main page, Gang Beasts is best played with a controller, but that comes as little surprise for a game that bills itself as a local couch’em’up.
Gang Beasts has surprisingly few peers. It stands out in a genre overrun by games that focus on realism; and, in avoiding it,is much more fun than 90% of those titles. It’s also one of a tiny handful of games whose physics bugs actually contribute to what it’s going for (fun) for instead of detracting from it. Even though it’s in Early Access, it offers up enough content and enjoyment to warrant a buy despite not technically being finished yet. Given its outstanding reception by fans and other reviewers, it’s doubtful that the game will be shaken up too much before its official release. The only piece missing is online matchmaking.
Friendships are built and broken on the field of battle. Some travesties, like team kills, are relatively forgettable, but what about stealing a star in Mario Party? Or leaving a friend to hang over a pit of lava in Gang Beasts? It is these visceral, hilarious multiplayer experiences that make Gang Beasts stand out, and make it one of the very, very, very few Early Access games on Steam worth buying before its completion. Take a break from serious narratives and super-high production values for a tourney in Gang Beasts. It doesn’t tell an amazing story, but its drunken brawls provoke more laughter than even gamedom’s best comedy writing.
True to the feel of its controls, Gang Beasts also pairs well with alcohol.
You can buy Gang Beasts here.
Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at email@example.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.