Developer: Bone Loaf, Coatsink
Publisher: Double Fine
Format(s): Playstation 4 (Reviewed), PC
I remember when I first encountered Gang Beasts. I was wandering the show floor at EGX and there were a huge group of people laughing at (and queuing up to play, of course) a game that involved four strange little characters beating the heck out of each other and then attempting to throw one another into the deadly hazards that surrounded each level. I didn’t get a chance to play it back then, but it certainly caught my eye.
Fast-forward over two years (and a lengthy Early Access release) and Gang Beasts is finally officially available on the Playstation 4 and PC, bringing its bizarre-battling gameplay to the masses. Now I’ve got a chance to really sink my teeth into it I can see what all the buzz was about – it really is a brilliant little title. It’s also a title that has its fair share of flaws right now, though it’s nothing that should stop you from thinking about purchasing it.
In a nutshell, Gang Beasts is a physics-based fighter that sees you punching, grabbing, head-butting, and literally throwing yourself at other players as you battle across a variety of dynamic yet dangerous levels. It’s all very clumsy and often pretty awkward, but it’s always totally chaotic and a lot of fun.
Your main goal is to be the last man standing, with each level offering a variety of different ways to eliminate each player – most of the time it’ll just be a case of throwing them over the edge of the map though. You can grab at any other player or different parts of the environment, whilst you can also quickly lift anything up to launch it around the place. The only problem is that it’s pretty difficult to throw someone about if they’re still holding on to you and punching at you, but that’s where a lot of the fun lies.
Fortunately, you can essentially knock a foe unconscious with a swift punch or head-butt, which disables their ability to grab onto things momentarily. This is your best chance to strike and throw them around, though it’s never that easy – as mentioned, the game’s controls are intentionally designed to be clumsy, whilst the fact that players recover quickly, each level has random hazards that will take you out, and other players are out for blood too makes it a hell of a lot more difficult. Difficult, but still enjoyable and certainly very satisfying when you do succeed at wiping someone out.
You’ll do battle across a decent variety of levels: it might be a huge Ferris wheel that challenges you to jump between booths to get to players, a pair of speeding trucks on a motorway (watch out for those road signs), a huge incinerator where one wrong move will see you burning to your death, a subway where you’ve got to avoid getting thrown onto the tracks (but can still climb away from if you’re quick enough), or even a wrestling ring where you can create your own miniature Royal Rumble – there’re plenty more outside of that too, though those are my particular favourites. Each level offers something different though, with them all full to the brim with ways for you to meet your end. Even after a ton of hours playing, I haven’t got bored of any of the levels yet. In fact, I’m impressed that they keep offering completely different showdowns, with different players tackling them and taking each other out in a myriad of unique ways that constantly both surprise me and make me laugh.
It all looks the part too; Gang Beasts has this simplistic look that, despite lacking in too much detail, manages to feel full of character. There are a ton of different options in how you make your little character look (Rick and Morty fans might appreciate a couple of the costumes), whilst the levels themselves are all well-designed too. Don’t go into the game expecting highly detailed visuals though, but rather a clean and charming aesthetic that fits its purpose perfectly.
You can actually play Gang Beasts outside of multiplayer in the game’s ‘Wave’ mode where you take on a constant barrage of AI enemies, though the meat and bones of the experience is found when competing with others. You can take on up to three other players in local multiplayer battles, but if you head online it becomes a massive skirmish between eight different players. As you can imagine, eight players throwing out punches, head-butts, and trying to throw each other around can become incredibly insane, but it’s so entertaining you’ll easily find yourself losing hours in the online mode.
Unfortunately, it’s a bit broken at the moment. The servers have been pretty unstable, which has left players with games not starting, cutting out midway through, and even in a few cases making the whole game freeze at the start of a match. One of the oddest glitches I had was when the game said it was loading one map, but instead loaded a completely different one and seemed to have momentarily changed the colours of each character. Strange.
That’s not to say you can’t get into online matches though; it’s certainly been a hell of a lot more consistent lately than it was at launch and it’s clear the developers have put some work in, but there’s still some way to go. It’s nowhere near perfect and it’s a real shame, because the online modes can actually feel like the most enjoyable way to play Gang Beasts. Fortunately, a real fix seems like it’s going to come sooner rather than later.
There’s not a whole lot to Gang Beasts, but there doesn’t have to be; it’s anarchic gameplay hits the nail on the head perfectly as far as casual and entertaining brawling goes. Sure, it has a learning curve that allows players to master the art of zany beat-downs, but on the flip-side the random physics-based nature of the whole thing makes it easy for anyone to find success.
No matter how good at the game you are though, you’re guaranteed to have fun and get laughs out of it. Whether it’s the satisfaction of victory, the disdain of seeing yourself burning away in an incinerator, or the sheer joy at seeing someone who tried throwing you onto a subway track accidentally slip in front of a train themselves – Gang Beasts is simply one of the most hilarious games I’ve got to share with friends.
It’d have been easy to dismiss Gang Beasts as a gimmicky game that loses its charm after a short while, yet I’ve found myself completely hooked in and have already spent a ton of hours playing it – both with a bunch of friends in local play and against complete strangers online. It’s just utterly anarchic, a hell of a lot of fun, and guaranteed to pull a constant chorus of laughs from all players.
It’s far from perfect right now thanks to some shoddy online servers and the occasional glitch, but it shouldn’t put you off Gang Beasts. In fact, it’s the perfect time to get it; with the Holiday season well in gear and the visit of families impending, there’s no better way to get into the festive spirit than by head-butting them and throwing them from the top of a moving truck… all in-game, of course.