Publisher Double Fine and developer Boneloaf have been hard at work for Gang Beasts for years. If it feels like it's been forever since it's been on Steam Early Access, that's because it first arrived there over three years ago. So it's slightly stunning to realize that the game's 1.0 version is just now touching down.
So how is Boneloaf's brawler after more than three years? Remember the wild moments with friends, the bonkers physics, and the spontaneous bouts of laughter that came from some of those outlandish physics? Those are still there, in spades, but the laughter isn't always enough to drown out some of Gang Beasts' lingering issues.
Gang Beasts operates on the simplest of premises. Multiple players (four locally, eight online) get together for a massive brawl, with the idea to remove any opposition from the fighting area to win. All of those players are gelatinous two-legged creatures, with the physics to match. That means that for the first couple of games, players will likely wrestle with the controls and the physics more than their opponents.
Gang Beasts is a game that has a noticeable learning curve. Buttons control individual limbs, while other buttons are tied to actions like kicks, headbutts, and throws. Actually performing any of these moves requires holding the buttons down or combining buttons presses and holds in such a way to make these moves happen. Often times, offense won't go as intended, but that's part of the game's charm.
Gang Beasts isn't about precision fighting. It's about flat-out chaos and seeing what happens when everyone just piles on each other, knocking each other prone with big headbutts and trying to push each other to the edge of the map. It's about setbacks, often of your own making, and making the most of it. It's more of a slapstick-style party than any kind of serious fighting game.
A big part of the reason that the Gang Beasts formula works is because of the large variety of stages. There's a factory filled with meat grinders, a gondola along the side of a high-rise building, a series of moving trucks, and an airborne blimp, just to name a few. Each stage is unique, some even coming with distinct win conditions, like the Subway stage that requires tossing opponents in front of a moving train.
While the stages offer their own hazards, the other thing to note is that those hazards will often include the game's physics. It's hard enough to move around as a gelatinous biped, but certain objects will react with those same kinds of properties. The aforementioned gondola, for example, makes traversing the precariously-placed wood planks a major hazard, since they'll often just fall to the side under the weight of the fighters.
There's Always Room for More
It's a good thing Gang Beasts is good for so many laughs, because the rest of the package doesn't quite hold up. While it's fine for the gameplay to be simplistic, the user interface should look a little better than the bare bones menus that are presented. It looks basic in the worst kind of way, with hard-to-read text and almost nothing in the way of options for customizing games or controls.
There are also a couple of other game modes, but they don't quite hold up to the core Melee mode. Gang mode pits teams against one another, while Waves is more about taking on increasingly difficult AI opponents. There's also a Football mode that's good for a couple of laughs, but nothing that's going to divert away from Melee, either locally or online.
Speaking of which, unless there's a full house and a lot of controllers, players will want to take the battle online more often than not. The trouble right now is that online has a lot of issues. A handful of my online sessions had trouble keeping everyone connected. Of the games that did connect, there were noticeable graphic glitches, several instances of fighters warping around, and a lot of lag.
Ring the Bell
Beyond the core multi-person battles, Gang Beasts has little else to offer. There's almost nothing for solo players to truly sink their teeth into for an extended period and local multiplayer starts to get old after a while without the ability to add bots. That only leaves online play as the best way to experience Gang Beasts as it should be played, but playing online is a rocky prospect at the moment.
At its core, Gang Beasts is a lot of fun. Between its wacky physics, creative level design, and copious amounts of character customization options, there's a lot here for groups of friends to enjoy. If the online element pulls itself together, there's enough reason to keep coming back for a few occasional matches and some new laughs. It's worth a try, because the laughs I did have while playing this have been priceless.
This review is based on a PlayStation 4 digital copy provided by the publisher. Gang Beasts is available on Steam and the PlayStation Store for $19.99. The game is rated E10+.