The Behemoth has developed a distinct style over the past decade. Long-time followers of the developer will recognize the quirky hand-drawn art across many of its games. But while they may look the same, they've all crafted their own identity across different genres. The studio's newest title, Pit People, is no exception.
Pit People spent the last year hanging around Steam Early Access, but The Behemoth quietly released the full version in early March. Now it's a full-blown turn-based strategy game. And while it's unlike any of its previous titles, Pit People is an amazingly fun effort that's good for laughs at nearly every turn.
I Know Him! Horatio!
In terms of tone, players will know exactly what they're in for the moment they start up Pit People. It's mostly the story of a near-omnipotent/near-omniscent, sardonic, biting narrator, who grows bored one day and decides to pick on a blueberry farmer named Horatio. The narrator destroys Horatio's home, his farm, and kidnaps his son, purely for the heck of it. (Sort of. I won't be spoiling anything here, but there's more to this narrator than meets the eye.)
The story sees Horatio gathering up a motley band of fighters to try and get his son back. Again, the humor shines greatly here, just through the composition of the main characters. For example, Yosef is a cyclops wandering around looking for his eye while Sofia is a Spanish explorer obsessed with claiming land for her native Spain. It's an absurdist narrative where the humor rarely lets up. Both the cutscenes and the in-battle dialogue are filled with one-liners, puns, and wordplay.
Both the story and side missions are wildly quirky and occasionally anachronistic. One example saw my party attempt to clear out a beach of enemies, who were all rolling up in 1950s-style convertibles. Another mission tasked me with retrieving an orphan for lieutenant villain Jerkimedes, so my party went to a discount orphan shop filled with angry orphaned enemies. Pit People revels in random humor and it's almost always good for laughs.
The Peasant Revolt
The meat of Pit People involves turn-based strategy, taking place on a hexagonal grid. Each member of the party has a role, whether it's ranged attacker, tank, or healer. Normally there's a learning curve for these types of games, but Pit People feels refreshingly simplistic. Positioning is key for successful attacks, as players place their units either just above/below or a few spaces across enemies in order to attack.
Almost every unit has something special to them that influences where they should be placed on the grid. Sofia, for example, can attack directly or she can be placed two spaces across an enemy so that she can try and immobolize them with her net. Gluten, a living cupcake, can stay off at just enough of a distance to keep away from foes while picking off his own pastry flesh to heal his allies. There's a lot of room for experimentation here, especially because of the ability to capture enemies. If there's a single foe remaining, players can use containment cages to recruit that enemy and add them to the ranks.
It's a simple but imperfect system, since there's no way to set specific targets. If a character is placed on a spot and has two possible targets, it's basically a coin flip as to who they attack. This can be troublesome, especially with healing, because there's no way to set which specific character gets healed.
There can be up to six characters in a party, which means that fifth and sixth slot can be filled by any of dozens of different recruited enemies. The problem with approaching Pit People from a single-player perspective is that there are precious few spaces for those recruits, given how quickly that recruit number can balloon. That problem is slightly alleviated with the addition of two-player co-op.
A second player can trot in his own party, none of which contains the main story characters. That expands the great potential for experimentation, with players able to explore synergy possibilities among their recruits. The game compensates for the additional allies by scaling to include more enemies, but having multiple different allies all with different abilities greatly enhances the experience.
What's particularly great about Pit People is that it isn't afraid to tinker with the genre's formula. It isn't all about straightforward battles, but players will frequently find different objectives aside from "Beat the opposing side to death." A side mission, for example, had the party try to ward off bandits by taking out their food supply, with infinite reinforcements showing up as long as food was available. A later story mission had the heroes not only beat their opponents, but try to pick up some of their supplies for survival.
Not all of those missions were hits, however. One mission saw Yosef engage in a solo stealth mission, trying to infiltrate Mount Olympus. The third floor with laser death traps and a minotaur was so aggravating, mostly because it was hard to tell which tiles were safe and which weren't. Add that to the random AI movements of the minotaur and this mission quickly started to feel unfair.
Pit People isn't a particularly long experience for anyone who simply tackles the story-based missions. But the fun is not only in the dozens upon dozens of side quests, it's also in battling in the Pit. This is the game's online PvP mode, where players can test their mettle and see who's the best strategist and who has the best team composition. Between this and daily quests to help bolster that gold count, there's never a shortage of things to do in Pit People, even after the story has been wrapped up.
Are You Not Entertained?
There's so much to love about Pit People, it's hard to nail its single best quality. The simple-to-pick-up strategy gameplay is fantastic, as are the options to make it tougher through the Insane Difficulty toggle or through enabling Permadeath. There's the off-the-wall humor, filled with one-liners, anachronisms, and even the gibberish voices that sound like the Canadians from South Park invaded. There's the mind-blowing amount of recruitable allies and the room for experimentation. And there's the co-op aspect of the game, which leaves room for a friend.
There hasn't been a game in 2018 that's made me smile as much as Pit People. It's a weird world, where things get strange and quirky fast, but it's one that's absolutely worth exploring.
This review is based on an Xbox One digital code provided by the developer. Pit People is available on Steam and the Xbox Live Marketplace for $14.99. The game is rated T.