Release Date: January 13, 2016 (Early Access)Platform: Xbox One (reviewed), PCDeveloper: The BehemothPublisher: The BehemothGenre: RTS
Strategy is not the most accessible genre.
Besides planning out the best path to victory in each battle, most modern strategy titles require endless grinding and gear customization. It’s a commitment that few older gamers have time for. Pit People, the latest game from indie developer The Behemoth, tries to strike a balance between accessibility and complexity, with a good dose of juvenile (yet often hilarious) humor. For the most part, it’s successful, though the lack of content in the early access release on Xbox One and Steam is a little disappointing.
Pit People begins where the Behemoth’s last game, Battleblock Theater, ends, with a giant bear crashing into the planet. This actually makes sense in context. We’re then introduced to Horatio, a humble blueberry farmer, who begins a quest for vengeance after his son is apparently killed in a battle with bandits. Though this would be a tragic scene in many video games, here it’s played for laughs, thanks to the consistently hilarious voiceover from Will Stamper, and interference from the previously mentioned giant bear.
Horatio is soon joined in his journey by cyclops Yosef, princess Pipstrella, and conquistador Sofia, but these aren’t the only characters who will be fighting by your side. One of Pit People’s best features is the ability to capture almost any opposing unit. All you need to do is decide which unit you plan to leave on the battlefield last, then have a character carrying a cage approach it. It gives each battle a bit of a Pokemon feel.
Combat is fairly traditional strategy-fare. Battles take place on hexagonal grids and are turn-based. You move your character within range, and he, she, or it automatically attacks.For the most part it works, but one big downside is the inability to choose which enemy you want to attack if there are two opposing units in range. This is a bit easier to deal with if you just have melee units, as you can usually position them to attack one unit, but it becomes more problematic for ranged units who often have two or three targets to choose from each turn.
Still, the difficulty level is pretty low compared to other strategy games, so I never felt like this inability to pick who to attack cost me a battle. That doesn’t mean that Pit People is overly-simple though.
Frankly, the size of the world and the amount of equipment you can pick up is staggering. New gear is regularly given out with victories in battle, and because this is a Behemoth game, weapons are far more entertaining than your typical swords and shields. Have you ever dreamed of marching into battle carrying a giant piece of broccoli and a fence post for a shield while wearing a shiba doge mask? You can finally live out that fantasy in Pit People without people judging you.
While you can customize until your heart’s content, the UI for equipping new gear is a little confusing. I often backed out of menus I didn’t mean to, and sometimes had a hard time understanding which gear had better stats.
Pit People is still in early access, so it’s understandable that it’s a little rough around the edges. In some ways it’s remarkably complete, though. The combat is solid, and the graphics are great (at least if you’re a fan of The Behemoth’s slightly deranged cartoon art style). The sound design also deserves a lot of praise.
I already mentioned Will Stamper’s fantastic voice work, but the music is also top-notch. If you’re familiar with The Behemoth’s past musical choices, a sort of techno mixed with chiptune overtones, you’ll be happy to find more of the same here. But other parts of the game dip into other musical genres as necessary. Really, every musical choice fits its scene perfectly.
Characters speak a made-up language similar to Sim-lish, which also fits the cartoony style well, and never got on my nerves.
But while there’s a solid base here, there’s one glaring omission: the lack of story mode content.
The story starts off strong, but right as its about to get going with an incredibly enjoyable storming of a castle, it’s over. You can finish the whole thing in under two hours. The Behemoth has promised more story content in the finished product, but I enjoyed the story so much, I’m hoping that the finished product will clock in at at least 10 hours total, if not a little longer.
To The Behemth’s credit, there are dozens of side quests in this early access version, so there’s no real shortage of stuff to do. Most of these amount to “Go to X and kill Y” or “escort X to Y,” but with characters like talking cupcakes and locations like giant toilets. The thing is that even after I breezed through the campaign, I wanted to keep playing these missions and exploring the world. And beyond the side quests, there’s the titular pit-fighting mode, as well as online multiplayer (though I had a hard time finding a game on Xbox One).
The Behemoth is also offering 25-percent off the game while it’s in early access, meaning it’s only $14.99 to pick up right now. So while I’d like to see more content, I have no problem recommending the game in its current state with the understanding that more is on the way.
Chris Freiberg is a freelance contributor.