A slight and thoroughly unpolished package with endless slapstick charms nonetheless, Gang Beasts is the perfect party game for our trying times.
This review of Gang Beasts is based on the Xbox One version. It is also available on PS4, PC, Mac, Wii U, and Linux.
Now more than ever, we’re in need of a game like Gang Beasts, and thus I’m here to remind you of it. Many will have been aware of it for years, ever since its Early Access days on PC from which, on some level, it never really emerged; this is a party game as unpolished and inscrutable as you might find anywhere, even today. I played it on Xbox One, much to the delight of my five-year-old, who almost bust a gut at my (ultimately successful) attempts to catapult myself from a wrestling ring into the seating area, or climb down and back up moving lorries, or swing Tarzan-like from window-washing platforms or collapsing staircases.
This is what Gang Beasts looks like if you play it solo, doing arbitrary things for achievements or your own amusement or whatever, but it’s really supposed to be tackled by a group, who cluster around the TV to steer what look like jelly babies playing dress-up through fistfights and grappling matches. It’s all governed by a nebulous control scheme that I’m still not sure I understand, with shoulder buttons reaching and grabbing and everything else triggering drunken versions of jumps, headbutts and dropkicks. You’re not supposed to know what you’re doing, I don’t think, which is half the fun; the rest is in the unpredictable physics and simplistic but enthusiastically cruel levels.
This kind of blunt slapstick can’t stay entertaining forever, which is a shame since the game coasts on its core appeal at the expense of features. Beyond a smattering of stages, each with its own sneaky gimmick, there’s little to do in Gang Beasts beyond imprecisely wail on each other – or the AI, if you fancy taking on the Waves mode. There’s a very specific kind of pleasure in hoisting a jelly baby into the air with another dressed like Rick from Rick and Morty and tossing it into a whirring mechanical crusher, but it’s not the kind of pleasure you’d want all the time. Gang Beasts lives in that slightly drunken emotional halfway house, where you’re too frazzled to do anything that requires actual thought but still keen to belly-laugh at playground-style one-upmanship.
Luckily, given the global stay-at-home mandate, this is where a lot of us live now. We’re locked in with our families and children, or alone, and nothing brightens a day up better than a clumsy football match in Gang Beasts. Shoddy online play is possible and perhaps encouraged, though if there’s one game that would most benefit from local multiplayer it’s this one. Provided you can navigate a sparse front-end and put up with a bevy of inexplicable issues in everything from the graphics to the physics to the controls and basic menu navigation, all of which have played up for me at one point or another during a very short timeframe, then Gang Beasts is sure to entertain anyone who’ll give themselves over to its dopey, doughy charms.
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