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Pit People

Platform(s): PC, Xbox One
Genre: Strategy
Developer: The Behemoth
Release Date: March 2, 2018


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PC Review - 'Pit People'

by Cody Medellin on April 11, 2018 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Pit People (previously called Game 4) is a fast-paced, turn-based, co-op adventure you'll quest and explore, find awesome loot, customize your fighters, and recruit strange species!

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The Behemoth has made a name for itself by offering up games with a colorful but somewhat crude art style that seems deeply rooted in Adobe Flash. Those same games don't take themselves seriously and happen to have expertly crafted gameplay experiences, both solo and with friends. The developer also doesn't seem afraid to tackle any genre, from the run-and-gun shooting of Alien Hominid to the platforming of Battleblock Theater and the hack-and-slash brawling style of Castle Crashers. In Steam Early Access for over a year, Pit People marks the company's fourth release and its ambition to bring its distinct outlook to every possible genre shows no signs of slowing down.

In Pit People, a once-peaceful planet has collided with a giant space bear, and that instantly transforms the joyous land into one of turmoil and despair. As the humble blueberry farmer Horatio, you're trying to defend your family from a band of cannibals when your son and your house get crushed by another giant bear. You spend your time recruiting other misfits to band together and seek vengeance.

Compared to the rest of the developer's games, what you'll find in Pit People is just plain weird. In the first hour alone, you'll share spirits with an ax-wielding cyclops and have a sentient cupcake heal you with his frosting. You'll fight against helmeted warriors that possess their own space shuttle and a group of fish-men that drive around the ocean in classic cars. You'll also have the bear that killed your son narrate your adventures and put you down at every opportunity. The game's approach to humor is scattershot, and your mileage will vary greatly as oddball references and jokes are thrown out at a rapid pace. Still, its strangeness is its charm, and it becomes a big factor in whether you can deal with the rest of the title.

The gameplay will be familiar to genre fans, although it's presented in a way that's more controller-friendly than most of its contemporaries. It's set in hexagonal battlefields, and you must pick your party members and direct them where to go. When you hover over any spot, you'll immediately see who they can attack. Once you pick the spots for all of your party members, hold down a button to confirm your actions, and watch as everyone simultaneously does their thing. You wait for the enemy to do their thing before repeating the process until all of the enemies on the map are defeated.

Winning nets you all sorts of rewards, like gold and gear for party members, but even taking actions gives you XP. This is helpful since this means you can level-up in the middle of a fight. The process is simple to understand, but you'll have to get used to the odd shape of the player indicator that highlights who you're controlling. This is made more difficult by the fact that the indicator can sometimes blend in too well with the game board.

The first fight lets you in on one of the game's odd hooks: You control nothing beyond character placement. If multiple enemies are in the vicinity, you can't decide who gets attacked. You have no input into whether an attack is to be made at all, or if you want a party member to attack and run. On the off chance you're controlling someone with two different attack patterns, you can't even choose which attack is doled out. You simply tell your people where to move and let the game deal with the rest. For a genre that prides itself on using good tactics to win, this approach can feel too simplified.

It's something of a miracle that the AI demonstrates a high level of competency in battle. There are a few times, mainly when you have two people within range, when the AI seems to attack the wrong person, but the outcomes are generally fine. The AI is good enough that it's viable for the game to make all of the battle maneuvers for you, so it's a decent option if you hate fighting.

The other gameplay hook in Pit People is the net and cage system. Used on its own, the net is a good tool for immobilizing a unit for at least one turn; as long as the net catches, you'll gain a distinct advantage in battles. Combine the net with the cage, and the game turns into something like Pokémon, where you can capture the last enemy in the battlefield and automatically have them as part of your army.

That element alone adds some depth to an otherwise simple strategy game. For example, you can aim for all of the weaker minions in a fight so you can capture the strongest person. This would make future battles easier for you, but you'd have to decide whether it's worth taking up an extra character slot. You can also do the opposite and get the weakest person so you can power him or her up later. There's no limit to who can be captured or what level can be captured, so you're allowed to get a large troll 15 levels higher than anyone in your party. No matter what you decide, you have to bring your captured enemies back to the main city hub to complete the conversion process.

The hub city is where you'll spend a great deal of time because there's plenty to do here. The shops give you an opportunity to buy more cages, gear — strategy RPG fans will enjoy this since the gear stats affect characters — and mercenaries for your team. You can also configure your parties and set up group pre-sets for easy switching. You can activate permadeath and an insane difficulty level, but that isn't recommended the first time around because you can kill party members that are essential to story progression. More importantly, you have access to the pits, which lets you capture more people and level up without having to travel far.

In the end, the campaign provides a solid feedback loop where the enemy variety and mission variety never make the game dull. The main campaign can be short, but the plethora of side-quests in addition to the pits provides a near-endless supply of combat situations. About the only drawback here is that the fog of war never lifts on places you've already explored, so if you wanted to get bonuses for seeing new lands, you'll have a much harder time keeping track of that.

On the subject of multiplayer, Pit People has both offline and online. When playing locally, you can tackle both the campaign and the pit in co-op; the party has to be split so each player takes control of up to three units. Playing online also gives you the ability to do this and take on up to four players in the pit for PvP action. The simple mechanics mean that the action goes by fairly quickly, and even though the online performance is good, the lack of players at any given time means you have to plan out your sessions with others.

As for the presentation, if you've played any of The Behemoth's titles before, you know exactly what to expect here. Graphically, this means a simple cartoon style with very angular stocky people, simple faces, and bright colors. It all animates well but can still remind you of their Newgrounds roots. The voicework is minimal, with the space bear doing all of the talking in a rather carefree manner. The music doesn't fit with the medieval theme at all and adds to the off-the-wall humor.

Pit People is absolutely solid, provided you can forgive its simple nature. The auto battling system does enough to get people in, while the ability to capture all sorts of enemies satisfies the veteran looking for some more depth. There's a ton of content here, and all of it is fun to explore, but the lack of an online community means that your army curation is only going to be useful against CPU opponents. In the end, Pit People is certainly a game worth checking out.

Score: 8.0/10

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