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Gang Beasts

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Online Multiplayer
Developer: Boneloaf
Release Date: Dec. 12, 2017

About Phillip Moyer

I majored in journalism because I wanted to use it as an excuse to play video games, but I accidentally got a real job along the way. Now I write reviews in my free time for WorthPlaying.


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PS4 Review - 'Gang Beasts'

by Phillip Moyer on June 27, 2018 @ 12:30 a.m. PDT

Gang Beasts is a silly multiplayer party game with surly gelatinous characters, brutal mêlée fight sequences, and absurdly hazardous environments set in the fictional metropolis of Beef City.

Gang Beasts, the physics-based fighter by developer Boneloaf, spent years as an early access PC game. During its time in pre-release, the game had features added, altered, cut and refined with such frequency that it was often hard to keep track of what you'd find when you booted it up.

It was always a bit of a poorly optimized mess on the PC, with some stages and modes dragging down frame rates to a crawl as the physics engine tried to make sense of the unpredictable action it presented to players.

Even so, Gang Beasts gained a decent amount of publicity through streamers and Youtubers who couldn't resist how silly the game looks. From this publicity spawned an eventual release on PS4 — one that thankfully shed many of the rough edges of its early access roots even as the PC version continues to be plagued by many of the frame rate issues that should've been ironed out before the game reached version 1.0.

The game features fighters who are little more than colored blobs with limbs, lurching around like drunks as they either throw sloppy haymakers at their opponents or attempt to grab their rivals and toss them out of the play area. Since players can only be defeated by a ring-out, the game's design has similarities to the uber-popular Smash Bros. series.

Gang Beasts couldn't feel more different from Nintendo's mascot brawler, however.

Though the mechanics are limited, they mesh well with the physics engine in a way that evokes a sense of manic incompetence on the part of all combatants. One fighter is frequently seen carrying another over their head, while the opponent frantically punches downward in hopes of rendering their foe into a limp heap on the ground.

But for being such a comical game, its presentation is lacking, with a menu system that's content to remain merely functional without revealing any of the game's character. While Gang Beasts shows off its stylistically simple characters (initially in a default outfit that is very clearly meant to be Rick from "Rick & Morty"), it is almost as if the designers gave up on injecting any life into what would end up being every player's first impression of the game. This is especially jarring because, while in early access, the game tried out a number of old menu systems that all had more character than the final design that Boneloaf settled on.

Many things about Gang Beasts seem like the result of the developers simply reaching the point where they could get away with stopping, rather than wrapping things up in a way that feels truly complete. The game provides no internal explanation for itself, its modes, its controls or its goals. Anyone who doesn't know what they're getting into from the beginning will be left hopelessly lost.

That's not to suggest that there is nothing good about the design choices. While the graphics are simplistic, they work well for what the title tries to accomplish. Its blobby character designs do a good job of indicating just what type of game this is. Gang Beasts is not a complex, technical fighter. It's a goofy party game featuring dumb blobs in funny suits beating the crap out of each other for no reason.

The sound design, however, leaves a lot to be desired. The generic soundtrack does not complement the on-screen mayhem in any way, and the only real sound effects are the sounds of punches landing, which sound like they were taken straight out of a stock sound effects library. The game might as well be played on mute, for as little effort as was put into making any of it sound good.

When Gang Beasts was in early access, it felt like an amusing idea with a lot of potential. Now that the game has been released in its (apparent) final form, it's apparent that Boneloaf wasn't sure what to do with it besides capitalize on the chaos and absurdity inherent in physics-based games.

There is fun to be had in exploiting game systems for humor.

Many of the stages are suitably absurd, with a focus on giving the blobs difficult obstacles to fail at overcoming as they thrash about impotently in the way only a physics ragdoll can. One level pits players against a superpowered fan that will either blow everyone into the air or suck them down into its massive blades if they fail to hang on for dear life. Another stage puts players atop two speeding trucks, forcing them to jump between the two and dodge overhead traffic signs.

There's even a level that features giant floppy sausages falling onto the fighters' heads at random, in case anyone was still deluded into thinking this is a game that takes itself seriously.

It's mayhem by design, and it complements the drunken lurching of the characters who look like they should never have even considered getting into a fight in the first place.

There are plenty of depth and surprises to be found in the mechanics, and it's a sort of depth that seems special because none of it feels intentionally designed — rather, it's all the result of the game's systems working together in unexpected ways. The simplistic controls can be manipulated in ways that allow climbing, jump-kicks, headbutting, improvised weaponry, and hanging onto the ground for dear life — all techniques that work, but none of which are as simple to pull off as rushing an opponent with both arms flailing.

In the end, Gang Beasts is content to be a gag game, in the realm of Goat Simulator and Surgeon Simulator. With the right group of friends, it's quite a funny gag that will provide a few hours of laughter before everyone decides it's time to start playing something else.

Without these friends, though, the game reveals itself to be little more than an unpolished brawler that revels in its own slapdash design. The combat's silliness does not have the same impact when the folks on the receiving end of your chaotic rampage are faceless strangers, at which point the bare-bones game design begins to stand out.

Another thing of note is how little the game offers to appeal to single-player gamers. There is a "waves" mode, where as few as one player can face off against an endless series of computer-controlled bots in ridiculous outfits. While some humor can be derived from the designs of the foes (the pair dressed up as Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton did earn some guffaws), fighting bots doesn't have the same draw as the multiplayer mode. When stripped of the humor that comes from its human context, the only thing left to focus on is how difficult it is to fight more than two opponents at once.

Gang Beasts never pretends to be a single-player experience; it's a party game through and through. Even though there's only so much depth that can be found in imprecisely manipulating ragdoll physics, the end result is still oddly compelling. While Gang Beasts is not the kind of game that will find its way into the eSports circuit, players will still find a lot to love as they fight and fall and laugh at all the ways they succeed or fail in its oddball arenas.

Score: 7.0/10

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