Odds are that you’ve at least heard of Gang Beasts, the multiplayer brawler from developer Boneloaf. It’s been available on PC via early access for years, not to mention its numerous appearances at gaming shows, so you may well have already played it, too. However, the game has now finally launched in full, and what great timing. With Christmas mere days away, what could be better than gathering your loved ones around the TV and engaging in ludicrous, haphazard fisticuffs with men made of jelly?
The core of Gang Beasts, its scrappy physics based fighting, has always been strong. There is a brilliant slapstick silliness to all the violence, and it never fails to create a roomful of laughter. The undulating avatars, primary coloured and costumed to your own taste, are hilarious to watch, butting heads, grabbing hold of each other, and wildly flailing their arms. It’s messy, uncoordinated, and chaotic, but that’s what makes it as funny to observe as to play.
Actually controlling one of the gelatinous sluggers is a battle in itself. The inputs are simple enough, but the way the animations and the physics work mean it can be difficult to ever fully have control. There’s a looseness to the whole thing that keeps fights unpredictable, and battles can quickly turn around, either from a sudden burst of dexterity or from the wonky physics throwing someone across the arena. It can be frustrating to play, as you’ll find yourself wanting more precise control of your chicken-suited jelly baby, but this is soon replaced by joy when you realise everyone is having a great time punching the snot out of each other, and you should stop worrying about the technicalities.
It’s just dumb, mindless fun. Gang Beasts has that certain something that all good multiplayer games have, an ability to turn a room of friends into hollering, guffawing enemies in no time. Local play is absolutely the best way to enjoy this game, especially as, at the time of typing, there are some fluctuating issues with online matchmaking. We’re sure this will get fixed sooner or later, but for now it’s a struggle getting into an online game at all.
Whether you play online or off, there are more ways to play than the simple last man standing battles you’ll have seen before. Gang mode is a team-based version of the aforementioned brawling, Waves is a mode in which you work together to defeat increasingly tough groups of baddies, and Football is, well, football. These alternative modes are all fun in their own ways, and help to fill out a game that is, all told, very slight. Even with the traditional brawling, your mileage on this game will very much depend on your appetite for the surly fistfights it offers. It’s a highly amusing game with the right company, but there’s every possibility that the joke will wear off before long, and you move on to another game with a little more meat on its bones.
While you are enjoying it, though, you will at least appreciate that it runs fairly well, only slowing down noticeably when there are too many objects flying around, and the simple, blocky aesthetic gets the job done, keeping the screen nice and easy to read. The menus and UI aren’t great, however, and come across as oversights from the game’s time in early access. Still, this isn’t the biggest problem in the world.
What we’re left with is a multiplayer game that still has the ability to delight and surprise, but perhaps lacks some finishing touches to make it truly great. With online play a bit of a mess and a limited number of modes, Gang Beasts isn’t short of issues, but just about gets away with it due to a solid core idea that, with friends, can be uproariously entertaining. If you’re after a new title for gaming nights with buddies, or indeed, the Christmas party, you can do far worse than this.