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Review: Pit People

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A strategy RPG shakeup

I really admire The Behemoth. The studio has found success time and time again without resorting to sequels, charting a varied course from Alien Hominid to Castle Crashers to BattleBlock Theater. The team's latest, Pit People, lives in yet another genre: it's a turn-based strategy adventure.

We've seen the developer hone its style, humor, and craft over the years, gaining the confidence to take on bigger and more ambitious projects. Pit People is certainly those things. It's also The Behemoth's strangest game to date, with life-giving cupcakes standing in for more traditional healer units and characters like the troll mom out there barfing up little gremlin children to clog the battlefield.

It's a supremely weird game in a (mostly) good way. The hot streak continues.

Pit People (PC [reviewed], Xbox One)
Developer: The Behemoth
Publisher: The Behemoth
Released: March 2, 2018
MSRP: $14.99

Early on, I found Pit People's eclectic nature almost off-putting -- like I wasn't privy to a beloved friend's inside joke. The game follows Horatio, a blueberry farmer on a journey to rescue his son from a giant mischievous space bear (voiced by BattleBlock Theater narrator Stamper). It's an out-there premise that goes even further out there as you pick up companions and face new complications.

One moment, you might be fighting a sea monster's gun-toting uvula; the next, you're scouring the world map to capture an explosive-horn-firing "rainbow horse" because it'd help round out your party roster. My first impression of Pit People was that the story, setting, and characters were verging on too random for their own good, but those feelings started to pass an hour or so after being thrown into the deep end. I warmed up to the game's grab-bag of kooky ideas and embraced it.

Whether you've played many SRPGs before or not, there's a bit of a learning curve. Turn-based battles play out on a hex grid, but you don't have control over who your units attack -- not exactly. You'll put them into position and lock in your turn, then they'll do what they feel is best. It's tough to give up precision control, but there are some ways around it. Ranged units, in particular, can often be placed in such a way that they'll only have the one target you want to hit in their sights. That said, Pit People is clearly meant to be chaotic and surprising. This approach works for the most part.

In tactical games, I tend to hit a point where I settle into my team composition so well that mission designs begin to feel rote or I otherwise lose interest in the big picture. I never reached that point in Pit People, and there's a few reasons why. All of the main story quests (and even many of the side quests) have their own hook. It's rarely as straightforward as "Go kill all the things, then clean up the obligatory reinforcements." One mission, for example, is a miniature turn-based stealth diversion. The Behemoth does a great job of playing with expectations and shying away from genre conventions.

Another big factor? You can capture the last enemy standing, whether it's in a battle you initiated out on the world map or a tough mini-boss in a mainline quest. This dynamic can make even the most routine battles engaging as you try not to accidentally kill your next recruit (or die at its hands). There's also an incentive to keep on capturing: Pit People has a bunch of weapons and an absurd amount of cosmetic items, so two of the same units can look and play very differently from one another.

The capturing element also feeds into team comps, which are a blast to put together -- especially if you're serious about PvP. The strengths, weaknesses, and synergies are a strategist's dream. You can, for instance, pair a mushroom with zombies and robots; they'd be resistant and immune to its poison, respectively. You could use a mascot to buff nearby teammates, then ferry it to safety on a Spidaur. Or you might choose to be a total pest with an army of hard-to-hit kobolds. You have six character slots all told, but some units -- like the aforementioned troll moms -- take up more room than others. 

It's also worth commending Pit People's co-op support. The game is playable with a friend online or offline; take your pick. Co-op wasn't a tacked-on afterthought, and neither were gamepad controls -- it's clear a lot of care went into nailing both. Unlike Castle Crashers and BattleBlock, which I think shine brightest in a group setting, this holds up just as well as a solo adventure.

If there's any one particular aspect to highlight above all others, it's that they nailed the core loop. Questing, exploring, capturing, and returning home to cash in rewards and spruce up my party is still satisfying a dozen hours into my save file, and that loop shows no signs of sizzling out. I had to keep a constant eye on the time so I didn't stay up way too late. I did anyway. (But it was by choice!)

As far as I'm concerned, The Behemoth is now four for four. And while Pit People doesn't quite nab the crown as my new favorite game from the studio, I love the risks it takes to shake up strategy RPGs. It's a wild, creative, occasionally erratic game. Pit People is imperfect, but it's so worth your time.

[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]

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Pit People reviewed by Jordan Devore

8.5

GREAT

Impressive effort with a few noticeable problems holding it back. Won't astound everyone, but is worth your time and cash.
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Jordan Devore
Jordan DevoreCo-EIC   gamer profile

Jordan is a founding member of Destructoid and poster of seemingly random pictures. They are anything but random. Disclosure: I backed Double Fine Adventure and Awesomenauts: Starstorm on Kickst... more + disclosures


 


 


Also on destructoid: Pit People   (10)   From our database:

  • At long last, The Behemoth's Pit People finally has a release date - Brett Makedonski
  • Pit People's next update will be the final version - Peter Glagowski
  • Pit People has some exceptional multiplayer and a talking cupcake - Peter Glagowski
  • The Behemoth is bringing Pit People to Steam Early Access and Xbox One next month - Jordan Devore
  • Pit People is probably the weirdest game yet from The Behemoth - Chris Carter
  • Pit People beta invites going out, check your inbox - Chris Carter
  • The Behemoth is running a beta for its weird strategy RPG soon - Jordan Devore
  • The Behemoth is gearing up for a Pit People beta - Jordan Devore
  • The Behemoth's Pit People gets its first trailer - Jordan Devore
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    Filed under... #Indie #PC #reviews #Role-Playing Games #Strategy games #tactical #The Behemoth #Xbox One

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