General game information
Game name: Pit People
Release date: 13 Jan, 2017 (Early Access)
Price: US$ 14.99 (the developers have announced that the price will increase when the game is completed)
Store page: Steam
Genre: Turn-based adventure game
Developer: The Behemoth
Publisher: The Behemoth
Pit People is a single player/co-op strategy game developed by The Behemoth, the talented folks behind Alien Hominid, Castle Crashers and Battleblock Theater. As it has been the norm with the studio’s titles so far, Pit People is beautiful, quirky and features highly polished and satisfying gameplay.
Set in a planet thrown into chaos by a cataclysmic event (a massive space bear crashed on the once peaceful planet, shattering continents and triggering periodic bear blood storms) the game wastes no time before presenting us with a tutorial battle peppered with jokes, and setting the main character’s motivations for embarking on a globe trotting quest. A slightly deranged narrator tells us that we are a lowly blueberry farmer known as Horatio, and we can see that our hero is a lovable giant of a man equipped with a wooden sword and a shield that probably started its life as a fence. A group of crazed mutants attacks Horatio and his son Hansel, with the aim of murdering our character and eating his progeny, while the narrator gloats over this incident, proclaiming that the main character’s death is at hand.
This first tutorial battle acts as both an introduction to the basic combat mechanics, and a stage to showcase the narrator’s carefree attitude and murderous intentions. The engagement starts with our hero being presented with a map covered in hexagons, and we can move him towards the enemy lines using the mouse, although being a melee character, he can’t quite get the drop on them during the first turn. Instead, Horatio advances, and when we finish our turn (holding the space bar) he uses his shield to deflect the enemy archers’ arrows, gaining experience and coin in the process. The next turn, the intrepid blueberry farmer can finally smack a mutant in the head, and due to this battle being a tutorial, the targeted enemy dies in one hit, their soul ascending towards the sky. After another skirmish with a surprisingly resilient mutant, a storm of bear blood hits, obliterating the brunt of the enemy forces. Sadly, it seems that the narrator is determined to ruin Horatio’s life, as a gigantic bear paw swiftly descends from the skies, destroying the small shack that served as Hansel’s refuge, and seemingly murdering the kid as well. Overcome with grief and rage, Horatio advances upon the remaining two villains, and the battle is soon over after one of them escapes and the remaining foe succumbs to our hero’s mighty blows.
Having lost his son, and being teased by the narrator, Horatio starts wandering the world map, and if we follow the quest arrow, we can quickly find a damsel in distress named Pipistrella, who happens to be the daughter of a king whose castle is currently under siege. The game smartly uses the new character as another tutorial, teaching players that certain enemy types are weak to some weapons, and will barely suffer any damage when attacking them with the wrong tools. Pipistrella happens to be an excellent helmet destroyer thanks to her blunt weaponry, so we must use Horatio as a living shield, protecting our new acquaintance from a storm of arrows while she busts heads with her scepter. After this battle scenario ends we must once again follow a quest arrow, leading us to a walled city which will act as a hub for the rest of the game.
Inside the city, our intrepid heroes decide to recruit another party member, and they end up bonding with a demi-clops, an alliance which results in an immediate trip to the titular Pit, a gladiatorial arena that can be braved in order to obtain riches, gear and experience. Having a new ally means that we must, once again, learn how to effectively position him in battle in order to take full advantage of his particular set of skills. Our new friend is an accomplished axe thrower, so he should stay at the back, within two hexes of his intended target, and we can use Horatio as his human shield, while Pipistrella takes care of the helmet wearing mutants that require the touch of a blunt weapon. As the battle evolves, more enemies will join the battle, punishing us quickly if we forget to use our abilities correctly.
After besting our opponents in the Pit, we can access a house that functions as our base of operations, letting us change our characters’ armor, weapons and off-hand equipment. As the story progresses, Horatio, Pipistrella and their new friend Yosef will meet two new characters, a Spanish explorer named Isabella (who possesses a handy net that can be used to forcefully recruit new squadmates) and a helpful cupcake that can be recruited thanks to Isabella’s net. The cupcake can’t attack enemy units, but it can heal our own characters at the cost of a bit of its own health, a resource that gets fully replenished as the unit levels up. Once again, this means that we must position our troops carefully, shielding the cupcake in order to avoid unnecessary damage that would leave us without a healer in our party.
Having a bigger party means that we travel through the world map in a carriage (which comes with a nice perk, as we can use an onboard cannon to dissuade enemy units from forcing us to engage in battle) and that we can use a full range of abilities to beat our foes. We can also clearly see that turns will let us controll all our squadmates, instead of having initiative stats or anything of the sort, which would make for slower paced battles. Exploring the world map and using characters correctly will result in them leveling up, and if that happens in battle or while they are wounded, they will be fully healed. More powerful enemies will also introduce status effects, which can be countered with different armor pieces. Acquiring new gear is also a great way of stocking up on elemental weapons, which can then be used to inflict negative status effects on our foes. The only thing that I disliked about the current iteration of the combat system is that when our characters face two or more enemies that could be attacked, they choose their target randomly and we can’t do anything about it.
Once we are acquainted with our main characters, we are free to explore the world, taking main quests and sidequests from the security station located just in front of the hub city’s gates. The Pit can also be re-entered, and we will face three waves of increasingly difficult foes, a task that we may choose to accomplish on our own, or with a friend, as the game supports 2-player Co-op in both online and local modes. Due to the game’s Early Access status, the main story can’t be completed right now (although the snippet that can be played has a satisfactory ending and could be taken as the first episode in a longer storyline) but luckily there are dozens of side quests to be found, and even more quirky characters to be defeated or befriended.
As usual with games developed by The Behemoth, Pit People‘s audiovisual aspect is as polished and quirky as its gameplay. The voice actor in charge of narration duties is the same extraordinary gentleman who voiced the narrator in the wonderful BattleBlock Theater and once again, he delivers an astonishing performance (the fact that the game’s humor is actually great helps a lot, of course) The rest of the voice cast talk in an unintelligibly charming language, which, to the actors’ credit, feels perfect even though we can’t understand a word. The game’s soundtrack is also excellent, changing dynamically from battle scenarios, to the overworld map, or the hub city.
Overall, Pit People‘s charming characters, polished gameplay and complex yet easy to learn mechanics turn it into an instant winner. Both strategy veterans and newcomers to the genre will find something to like here, and if The Behemoth can deliver a longer story campaign with the same level of quality as the small snippet featured in the Early Access build, the finished product may be their best title yet.