Due to a recent increase in bad decision making and general depression, I’ve been buying a lot more games lately than I typically do. I’ve slaughtered millions (not quite billions yet) in They Are Billions, but I quickly tired of the game’s lack of flexibility, something I hope will be fixed in future patches. I’ve sunk dozens of dozens of hours tracking and slaying beasts in Monster Hunter Worlds, and while I still count it as a highlight of the year the game’s late-game pacing has sort of lost me, and I need to give it a break. Warhammer 2: Vermintide has been a real treat, crushing through waves upon waves of sinister rat-monsters has yet to grow old, but I consider it one of those social games I talked about last week, so I won’t pick it up unless my brother and other friends come along for the ride.
Indeed, I’m not wanting for exciting, headline-making games to play. But the one game I’ve been in love with over the past few days has unfortunately not been one making waves. And frankly, I find that a bit aberrant. So while other websites will go on and on about how great Fortnite is, or the new monster to hunt in Monster Hunter Worlds, or how Vermintide 2 is selling so well, I want to dedicate this small chunk of the web to a game that’s grown near and dear to my heart.
Let’s talk about Pit People.
If you’ve never heard of the title, first of all, shame on you. And second of all, it’s probably because you’re not aware of the creators, a studio called Behemoth. To be perfectly honest, the only thing that really distinguished Behemoth from other indie game studios, in my mind, is the pedigree of its creators. The studio was founded by a man named Tom Fulp, a man who also created one of the staples of my early childhood, Newgrounds. Tom Fulp has always been a hero of mine, not because he does anything particularly noble: in fact, his first “well-known” game, Pico’s School, in where a ginger kid single-handedly thwarts a school shooting, is a little cringe-worthy in light of recent… well… everything. But rather, what I always admired about him was that he was a creative who did something he loved and found success doing it. And one of those things, as it turned out, was start a game studio off the back of Newgrounds.
Behemoth is one of those developers you probably know even if you don’t really know them. They did the side-scrolling shooter Alien Hominoid, but their most successful game by far was the co-op brawler Castle Crashers. After that, they made the hilarious platformer BattleBlock Theater, and now, Fulp and crew are trying their hands at turn-based strategy with Pit People, a game that was released a few weeks ago but has otherwise gone unnoticed. Which is a damn pity.
So, what is Pit People, exactly?
Well, like I mentioned, it’s a turn-based strategy, but there’s obviously more to it than that. You and your crew of “pit people” fight your enemies on a hexagonal grid, usually littered with obstacles and, occasionally, turrets, walls, and traps for you to navigate. Combat is exceptionally simple: all you do is move your units, and if they end their turn within attacking range of an enemy target, they attack it. If they can hit more than one person, they pick a target randomly. If they have an AOE attack, they’ll target enemies, but if there are allies in the way… oh well.
And that’s pretty much it. And while it sounds – and is – exceptionally simple on paper, in practice, it can lead to a lot of good, moment-to-moment decision making that a lot of other turn-based games simply don’t have. Enemies follow the same rules that you do, and each turn becomes a dance to see who can isolate and pick apart units faster. Creating chokepoints, keeping everyone healthy with an extremely vulnerable healer unit (which can heal allies, but can “miss”, has no way to defend itself, and has to damage itself to power-up others) is dang important. But making sure the right unit is attacking the right enemy? Also vital. Likewise, making sure that the enemy that seems custom-made to take down your star champ? Super important. Considering weaknesses and strengths when making decisions each turn only takes a few seconds, but it can be satisfying as all heck to watch enemies absolutely melt, while struggling to even damage you.
Another nice touch is that HP bars are generally pretty high. And while that means some matches can extend for a bit longer than you might like, it also means your characters have a nice cushion of health to fall back on in case a strategy goes sour. If you make a wrong move and let your healer get surrounded, for example (and that would be a huge mistake) you won’t immediately screw yourself: you’ll still have a few turns to remedy the situation and mount a rescue. Of course, the same thing applies to enemies, and sometimes it can get a bit tiring to have cornered your enemy in a foolproof plan only to waste the next four to five turns actually executing it, with the AI powerless to stop you. But still, of the two, I prefer the merciful rout, particularly when you turned on permadeath by accident the way I did.
There are a lot of different unit types to play with in the game as well. Humans are the most versatile, able to do fairly well in any role assigned to them. They’re ok at ranged, ok at melee, ok at tanked. More specialized units exist, ranging from long-ranged unicorn artillery to archer-assassinating kobolds to poison-farting mushrooms. Each of these specialized units do what they do quite well, and juggling how to use them – and how they fit into your party – is very important. The farting mushrooms, for example, deal almost exclusively poison damage in a ring around them, so it’s better to pair them with Robots, Naga and Spider-ladies, who have a strong resistance to that. Don’t bring them close to your health-giving cupcakes, though: that’ll wreck them in a major way.
If I had one major criticism of the game’s strategy component, it’s that oftentimes certain enemy teams are built a certain way, and there’s no way to know or prepare for what’s ahead. One mission might have you fighting a group of brigands, for example, so you compose your team and fight them… only to realize when you arrive that they all wear helmets and have no archers, so your team of sword-wielders and kobolds are useless against them. Compound that with a heavy penalty for running away from a fight, and you’ve got yourself a quick disaster on your hands. You can mitigate the risk slightly with a well-balanced team, but having one person with a mallet (which does bonus damage against helmets) still means one person is doing all the real damage while everyone else just sort of stalls. It can be a real drag.
The other thing to know about the game is that it is hilarious, but it’s a very specific kind of hilarious. Humor comes in all shades, sizes, and flavors, and much like their earlier work, Behemoth’s humor is a distinct shade of crazy. To give you some very, very early spoilers, you start the game learning that you’re living in a post-apocalyptic world that was turned into “grids” after a giant space bear crashed into the planet. You get a saucy narrator who gets very annoyed at your failure to quickly die (or fall in love with your female co-star), and every loading screen has you looking into the dead eyes of a balloon-wielding giraffe who tells you how many times a person touches their face every day.
And that’s just the tame stuff. To say more would spoil some truly fantastic jokes, but if you like obscure, weird and generally whacky comedy, then this game is a barrel of almost non-stop laughs. Like all games that rely on comedy, there are a few misses – and when it misses, it misses hard, but only because it’s compared to a game that’s got an almost endless well of humor that had me laughing out loud more than it had me giggling to myself.
If you want a game with a deep story and an interesting world or a compelling plot, this is most certainly not it. It does not take itself seriously enough to even approach those things. But if you’re looking for something goofy, light-hearted, and has a fun yet simple layer of strategy that I have yet to tire of even 10 hours in, then you’d be hard-pressed to find something better. And if you haven’t, you should really check out their other work and other games. They’re a real treat, and they’ve all aged fantastically.
Pit People is available on Xbox One and PC for around 20 bucks.