I've been following the progress of Gang Beasts for a very long time. It started out with an obscure YouTube channel playing the Alpha with friends and ever since I can't help but be excited when my favorite YouTubers feature the game in one of their videos. What held me off initially were two things. The game was in Alpha at the time (now a Steam Early Access title with a separate Beta), and it was local multiplayer only. I'll always caution our readers to think first before purchasing an Early Access title, as there is no real promise a game would ever be finished. Which is also why a reviewer like myself takes that risk for you. As for the local multiplayer-only portion, well that's where the latest Beta comes into play.
A quick round-up for anyone unfamiliar with the game. Gang Beasts is very simple in concept. You control a character and have an assortment of buttons that either allow you to move, punch, grab, lift or jump. There are no health bars, only stationary hazards on the level. Your task is to 'persuade' your opponents to kindly throw themselves onto them, so you leave as the sole victor. You may have to convince them, which is where punching and grabbing come into play. While there are no health bars, there is a hidden stamina bar that depletes through receiving punches, kicks, and headbutts. Once exhausted, the recipient briefly faints relative to the damage sustained, leaving you open to your opponents to grab you while you are unable to resist.
It is important to note the part regarding damage, as you can very quickly raise yourself up again in most circumstances. Though there are a rare few reasons you may be unconscious for a lengthy period. For example, one map features a subway, and the hazard area is, of course, the tracks. Be on the tracks when a train passes, and you'll be swept along, denied a victory. But in a rare few cases, often when you've almost managed to climb back up before being hit, the train may still hit you but fail to drag you along. Leaving your unconscious body on the level. In this case, you'll be unconscious for a very long time, but it is possible to wake up and continue fighting if your opponents fail to drop you back in. Or worse (for them), you were the only one to survive the impact of the train this way, leaving you a victorious but unconscious body. Clutch wins like that are incredibly hilarious and are a testament to the physics in this game.
Speaking of which, Gang Beasts' particular brand of physics are very floaty, so being picked up happens very quickly regardless if you are conscious or not. Additionally, you have a crouch button that doubles as a headbutt, and a kick you can perform in the air or while held up by someone while still conscious. It doesn't require a lot of imagination to see how frantic and hilarious these situations can get. The physics are often utterly unpredictable, sometimes leaving you with a surprise loss when you thought you'd snatch a clutch victory. Leave with it the fact that you cannot chat in any way with your opponents, and you'll be left with no choice but to cackle in laughter and use your limited body language to get your point across. The lift button doubles as a commonly accepted cheering pose when you awkwardly strike both your arms in the air.
The new addition to this game that the Beta serves to test is the Online functionality. I found it to be a mixed success initially, as connecting to a very distant server will result in some very noticeable input lag, the likes of which may seem familiar to those who frequently play unoptimized fighting games over the internet. Thankfully, there is a server browser feature that allows you to filter out both region and full or empty servers. Once I connected to a close server, I still felt like a wobbly and clumsy figurine, but the responsiveness was satisfying. That responsiveness is imperative for a game like this, and the online eperience retains it when the stars are alligned.
One thing that stood out for me on this version of the game was how much crazier the physics had become. There have been a few times where the ragdolls clip all over the level. If I recall correctly, this seems to be a server-related issue and largely poses no problem. Although on a rare occasion, I have physically been hit by a body undergoing this bug, leading to an unfortunate loss.
However, losing means so little in Gang Beasts that it was never really infuriating. It's simply so much fun to master the controls and then see how swiftly and skilfully you can pick up and throw an opponent over the ledge, only to find yourself kicked in the head over your hubris and learn that in Gang Beasts, no victory is ever assured. Points you earn through victory only last for the level and continuing after a round is so quick that there's no time to get 'salty' over the whole experience.
Without a chat feature, I feel it leaves out any potential for acidic behavior from random people. All you have to interact through are your fists and your body language. The crouch button (which doubles as a headbutt when tapped) serves no real purpose other than leaving you vulnerable and maybe ducking under hazards on the Trucks level. But you'd be surprised how much interaction you can gleam from that same yellow chicken suit wearing opponent that you've had such a great time fighting against. When the fighting stops, silliness ensues. It makes me feel like a caveman who's found an absurdly simple source of entertainment. It feels good.
The servers that are available for the Beta only have three maps in rotation, probably for balancing and testing purposes. When you set off to play you can change the color and outfit of your character and of course you have the aforementioned server browsing options. The settings themselves seem relatively limited. You can rebind keys, though playing with a controller seems to be the winning option in this case. I recommend a Dualshock 4 (if you can get it to work on your computer) as the game uses the shoulder buttons for punching, and experience has taught me that these tend to wear out pretty quickly on a 360 pad.
The graphics options are quite literally just a resolution selection and windowed/fullscreen modes. That said, the game doesn't seem very taxing graphically and should run well on most systems. You've got a generous array of sound options, though, starting with a master volume as well as sliders for music, interface, physics, and ambiance. Vocal is a slightly more important volume setting as characters grunt and chuckle now and then so they can be located when hiding behind obstacles. The Music Volume, however, does suffer from a big that, when lowering the volume for it even a little bit caused to disable the in-game music entirely. Which is a shame, because the soundtrack feels just right for a game like this, especially on the Main Menu. Not too serious, not too silly.
Gang Beasts is certainly a game I'd heartily recommend. If you have friends in your region who'd like to play a game like this with you, it might very well be worth the asking price right now just for the local multiplayer. In the span of an hour alone I not only learned how to play the game but got lightheaded and even got a headache just from laughing so hard. I can't think of a better way to word a recommendation.
Gang Beasts was previewed on PC using a Steam key provided by the developer.