A modern multiplayer classic finally comes home to console, although the package is as scrappy as the action itself.
There's a folder on my PlayStation 4 that's reserved for the really good stuff. It's where Towerfall Ascension sits alongside Nidhogg and the brilliant compilation that is Sportsfriends. It's where I head when friends are around, when I want a guaranteed good time, and ever since creating it there's been a little slot reserved for Gang Beasts, that party game par excellence. I've been waiting on it a fairly long time.
You've already played Gang Beasts, I'm sure. Whether that's at one of the many game events where it's been a fixture since 2014, where you'd follow the sound of laughter until you found four people huddled around a monitor knocking merry hell out of one another. Maybe you've already got it on PC where it's been out in Early Access for a good few years. You likely know the deal already; pissed-up jelly babies go at each other across a series of stages until only one stands as the winner.
Now it's finally out on PlayStation 4, familiarity hasn't really dimmed its brilliance. Played with friends, Gang Beasts is a drunken hug of a game in which you're fighting the controls as much as you are each other. You're never really in charge of a fight in Gang Beasts - don't expect this particular fighting game to turn up at EVO, or to be the subject of in-depth YouTube tutorials - and instead my only advice is that you give yourself over to its chaos.
Seeing what Gang Beasts unwieldy physics come up with is most of the fun, doubled by a series of levels with Machiavellian twists and cruel surprises. Fight atop a blimp that's high in the heavens and toss your opponents into the oblivion below; have a skirmish in a factory where an angry maw of spinning metal waits to devour anyone with their guard down. It's an incredibly violent game, but that's always going to be the case in something that's pure unabashed slapstick.
A problem with slapstick, though, is that it can often lack substance, and beyond the belly laughs and acts of blunt savagery there's really not that much to Gang Beasts. Coming back to it some three years after first playing it on the show floor at EGX - where myself and just about anyone who encountered fell dizzily in love with this raucous little gem - there's not that much more to it all, even if developer Boneloaf has made some valiant efforts to pad it all out.
There's a waves mode in which you partner up with other players to take on AI combatants - a nice little throwback, in part, to classics such as Streets of Rage and Final Fight which Boneloaf is in thrall to - as well as a football mode that's shockingly faithful to playground play-offs in its clumsy violence. They're cute distractions but are ultimately one-shot attractions.
There's online play too, though it's shabbily implemented. As, really, is much of Gang Beasts - muddle through its front-end and you'd be forgiven for wondering whether this truly has left Early Access or not, and there's something darkly amusing about how, on PC at least, a whole suite of new issues have arisen as Gang Beasts finally makes its way to 1.0. Between tweaks to the camera and physics to performance issues, this game is a mess.
Perhaps that scrappiness is inevitable in a game as wilfully scruffy as this, and it's certainly thematically apt. It doesn't really dull the charm of getting a gang of friends around and knocking each other about for a round or two before you might move on to something with a little more substance, and the thrill of this punchy little game remains intact despite its numerous problems.
Gang Beasts is far from perfect, then; it's all a little too messy for its own good, and it's still a super slight package despite its extended stay in Early Access. That spark is still there, though, and this remains a uniquely boisterous party game that's well worth having on tap. It's earned its place - just - with those other modern multiplayer classics, even if it doesn't quite have their class.