When it comes to describing Pit People, I'm really struggling. The individual gameplay elements stack up logically, and clearly draw inspiration from the best in class, so that bit is easy. The graphics are clearly inspired by developer The Behemoth's most popular games to date (Castle Crashers and Battleblock Theater) and the gameplay is a turn-based action strategy hybrid that feels oddly similar to Skulls of the Shogun to me. There's even a nefarious, God-like narrator who provides story prompts between missions, just like a twisted, meddlesome version of the one in Bastion, albeit voiced by the same chap as in Battleblock Theater – still with me?
What's actually difficult to describe with Pit People is just what the heck is going on. The action takes place in a land that is unashamedly hexagonal in design (whether you are in or out of battle) and the world itself is absolutely bonkers. The introduction sequence informs us that a giant, planet-sized bear collided with the world, and now lies dead, prostrate in the middle of it, occasionally raining down caustic green blood upon the long-suffering inhabitants. Believe it or not, the storyline only gets crazier the longer it goes on and really moves beyond comparison with Spain's Queen Isabella arriving to lay claim to the land, gangsters in low-riding Cadillac's kidnapping people and all kinds of other craziness.
All of this imaginative flair serves as both excellent window dressing for the combat and advancement system underneath, and as a compelling reason for solo or cooperative pairs of players to press on through the game. There is a lot to laugh at and never a dull moment, and I have to say that even in the preview build that will launch via the Xbox Game Preview program, Pit People feels packed with both content and surprises in equal measured.
The game promises fast-paced, turn-based action, and although I've always found that pairing to be an impossible mix, Pit People actually does manage it. The player begins with a team of up to four fighters (with room for expansion to six through unlockable perks) and fights typically take place on a single screen in the early game to allow familiarization with the incredibly simple interface. Hardcore strategy fans might balk at the fact that fighters will choose their own target when placed next to two enemies, or that there are some subtle nuances to using fighters with both a short distance and melee attack (axemen) that reduce control, however, these decisions do make the game quick and accessible.
That's not to say that Pit People appears to be lacking in tactical depth though because there are still key decisions to make. The first is in setting up a team, which is probably the most complex part of the game at present even though a handy user interface assists in making the right selection. Like most turn-based fighting games, Pit People gives a nod towards a rock, paper, scissors style, that means players must be prepared for anything. Sword and axe fighters can usually handle shieldholders, who are virtually immune to arrow attacks. Fighters with helmets on are largely unhurt by sharp weapons and need to be hit by blunt objects such as maces. When elemental (and other) kinds of attack are thrown into the mix, there's even more to think about.
Every fighter can be customized to carry a shield, wear a helmet or pick up one of several weapons, but choosing a heavily defensive setup might reduce your damage output too much to enable success, whilst doing the opposite might make your fighters into a team of glass cannons. This is important in single player, but more so in multiplayer, where the potential for variation in setup and strategy as the game develops is huge. Online multiplayer is available in traditional versus, or two versus two, so it's possible to get the best of both worlds when it comes to co-op with a pal sat right next to you, while still challenging the best players online.
I was pleasantly surprised by how complete the single player campaign in Pit People felt. Despite how mad it is, Pit People is shaping up to be quite impressive and should be of interest to a broad spectrum of players. Then again with The Behemoth's track record, we should really expect nothing less.