PAX EAST 2015: Game 4 Preview – Space Bear, Don’t Care

When I first read about The Behemoth’s Game 4, my mind spun with possibilities regarding the title’s meaning. Game 4…. perhaps it refers to a pivotal match in a sporting event? Or maybe it concerns a metaphorical “game”, one that pushes a near-apocalyptic world to its limits and tests the will of its people, straining their desire to fight on and persist. Heck, the Game 4 designation could be entirely simple, referring to a predominant gameplay mechanic or attribute its developers are particularly proud and fond of. Lost in superfluous thought, it didn’t once occur to me that Game 4 could literally mean exactly what it says; this will be Behemoth’s fourth published title, and damnit if they aren’t going to issue code names accordingly.

The Game 4 designation is pending of course, but by the time I’d completed my hands-on with the title I’d already concluded that when dealing in the wacky and humorously bizarre, textual designations are of little importance. Fans of Castle Crashers suspect this, and old-school Alien Hominid junkies know it well. What’s beautiful is that The Behemoth never forgot, and Game 4 is absolutely laced with the indie superstars’ signature humor, style, and off-kilter wit.

If you’re not already aware, Game 4 is a strategy game, and a turn-based one at that. Before you hoist your red flags too high, however, I suggest you consider a few things. First among them is straight from the horse’s mouth — the Behemoth developer I spoke with stated that Game 4 wastes little time and moves its skirmishes along at a fun and respectable clip. The catchy slogan they’ve come up with is “turn based fast paced,” and while there’s little evidence of such a thing existing in the current strategy pantheon, Behemoth appears to have managed it while compromising surprisingly little in terms of gameplay depth. Either that, or I was too distracted by flying space bears and hilarious 4th wall-shattering narrator diatribes to notice.

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Yes, you heard correctly; space bears are a critical pillar of Game 4’s story, and it’s only when a particularly massive one strikes hero Horatio’s innocent planet that green bear blood rains down from the heavens and our adventure officially begins. My demo offered a glance into a number of the game’s planned quirks and eccentricities, from the cute and clever skins players can apply to their party’s gear to the surprisingly noteworthy shift from grid squares to grid hexagons — a move that softens map design and lends an unthreatening “honeycomb” aesthetic to the entire experience. It’s clear that Game 4 possesses care and thoughtful insight even in its current unfinished state, something I can only interpret as a very promising sign.

There are nagging concerns to keep in mind, and though they’ll ultimately function better alongside a review of the final product, I do feel the need to briefly mention them here. First and foremost, I’m worried that despite sneaky twists on standard turn-based strategy, humor will struggle to compensate for a lack of strategic depth for the game’s full duration. Yes, hammers hit for massive damage against helms, but what else? A run-of-the-mill weapon triangle has become common enough that it’s nearly second nature to many players, and strategy titles need unique systems of their own if they hope to establish gameplay that both lasts and feels initially relevant. I’m told mounted units are planned, and part of my demo allowed for the recruitment of a new unit simply by hurling a pocket-sized net toward it when the time was right. Mix these with humor and you should have a winning formula — we’ll see if The Behemoth can truly pull this scheme off, bear blood flash floods and all.

Arguably the best answer I received to any question asked during the demo was information about a release date; namely, that there isn’t one. Game 4 will release on PC and Xbox One “when it’s ready,” and that’s also when it will presumably receive a proper title and subsequent widespread promotion. It’s not often a studio achieves massive success like The Behemoth has while retaining its freedom and general development dexterity, and as such I’m rooting for Game 4 to continue a respected indie tradition in the name of a long-established genre. Otherwise, we may all be washed away in a sea of green bear blood, helplessly flailing as an oddball narrator pokes fun at our long and continuous peril. Lucky for games with comedic intentions, the absolute worst that could happen is still pretty damn entertaining.