The Behemoth’s Game 4 is a darkly funny take on turn-based strategy

The fourth game from The Behemoth, currently known by its codename, Game 4, bears all the hallmarks of the studio’s past work: distinctive, cutesy visuals by art director Dan Paladin; an occasionally puerile but nonetheless hilarious wit; and gameplay that’s a modern take on a traditional genre. Game 4 is a turn-based strategy game, and like the three titles before it, this project is unmistakably a Behemoth production.

After an opening that follows from the wild conclusion to the story in The Behemoth’s previous game, 2013’s BattleBlock Theater, you step into the role of Horatio. A humble blueberry farmer, Horatio’s world is destroyed when his young son gets killed at the behest of Game 4‘s adversarial narrator. Yes, The Behemoth’s sinister sense of humor is at play here: The narrator hurls insults at poor Horatio, who sets out to avenge his family.

Horatio soon comes across a young princess named Pipistrella, who’s helping her father defend his castle against helmeted barbarians. The hosts manage to win, but it’s a Pyrrhic victory, as the king is killed during the battle. Pipistrella is one of a few other characters who join Horatio’s party. Each has their own motivations beyond just revenge, and a storyline that includes unique missions.

Ian Moreno, production coordinator at The Behemoth, told Polygon that since the studio started playing with story for the first time in BattleBlock Theater, this path felt like a “natural evolution.” The space bear from that game is the “cosmic entity” that ties both games together, providing the impetus for the events of Game 4 with his own blood. Literally.

You can customize just about everything for Horatio and his cohorts, including their armaments, gear (which conveys buffs) and companions. The latter group consists of characters recruited during random encounters. In these battles, you can get an enemy to join your side by killing everyone but that creature. The companions include such colorful characters as a cupcake named Gluten that heals your squad; a gnome that can launch your party members across the battlefield; and a spider that can build web walls that hold off the enemy’s advances.

The battles themselves play out on a hexagonal grid. Moreno said that while The Behemoth knew from the start that it wanted to build a team-based title for Game 4, the strategy focus of the project wasn’t there at the beginning. The grid itself didn’t come in until a few months into development, according to Moreno. But as with all of The Behemoth’s games, simplifying the turn-based strategy genre and making it accessible was key.

You play Game 4 with a two-button control scheme. After setting up your units with the left stick and locking in your locations with the A button, you take your turn by holding Y. This basic setup allowed us to quickly grasp the fundamentals, even with multiple party members in play. The strategy arises from unit placement, of course, as well as the various weapons your teammates are equipped with.

The narrator hurls insults at poor Horatio, who sets out to avenge his family

Horatio carries a sword and a large shield, which makes it easy for him to block incoming arrows while he stabs foes up close. Pipistrella has a tiny shield, so she has a much lower chance of warding off arrows, but she makes up for it with a mallet that packs a wallop, especially against helmeted enemies. Another character, Yosef, can use his dual axes for close-quarters hacking or throw them from afar to stun opponents. And you’ll have to learn to deploy your minions, like Gluten, smartly if you want to maximize your chances of success.

You can play Game 4 cooperatively with another person. With your opponents always controlled by the computer, The Behemoth is working hard to ensure that the enemy AI is smart but well-balanced as far as difficulty goes; one programmer on the small team is working exclusively on AI. Moreno said part of this process includes running simulations with the AI fighting itself, to see if various combinations of weapons, armor, gear and unit types become game-breakingly powerful.

It’s hard to tell from our half-hour playthrough of Game 4‘s PAX East 2015 demo if the game’s mechanics and strategy will hold up. But the control scheme did seem like a great way to make Game 4 accessible while allowing for enough of a tactical edge to keep battles interesting. And as usual, the project’s art style and humor were eminently charming — we didn’t laugh harder while playing anything else at PAX.

Debut Trailer: The Behemoth’s Game 4