TL;DR – A straightforward game that has layers of depth and works no matter what role you get
Among Us Review –
In the board game realm, there is a genre of games called ‘hidden role’ games. These are games like Avalon, Mafia de Cuba or Secret Hitler where on the surface all the players are trying to complete a task together. This task could be fighting an evil empire, hoarding your boss’ diamonds, or getting rid of the fascist elements of the government. However, around the table secretly, there are some players whose job is to do the exact opposite. I have seen many video games try to capture that feeling but never quite getting there, well that is until today.
So to set the scene, you and your fellow crewmate are on a drop-ship to a new location. It could be another spaceship, an aerostat military base, or a research station on a planet. Something has gone wrong, and your job is to work together to complete several tasks like refuelling the ship, clearing out the trash, or shooting down some approaching asteroids. All of this is very routine; however, among your crew, there is an Imposter (or Imposters) whose job is to stop you from completing the tasks by killing you off one by one.
Mechanically this is a straightforward game, as crewmate, you run around doing tasks that are simple click puzzles. As an imposter, you need to be near someone, and you can click the die button, and they are dead. If a dead body is ever spotted, you click the report button and vent the imposter. Simple design does not mean bad design, but there is nowhere to hide, and Among Us is an excellent example of this. With most tasks, you can’t tell if someone is working on them or not giving the imposters much needed plausible deniability. Or how the imposters can self-report their own murder, I mean that is big-game move but I have seen it work … and also pulled it off myself.
All of the tasks are simple click, or at worst drag and click puzzles, much like you would see in an early flash game. However, they are all impeccably designed to cause the most amount of stress possible because every moment you are working on one is a moment someone can sneak up behind you. This stress is achieved by when you start the task a big pop up covers a large chunk of your screen, and this is a game where vision is at a premium. The lack of vision is how you can create rooms like Electric that people fear because that makes perfect blind spots. Also, small things like having a murder countdown mean that the imposter has to be very careful who they kill and where they do it because if you are spotted there is no getting out of it (unless you can talk a big game).
I will say, this is a game that has a bit of a learning curve and it is not one that you want to get dumped in as the imposter first up with a group that has played before. However, while those first few games feel daunting, it does not take long to find your groove whether you are a crewmate or an imposter. As a crewmate, you rush around trying to complete every task possible while staying alive. But you also have to keep track of every task you are doing, in what order you did it in, and who you have seen where. This information is essential because, when a body is found, you can help track down the murder (or be able to defend yourself when the suspicion comes on you). As the imposter, you have to run around pretending to do tasks until that moment when you can get a kill (or if there are two of you the much-lauded double kill). This is the perfect situation to create that tension that you find in hidden role board games where every person you meet could be a friend or enemy, and you might not know right up until the knife goes in.
One of the things that draw you into the game is the aesthetic which I would describe as cartoony horror. All the crewmates are these little figures in an odd decon suit that you can then customise with all sorts of hats etc. These little blobs have an almost bouncy feel as they move around the map completing all their tasks with hamster wheels and other weirdness in tow. It would be charming if not for the fact that you will die, in a very confronting way, and die often. Having such a sharp change in tone should be off-putting, but it just works. I think part of this is because the maps lean into that Alien vibe, so you are already emotionally prepared for someone to jump out of a vent and off you while you are not looking. Also, it helps that even if you have been killed, you can still interact with the game.
What I found really interesting about Among Us is how it requires a certain amount of buy-in for it to be effective. In all the games I have played and watched, every participant has been discussing over voice chat. This means that all it takes for the game to break down is one person who was killed to jump in over voice chat and say “This person killed me” and the whole game falls apart. But in every game, I have played this has never happened. Indeed, every game has different house rules as to when you can talk, and people stick to it. This gives a different feel in every game, depending on how much you can say. From here, every meeting has a different feel. It offers imposters the ability to throw people under the bus or bring up that last game when you were bad in, giving everything an amazingly chaotic feel. It is a game that relies on your gaming skills as much as your ability to talk your way out of trouble, and that is a fantastic combination.
In the end, do we recommend Among Us? Absolutely. I don’t think I have found a game like this in a long time that has as much tension as this. Every part of the game works and creates this perfect feeling of uncertainty. The only issue I have run into so far is that the servers can be a little unstable at times, but that has been a minor issue at best, and well you can’t argue with that price point.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the staff of Among Us
Game Design – Forest W., Marcus B. & Amy L.
Developer – Innersloth
Publisher – Innersloth