By Marcus Yeatman-Crouch
There’s no game that quite sums up how we’re all feeling at this point in the year than Among Us. Despite being out for 2 years already, it’s sprung onto the scene as an accessible, addictive party game that can be enjoyed alone or with a bunch of friends. But why is it that it has so suddenly shot to fame? What makes it different from, say, Animal Crossing: New Horizons, which came out when we were all first being locked up inside our homes? Read on to see our attempt to answer these questions about this paranoia fuelled betrayal-fest of a game.
First of all – what kind of game is Among Us? For those who don’t know any of the classic video game equivalents like Trouble in Terrorist Town, think of Among Us as a bit like a videogame re-enactment of Werewolf: depending on the size of your lobby, there are 1-3 imposters, who are preoccupied with killing the innocent crewmates amongst them (Among Us, get it?), while the crewmates have to complete a series of tasks – avoiding death and the suspicion of other innocent players – to win. As you can see, it’s quite simple, but the results are chaotic. None of the crewmates know who else is innocent; as the title of this article says, all your friends are ‘sus’ (a re-popularised term for suspicious, if you’re out of the loop) and you can’t be sure any player is innocent until they’re either dead, or the game is over.
Added to this is the voting mechanic. Every time a dead body is reported, the game instantly puts everyone in a meeting: this is the only time the players can speak to one another, and given how spontaneous finding a body is, you need to make sure you have your alibi in place. It all comes down to votes – every crewmate can mark who they believe is an imposter, and if any player receives a majority vote, they’re ejected from the airlock. To prevent yourself from being thrown into space, you need to be quick with your defence and just as wily in throwing out accusations. Meetings are intense, and in a public lobby they are conducted solely through text. In these randomly assembled groups, it only takes one crewmate naming the colour of your little bean character for you to be condemned to death. These frenetic trials take place within a minute and a half, and the game can be won if an imposter is caught out in their lie, or if the group accidentally vote out an innocent, leaving them ripe for more imposter kills.
It has to be said, Among Us is most fun with friends. It’s a party game and there is no in-built voice chat; you have to group up with some friends and get in a discord call yourselves to engage in the meetings voice-to-voice, muting yourself every round as you try and do tasks (or murder your friends). With voice chat, the game becomes glorious chaos. I’ve had a few games that devolve into shouting matches, where the loudest voice leads to plenty of innocent ejections and easy wins for imposters. Any trust you have in your friends is immediately discarded – your best mate could easily be an imposter, relying on your friendship outside the game as a screen to commit their dastardly crimes while you defend them naively. You’ll do the same thing to them in the next round, as you and your imposter buddy sow distrust in your group, causing innocent ejections and events that will be talked about long after the game ends.
With many of us confined to our homes at the moment, this is the perfect high energy game to play with friends, letting people converse with each other and engage in a simple game that makes the discussion between rounds the focal point, not the graphics or the gameplay. This is another reason why Among Us has blown up: it’s so accessible. Not only are the mechanics easy to grasp for even the most inexperienced gamer, it’s also available for just £4 on Steam. If you lack any form of laptop or PC that can run this incredibly basic title, no worries! It’s totally free on mobile, and crossplay means you can run Among Us on your iPhone and play it with your friend on his high-end gaming PC. Not every game has the honour of claiming that anyone can play it, and Among Us is one of those rare titles. It’s easy to acquire and download, and the controls are all based on its mobile format, meaning PC players require barely any bindings, just a mouse and the WASD keys. These sorts of simple games are what have thrived during the pandemic, as those who don’t own consoles or expensive rigs look for some entertainment, and this is exactly why Among Us has found its market even as it’s been out for 2 years already.
Many questioned how Among Us would keep things fresh with this newfound interest. We’ve seen already this summer how quickly the gaming community can burnout on these accessible party games, as Fall Guys went from an astonishing high to relative mediocrity within a few weeks of hype. Well, one way to guarantee players coming back is updates, and the devs of Among Us have already announced that they are cancelling their plans for a sequel to the game in order to implement all the new features into the original. These will include major polishing of the game’s core mechanics, better servers, and new maps and gamemodes, all to be released free of charge across the coming year. With fresh updates coming regularly, the playerbase for Among Us will stay strong, and the nature of such a party game means that even when blockbuster games are in season, groups of friends will always come back for a night of easy, quick games that they can all play together seamlessly.
A final, interesting comparison comes to light when looking at the sort of games we’ve been playing across this locked down summer. The collective spirit and optimism brought by Animal Crossing in the early months of the restrictions of the pandemic was refreshing, as people collaborated and worked on building island paradises. Flash forward, and we’re all suddenly locked in a horror scenario, as all those friends whose islands we visited are now suspicious, and we’re all trying not to be the next person ejected into space. It’s a rather chilling devolution when you look at it, although it’s quite obvious that while Among Us promotes paranoia and division, the game works just like Animal Crossing to bring groups of friends together through gaming. It doesn’t matter that you’ll eject your friend from the airlock in a fear-fuelled accusation next round – we’re all still having fun.