|As the Impostor you can use vents, sabotage the ship and, of course, kill crewmates
|16 November 2018
A Werewolf Clone at the right place and the right time
Among Us has become somewhat of a cultural phenomenon in the past few years, so much so that even my kids know of the game by playing a schoolyard version of it (they had never touched the actual video game at this point). While the game has been out since 2018 it didn't really spike in popularity until 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic was well and truly everyone's reality. Some claim that its ability to connect people during a time of social distancing helped with its success while others claim that coverage by big name Twitch streamers and YouTubers was the primary reason.
The game is critically acclaimed, with a Metascore on PC of 85 and a Steam rating of Very Positive (92%) based on 554,474 user reviews. It has also won several awards.
In terms of sales, the game was a huge success: the game was one of the best-selling games on Steam in 2020 and it's one of the best-selling games on the Nintendo Switch, ever. At its peak in 2020, the game was immensely popular with over 500 million players worldwide although it has to be said that a huge majority of these players were playing on the free-to-play mobile version of the game.
But what do you actually do in this game? Why is the game so popular? Well, there really isn't much to the game of Among Us. It's based heavily off another social deduction game called "Werewolf" or "Mafia" and its sci-fi horror theme seems to be influenced by movies like John Carpenter's 1982 movie "The Thing" (although the violence is much more cartoony in Among Us). Most often when you play the game you'll be assigned the role of a crewmate and your job will be to perform a variety of menial tasks on a spaceship or space station, such as cleaning vents or scanning cards or fixing lights, etc. The goal of the crew is for each crewmate to complete their assigned tasks and if they manage to pull this off, they win the game. The spanner in the works though, is that one or more of the crewmates are impostors: they are actually hostile aliens disguised as crewmates. The goal of the impostors is to rid the ship of all the crewmates, either by eating them without getting caught or somehow convincing other crewmates that the impostor is someone else and having them ejected out of an air lock.
Multiplayer games are an interesting beast when it comes to reviewing since usually the best time to play such games is when there is a huge player base. However, the player base is usually at its peak when the hype for a game is at its peak too. It's irrelevant whether the gameplay is actually any good or not: there's a lot of other people experiencing the game so it's still popular, at least for a while. So why bother playing a multiplayer game when it's not as popular anymore? Well, I wanted to see what all the fuss was about but I wasn't prepared to pay the price of admission, until it sold for super-cheap as part of the Dangerous Worlds Humble Bundle towards the end of last year. Also, multiplayer games tend to be really buggy on launch and it takes time for all of the bugs to be ironed out. If you're a latecomer to the game, you're playing a polished product (at least in theory). And finally, if there are any other people like me who are late to the party, it's worth me giving the game a shot to see if there are still any people around and how easy it is to start a game.
|Calling Emergency Meetings allows you to discuss who the Impostor is and vote on who to eject out of the nearest airlock
Not the best first impression
When I initially played this game, I was having some serious connection issues: I don't think I'm joking when it felt like 90% of my connection attempts resulted in failure and it was very frustrating. A very poor first impression of the game. After searching online a bit, it turns out players in Perth in particular were experiencing issues for a couple of months, so I decided to shelve the game for a few days before returning to it later and trying again. I'm thankful that I did because the game has worked more or less fine since then. I'm not sure if it's Innersloth's fault or the fact I live in one of the most remote cities in the world, but I didn't have any problems with other multiplayer games so it may have something to do with where their servers are located.
The game does have other issues though and I've experienced the game freezing on me a couple of times now. So, despite the game being immensely popular and released for a couple of years now, they still haven't ironed out all the bugs.
It's no Town of Salem
In terms of actual gameplay though, Among Us is as fun as a "Werewolf"/"Mafia" clone can be. Since a lot of my experience with social deduction video games comes from playing Town of Salem, much of my comparisons will be made with that game.
In the games that I've played, there are really only two teams of players and consequently only really two classes: you're either an Impostor or a Crewmate.
Impostors can kill any nearby crewmates but there is a cooldown associated with the ability (meaning you can't just go on a rampage in a room full of crewmates). They're also able to travel through vents and sabotage ship systems which will usually result in crewmates hurrying along to different parts of the ship to resolve the emergency.
Crewmates are responsible for completing their designated maintenance tasks on the ship before the Impostors kill them all. They can also access live camera feeds in the security room.
I've heard about other classes in the game such as the "engineer" (which sounds like a crewmate that can use vents) but I don't think there are nearly as many classes as Town of Salem. I find this a shame since I believe this is one of the strengths of Town of Salem and makes it more interesting. Town of Salem encourages roleplaying and also deducing who is in fact on your side, who you can trust with crucial information. Also, the fact that there are two evil factions in Town of Salem (i.e. the Mafia and the Serial Killer) as well as neutral parties (i.e. the Executioner and Jester) means trusting is a riskier prospect in Town of Salem which makes it difficult for the Town to win. In Among Us, provided you start with a decent number of crewmates and only one Impostor, I see it quite difficult for the Impostor to win, provided the crewmates are always keeping their eyes open. In fact, again using a Town of Salem analogy, the crewmates in Among Us are basically a team full of Lookouts, since determining who the Impostor is involves a good knowledge of the map you're playing on and visual clues, such as whether two people enter a room and only one comes out leaving a corpse behind.
And yet, despite the game being in favour of the crewmates, I have been in games where a whole bunch of crewmates accuse each other of being "sus" resulting in many innocent people being shoved out of the airlock. It seems that the power of suggestion is alive and well, along with humans acting like sheep. However, sometimes being a newbie and not understanding acronyms and nicknames can make you seem suspicious enough to be voted off, even if you're innocent. This problem isn't isolated to Among Us though and is the case with Town of Salem too. In Among Us, knowing the maps is important since if crewmates start talking about where a corpse was found and who was around the area at the time, not being able to answer the question can push you higher up the suspects list.
|Learning maps is useful, if only to make you seem less suspicious during emergency meetings
It's still popular
There are only a few maps to play on in Among Us but they're all of a decent size with plenty of rooms to explore. The differences in themes and settings are welcome too. The game also overcomes the small number of maps by giving hosts plenty of game options to tweak to the point that some players have even created their own game modes. For example, one time I played a game mode called "Shift and Seek" where no reporting or sabotaging is allowed but the Impostors have the ability to shapeshift. In this mode, the only way for the crew to win is to complete all their tasks in time as they have no ability to eject the Impostor. Obviously, this requires cooperation from the players in the game to abide by the rules but it shows that there is enough love for this game and creativity amongst its fanbase for these variants of the base game to exist. In fact, last time I checked, Among Us still had over 7,000 concurrent players on Steam which means it sometimes still breaks into the top 100 games in terms of player numbers. To give you some idea, the game ranked in 100th place for player count at the moment is Albion Online with 8,960 players. So, Among Us isn't doing too bad for a multiplayer game that is over three years old.
Oh, and if you really get bored, the game has 24 Steam Achievements you can unlock too.
A real-time Mafia/Werewolf clone that happened to be at the right place at the right time. After a bad first impression with the game thanks to severe connectivity issues and occasional freezes, I finally had a chance to experience the game and it's fun. I still find Town of Salem to be a more cerebral experience compared to Among Us although one can't deny the continued popularity of Among Us and it still continues to receive updates despite us being halfway through 2022.
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