Sometimes it takes some time, or the right time for something to catch on. Such is the case with a little game called Among Us.
Inner Sloth’s social-deduction game was first published back in 2018 to a collective fanfare of, oh, about five people. It went relatively unnoticed until a quarantined Twitch streamer/influencer named Sodapoppin began streaming the game to his 2.8 million fans in July of this year.
And that was all it took, really.
From there, more and more people started getting in on the secret-killer-in-space action. Recently, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez jumped on the Twitch bandwagon to capitalize on the game’s popularity as a Get Out the Vote vehicle, which drew even more attention to this little title that could.
So what is this game? Well, Among Us is essentially a game of strategy, debate and deceit that you can play on your smartphone or PC. You can play with random strangers or create special invite-only rooms for you and your pals. Four to ten players are plopped down as the crew of a virtual spaceship made up of a series of small rooms. And your little spacesuit-clad jellybean-like guy or gal has a list of mini-game ship-maintenance tasks to complete in order to keep the ship rolling.
You might come upon a glowing panel, for instance, that needs to be quickly rewired; or you might need to toggle a switch to realign the ship’s engines; or you might have to clean debris out of the ship’s O2 filter. The minigame tasks are all pretty simple, taking mere seconds to complete. And that’s good, because you really need to keep your eyes focused on everyone else around you.
Why, you ask? Because there’s an Impostor in your midst. One of the crew (and you can adjust game parameters to allow more) is an assassin whose only job is to sneak up on the other players and eliminate them one by one.
In the early going, gameplay is all in silence, with no communication between the crew. But once someone spots and reports a dead body, then everyone quickly gathers together in an Emergency Meeting to chat about suspicious actions and individuals. Of course, even if you’re absolutely sure you’ve spotted the enemy, that doesn’t mean the rest of the gathered crew will believe you.
After all, you could be the lying, no good Impostor yourself.
All of this discussion takes place as a clock ticks away. You then have 45 seconds to cast your vote for who you believe the Impostor to be. At the end of that period, the person with the most votes is kicked out into space. (Or the crew can choose not to vote on eviction.) And if you’re wrong, oops, you just gave an innocent the deadly boot. If that happens to be you, or you become a victim of the Impostor, you can return as a ghost figure to watch how the rest of the game plays out.
There are certain tricks afoot, of course. The Impostor can quickly jump into a nearby vent and pop out on the other side of the ship, for example, to throw followers off his or her scent. And an Impostor can lie as often and as slyly as he or she pleases. In a sense, Among Us plays out as something of a very quick-paced game of Clue, only with no Ballrooms or lead pipes.
There is a knife, though.
The short, animated killscenes feature the Impostor sneaking up behind a crewmate with a knife in hand or snapping a spacesuit-clad neck with a quick twist. And the resulting blobby astronaut corpse can exhibit a splash of blood or a protruding bit of bone as a result. But it’s all done in a very basic, cartoony style, and far from graphic.
If anything, the most potentially problematic part of the game shows up in the Emergency Meeting chat sessions. I didn’t encounter any nasty, typed-out comments in my play, and the game offers players the tools to kick out anyone being offensive; but if you’re playing with a random collection of crewmates or an external verbal chat connection, language issues could slip in. (The best bet is to set up a private adventure with your own ship full of pals.)
And that’s pretty much all there is to this clever and fun game. Compared to many other multiplayer favorites, things are relatively tame here. There’s no trigger-pulling mess involved in Among Us. And it doesn’t naturally lend itself to a lot of irritating trolling either.
Perhaps best of all is the fact that these little mini-mystery bouts are really quite … mini. Between the ticking clock pace and the very simple activities, there’s not much here to bog things down or stretch out the gameplay.
Other than, perhaps, a desire to keep playing over and over.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.