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Game On: Among Us releases on consoles with one fatal flaw

UPDATED: Thu., Dec. 23, 2021

On Dec. 14, indie developer InnerSloth released Among Us for the Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5.  (InnerSloth)
On Dec. 14, indie developer InnerSloth released Among Us for the Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5. (InnerSloth)
By Riordan Zentler For The Spokesman-Review

Among Us finally made its way to the Xbox and PlayStation suite of consoles on Dec. 14, something that was a long time coming considering its initial 2018 release for Android and iOS devices. If you’ve somehow managed to avoid any knowledge of this game, I’ll give you the lowdown – it’s a social deduction game in which jellybean-looking “crewmates” on a space station attempt to figure out which of them are actually murderous imposters.

Despite its 2018 release, the game flew under the radar until 2020, when prominent Twitch and YouTube users began livestreaming the game to massive audiences. Among Us is often credited with helping people remain social during the initial COVID-19 lockdowns. That’s true, but believe it or not, the game itself is poorly equipped for that.

Over three years into its ongoing development, Among Us still has no built-in voice chat feature. With the base game, players are stuck typing in messages or navigating a quick chat wheel to communicate. It’s baffling because most of the game’s unique charm is in arguing over who is or isn’t an imposter – think tabletop games like Mafia or Secret Hitler. That’s the crux of the game, but it’s severely stunted.

So, how’d the game take off despite this big flaw?

The lucky few individuals who can make a living streaming video games are very organized people. They typically use applications like Discord, Zoom or Hamachi to voice chat because it’s easier to broadcast that audio to viewers. So, the prominent streamers who have popularized Among Us are on the honor system, muting and unmuting their microphone at the appropriate times – if they die, they quickly turn off their mic.

I don’t know about others, but if my character in a game suddenly drops dead, I tend to yelp, drop the controller or have some sort of reaction. I’ve seen even professional streamers mess up in this way, and it’s often a dead giveaway – pun intended – as to who the imposter is, and it can ruin the game. It’s a janky setup.

Basically, InnerSloth created a social deduction game with severely stunted social capabilities. I can sort of understand why the game didn’t initially have voice communication – Among Us is a mobile game first and foremost, only hitting Windows PC five months after its Android and iOS debut. But to this day, the only word we have regarding built-in voice chat from the developer is “we know people want it,” which was Tweeted back in March.

It’s worth noting that integrated voice chat can be complicated to program and implement, and InnerSloth is a small indie studio consisting of just over a dozen people. But once the game took off in 2020 and surely began bringing in plenty of new cashflow, I don’t see why they couldn’t hire or consult a specialist and get the job done. It’s baffling.

I’ve watched hundreds of live-service games fail for much smaller mistakes. How Among Us continues to have legs is absolutely beyond me – in my eyes, having a social deduction game without voice communication would be akin to shipping a Call of Duty game without firearms.

Of course, well-connected gamers are having a field day. If you can simply ask a few friends on Discord, Xbox Live, PlayStation Network or wherever else to hop onto that service’s voice chat and play a few rounds of Among Us, you’re good to go aside from the whole “turn the mic on and off at the right times” wrinkle. At its heart, Among Us is a compelling and accessible game – who doesn’t love a good murder mystery?

But many of us don’t have a readily available group of friends like that. With work, family and other obligations, most gamers aren’t available at the drop of a hat. We’re forced to queue with random people online, and the game isn’t fun when it’s nonverbal. With that in mind, it’s not difficult to understand why Among Us is so popular with children, who are more likely to have the free time to organize matches.

I want to like Among Us, but for now it seems InnerSloth is living up to its name.

Riordan Zentler can be reached at riordanzentler@gmail.com.

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