If you stand by the idiom of not judging someone before walking a mile in their shoes, then I’d argue that you shouldn’t give your verdict on Among Us until you’ve played it as a walking simulator. True, it’s a multiplayer social deception game, which is pretty much the opposite of what you would typically consider to be a walking sim- bear with me.
When me and my friend first arranged to play Among Us with some other people, we studiously learnt how to play the game in the solo free play version. This mode allows you to explore the maps and do tasks at your own pace. With no time limits and threat of imminent death from imposters, the experience of Among Us is completely different. I found myself wondering the halls of MIRA HQ, exploring the map and musing about its environmental storytelling; that’s an experience I usually associate with first-person exploration games like Gone Home and Firewatch.
Suffice to say, the next few dozen times I played Among Us with other people these details were the last thing on my mind. The hectic, intense experience of online play with friends is what has made the game so popular. However, after the initial spate of friendly subterfuge, I kept thinking back to that initial almost meditative experience. So I went back to free play.
According to Wiktionary, walking simulators are “focused on gradual exploration and discovery through observation, with little in the way of action.” ‘Gradual exploration’ would be how I’d describe my experience playing Among Us in solo mode, as I discovered minor details that I’d otherwise run past while either attempting covert murder or rapid maintenance. There’s a series of what I presume to be past crewmate group photos in one of the hallways of MIRA HQ, a nod to the endless cycles of crewmates in the game. There are other details that I found while exploring the maps in free play, such as corporate posters in the Polus research base showing imposters with the slogan “See Something Say Something,” which reminded me of the infamous British Transport Police “See It. Say It. Sorted” campaign (though not in terms of the latter’s racist connatations). Free exploration meant I was able to appreciate the sound design in the game; the bird song in the O2 room on Polus is relaxing, and even the monotonous hum of fans in other locations is oddly reassuring. Also it seems that surfing exists in the Among Us universe, or at least on a vending machine in the MIRA HQ cafeteria.
Among Us isn’t renowned for its narrative but that hasn’t stopped players from trying to piece together speculative lore. As you might expect from one of my blog posts, there’s an archaeology angle to this. Luckily, you don’t just have to take my word for it-Tyler Wilde at PC Gamer also reckons that the crewmates might be involved in xenoarchaeology. The strongest evidence for this comes from the “Sort Samples” and “Assemble Artifact” tasks in MIRA HQ. The first has you separate fossilized fauna, flora and crystals into different archive boxes, while the second has you reconstruct a large crystal artifact. I have to ask-what was the provenance of these artifacts? Were they looted? Did they belong to the Imposters and are they trying to reclaim them?
Maybe I’m reading too much into simple puzzle mechanics, but its still true that the free play version of Among Us allowed me to appreciate it in a completely different way than the multiplayer mode. It’s also true that free play allows you to be the Imposter and endlessly kill respawning dummy crewmates, but I somehow I don’t find that as relaxing as downloading files or emptying a rubbish chute.
If methodically completing simple tasks with no external pressure puts a spring in your step, you could do worse than play solo in Among Us.