It may have originally come out in 2018, but Among Us took 2020 by storm, and it’s deserving of that spotlight. Innersloth has made the tense, multiplayer fun of in-person cloak and dagger games like Mafia and Werewolf work on PC, mobile, and consoles with a flourish. And the great times I’ve had slaying, lying, and sleuthing my way through its charming sci-fi world got me wondering why it took so long for this sort of game to catch on. There are still a few technical hitches to be worked out, just like the fussy engines on the Skeld, but that hasn’t kept me from coming back to it again and again in my down time.
The premise of Among Us is simple enough that just about anyone can pick it up quickly: eight crew members dash around a claustrophobic, cartoon spaceship to complete simple minigames and fill up a shared progress bar. But among them are two hidden impostors with the goal of secretly murdering everyone until they equal or outnumber the crew and claim victory. And yet, like so many excellent multiplayer games, it’s very tricky to master because it’s about fooling real people, not gaming an AI. You can’t even fall back on the same successful strategies too often or your opponents will catch on, so sometimes you have to mix things up and maybe even act illogically to keep them guessing.
The art is whimsical, with your bulbous, quirky astronauts stumbling around engine bays and reactor decks that look like the doodles I used to do in the margins of my notes in school. This is effective for a couple of reasons. For one, it keeps the mood pretty light, which is important in a game where you’re going to be lying to, and being lied to, by your friends every single round. It’s hard to take getting ganked in the middle of a task for the fifth time too personally when the animation for your demise makes you laugh after you’re done yelling. The art style also makes interacting with the various machines and doodads on the map intuitive and enjoyable. I was able to drop right into my first match and get a decent grasp of what was going on without needing much help.
The tasks the crew will be rushing to complete present a good variety of tiny minigames, from finishing a simple maze to connecting colored wires. Most of them will test memory or hand-eye coordination in a way that requires you to keep your cool, which can be a challenge when you know there are murderers running around, out for your blood. The fact that most of the minigames cover up a significant portion of your screen is a really effective way to build tension, too. Even tasks like Download, which just makes you sit and watch a progress bar fill up, have me going, “Come on… come onnn!” Any movement at the edges of my monitor could mean impending death, and you know skilled impostors will use these blind spots to their advantage.
Among Us Screenshots
Playing as the impostor is definitely the most fun for me, and it requires a variety of skills to do well. Isolating your target so no one witnesses the crime is the easiest way to get away with it, but if you do get caught by only one other person, being able to pin the kill on them by lying over in-game text chat or an external voice app like Discord can save you from being cast out. Impostors can also use the well-placed vents on each map to flee the scene, but you have to be careful not to be spotted in two disconnected rooms in a way that makes it clear you took a shortcut. But I enjoy being on the other side as well: As a crewmate, it’s a thrilling detective game to try and keep track of where everyone is, who they were with, and poke holes in their alibis at each meeting in a way that will convince the other players to vote them off the ship.
It’s delightfully satisfying to lead either the impostor or the crew team to victory, because much like in poker, you’re playing the other players more than anything. If you group up with the same people often enough, you can pick up on their tells. Some of my friends will stay dead silent if they’re impostors, while others will start yelling and trying to direct the blame on anyone else the second the first body is found. There’s a lot of mental juggling that goes into sussing out a killer, because you have to remember when and where you saw everyone and, ideally, ask the right questions to catch them in a lie without making it too obvious that’s what you’re doing. Then, you need to make a compelling case. Because even if you know who the impostor is 100 percent, that won’t matter if you can’t convince the other voters.
Some of my favorite impostor rounds have been those in which I coasted to victory in a public game by changing my handle to something unassuming, like “joey07”, and acting like I’m a young kid who doesn’t really understand the rules that well. Aside from how I type and what I do or do not choose to comment on, I can even make a big show of having a hard time getting around the ship or not understanding how crew tasks work. Knowing how to perform innocence, even to the point that you half believe you’re innocent yourself, is a great skill to have. But it’s a common enough strategy that if you overdo it, at this point, experienced players will catch on. So sometimes I have two cover identities: one that’s way too obvious, and another that I want my opponents to figure out and think that’s the final layer. But it’s not. The mind games can get really deep, and they’re my favorite part of Among Us.
It works so well in part because the default map, a spaceship called The Skeld, is very well balanced. There’s a clever, circular layout, a mix of bottlenecks and open spaces, and just enough room for impostors to maneuver unseen if you’re not watching for them at the right moment. The other two maps, Mira HQ and Polus, are a bit too fragmented and spread out, which can give the impostors a big advantage. That hasn’t been too big a problem for me, though, because the wide variety of game options allow you to tweak things in the crew or impostors’ favor with toggles like anonymous voting and confirming someone’s role when they’re ejected. This also offers flexible difficulty when playing with a group of more or less experienced killers.There are some technical issues, still. Finding a match can be frustrating, since the clunky, dated browser only shows you a limited number of lobbies at a time. It can be tricky to find games that aren’t already full or are a long way from getting there. And the fact that there’s no mechanic to punish players who rage-quit when they don’t get to play as impostor, or are caught dead to rights in the middle of a murder; those can lead entire rounds to premature, unsatisfying endings. Adding a quick match button and some way to disincentivize quitters, like a time out before you can join another match if you quit too often, would both go a long way – not to mention built-in voice chat support.