Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes

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Samuel Tow
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Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes
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No

That's the name of the game, not an order. Don't worry, nobody's going to explode for real Smile

Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes is a strange-titled game I happened upon when browsing TotalBiscuit's stuff, and it immediately caught my eye. A (supposedly) local co-op game which uses some pretty clever and frankly low-tech ideas to create a unique experience almost akin to the kind of games I used to play when I was younger and we didn't have computers yet. I bought it on impulse, talked NT into buying it too, and we had a ton of fun with the game yesterday, blowing up repeatedly and getting a little better at communicating with each iteration. It's kind of hard to sum up, but I'll try:

Overview:

Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes is a game about bomb defusal for two or more players. One player is the bomb technician, the others have access to the bomb defusal manual - they are the experts. The technician must supply the experts with information about the bomb's various modules from which they must determine the proper way to disarm each module before the timer runs out. It's really just as simple as that. You don't even need multiple copies of the game, since only the bomb technician needs to be running it. The manual itself is available for free on the Internet. You can play it with people around your house or - as we did - over voice chat half-way around the world. It's a pretty fun game Smile

Graphics and Design:

Mechanically, the game's graphics are pretty unimpressive, not that it matters. There are very few backgrounds and what's in the backgrounds isn't all that detailed. However, this being a game about bomb defusal, the thing you're going to be looking at for the most part is the bomb, and that looks pretty good. It's nicely detailed both in terms of its 3D mesh and in terms of some surprisingly high-resolution textures, plus all the various randomly-generated doodads on it are integrated seamlessly. Nothing ever feels like it was pasted on and the whole thing looks like a suitcase that was build this way. It's quite well done.

This is essentially a puzzle game, however, and graphics don't really matter. Design, however, does and this the game does pretty well. The whole thing is bathed in a sort of Cold War era bureaucracy theme, with menus taking the form of type-written folders or suitcases and such. Locked content has been "censored" with black marker, the end-of-mission status screen appears to you one letter at a time with loud typewriter clutter - it's all quite atmospheric. Special attention has gone into the bomb's various complicated modules, making it look half-way between manufactured and hand-made. Some modules are shiny and new, with LEDs and built-in buttons while others have things written on them over duct tape. The bomb's serial number on the side is partially peeled off with one corner folded over where it came unglued. There are a lot of little touches that make this game quite pretty to look at despite lacking all the Frostbte/Unreal/Crytek bells and whistles.

Not much else to say, really.

Gameplay and Systems:

This game literally comes in two parts - the game and the manual. Let's start with the game.

The bomb technician running the game is presented with a suitcase bomb split into 12 modules - 6 on either side. One module always represents the timer, so there can be 11 actual bomb modules. They cover a wide variety of themes from cutting wires to pressing buttons to word puzzles to morse code and more. Every module has only one discrete solution, but the bomb technician has no means of deducing what it is. Well, not unless he has eidetic memory and has memorised the entire manual, which you won't, trust me. The Tech must therefore describe module to the Expert who has the manual, and follow instructions on how to disarm it. Disarm all modules before the timer runs out and you win. Make a mistake and you either blow up or earn a "strike." The game allows up to two strikes, and earning the first one also speeds up the timer. Additionally, the bomb has a number of batteries, stickers, LED displays and ports on the side which matter in some cases.

The bomb expert (or experts, but let's stick to singular) has the Bomb Defusal Manual. It offers a chapter on every possible module with a simple example drawing (which doesn't help) and a detailed checklist explanation of how to respond to every possible way the module can be set up. You'd think it would be simple enough to just memorise what to do in which case, but the way of solving most modules (really anything beyond the first two) is both so unintuitive and so complicated that you literally do need the manual in front of you as information comes in. You may think you can remember it, but many modules are deliberately designed to throw you off. Either there's FAAAR too much information to keep track of or there's some complicated correlation... Or there's a Venn diagram. Hell, on multiple occasions you need to actually write stuff down lest you forget. And trust me, you WILL forget.

The meat of the game comes into how well the Tech can communicate with the Expert. The first time I tried to guide NT through the Maze module, he blew up because we were counting the tiles different (he from the bottom left, I from the top left). Some modules are fairly straightforward but require a LOT of information to be exchanged, some modules require describing weird symbols, some modules are deliberately designed to make communication difficult. There's a particularly insidious word-exchange module which has the words SEE, C and CEE, multiple words are stuff like "WHAT?" and "OK" and so on. You need to work out a good rapport with your team-mate otherwise you'll waste tons of time explaining simple things and retracing steps.

Finally, Eagle showed me a video of I believe four people playing the game - a Tech and thee Experts. The Tech would read off a bunch of modules for the Experts and let them troubleshoot while he worked on just one. Apparently that's what it takes for some of the harder bombs. This is a hectic, scary, intense game and so far I love every minute of it Smile

Story and Characters:

The game has neither.

Conclusions:

Honestly, I'd say buy this game. It's not that expensive at $15/€15, not everybody needs to own it, it's amazingly fun and it's very, very unique in execution. It's like a co-op Papers Please, only even more evil in terms of little details tripping you up. Aside from not having anyone to play it with, I honestly can't think of any reasons to avoid this game. Still...

Get Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes if you enjoy puzzle-type games, as there are plenty here. Get it if you're interested into co-op titles which work well both online and offline. Hell, this will probably make for a great party game - print out a few copies of the manual, hand them out and start defusing. It's a brain teaser as some of the puzzles themselves are pretty challenging, and it's very entertaining in just how much person-to-person interaction it requires.

Obviously, this is a fairly harmless puzzle game. If you're looking for some kind of narrative experience, you won't find it here. There is no "story mode." The game does have a lot of replayability in that every bomb is random and you can even design your own bombs, but ultimately you're always solving some settings combo of the same modules. You may start picking up on how it works after a while. Finally, it does require another person to play with. You COULD cheat and look at the manual yourself while playing it, but really - that's no fun plus it's a lot more difficult.

Ultimately, I feel the game's worth the asking price. I heartily recommend it.

Steam store link:

http://store.steampowered.com/app/341800/

NuclearToast
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Joined: Jul 6 2012 - 12:54pm

Sam talked me in to getting this game, and I'm so glad he did. I echo his recommendation.

 

Silver Eagle
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Joined: Jul 7 2012 - 10:52am

I'm going to throw my recommendation in here as well. Played some with NT and Sam last night, was quite a bit of fun, even if I did get blown up a couple times. 

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