Review: Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes

There are lots of great arguments against the claims that virtual reality (VR) is an anti-social technology. Oculus VR, for example, recently launched its own Oculus Social app onto the Gear VR mobile-based head-mounted display (HMD), and provided a glimpse into the future of online communication with its Toybox demo for the Oculus Touch controllers. Perhaps the greatest case for social VR that you can take home with you today, however, is Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, the excellent party title from Steel Crate Games that every Gear VR user should own, provided they have a printer and some friends to play with.

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As its name suggests, Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes is a bomb defusal videogame. It directly plays on all of those tense/cheesy movie scenes in which a sweaty protagonist fumbles over wires and passcodes as a timer ticks closer to doom, with someone who actually knows what they’re doing guiding them over a radio. It’s the kind of scene that’s never been successfully translated to a videogame, as much as others may have tried. Steel Crate Games succeeds where they have failed, though, with some brilliant twists.

Here the HMD user is that daring protagonist, faced with a solving puzzles and pressing the correct buttons in order to disarm an explosive. Everyone else (the game can be played with anywhere from two players up) plays the role of the guide, armed with a handy 23-page manual that can be obtained for free on the title’s official website. The lengthy document is divided into sections for specific modules, each of which presenting their own set of mechanics to master and trials to decipher.

The game, then, is all about communication. The HMD user will be frantically calling out descriptions of modules as the others scour the pages for the solutions. These problems start out relatively simple: the classic wire cutting challenge is introduced straight from the off as is a button that must be pressed at the correct time and other such systems. Throughout the course of the 20+ level campaign these bombs will increase in difficulty, reducing time, adding more modules and creating even more complex challenges. You’ll soon have to memorise number patterns, guide dots through digital mazes and even search the sides of the weapon for serial numbers, ports and batteries.

Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes’ excellent concept could admittedly grow old fast if kept too simple, but the sheer breadth of challenges on offer here ensure that won’t happen anytime soon. This captures a mad, joyful kind of panic, in which the guides scramble through pages as the HMD wearer calls out the time, pressure piling on as you work together to untangle the mess you’ve found yourselves in. Bombs are randomly generated, so missions can’t be overcome with some memorisation. Better still it’s not always one strike and you’re out, as initial mistakes will speed up the timer and even influence some of the more complex puzzles.

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The Gear VR version of the title also excels over the PC version – which supports the Oculus Rift – thanks to a number of factors. There’s the mobile nature of the platform that makes it easy to switch between players, and the fact that it’s not connected to a monitor that displays what they’re seeing, encouraging cheating. It’s also best played using the simple, one-click on board touchpad rather than a gamepad that not everyone will be familiar with. All of Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes‘ puzzles are solved by looking and clicking, so the control scheme makes most sense here. It’s not often that cross-platform VR titles will be best on Gear VR, but that’s the case here.

Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes takes a brilliant concept that could nethertheless quickly wear out its welcome and helps it thrive thanks to expert design and varied pacing. It’s a great way to introduce people to the idea of VR as a multiplayer experience as well as the innovation that’s possible on the platform. This is something that deserves to be in your library, ready and armed for the next time you’re looking for some run with friends.

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