Having been doing the rounds at public events for quite some time now, Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes has built a respectable following. It’s an interesting design idea in anyone’s book, but the fact that it’s concerned with virtual reality (VR) and what the medium can offer in its first breath is all the more enticing. Steel Crate Games have undoubtedly found something special in Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, but whether they can deliver that to an audience looking for tens of hours of gameplay is still an unknown.
The general premise of the videogame is the diffusing of a bomb. One player takes on the role of the technician; wearing the Oculus Rift head-mounted display (HMD), they have full view of the device and the many informative clues upon it. A second player does not have a view of the bomb, nor are they wearing a HMD. Instead, they have a manual which holds the key to removing the threat.
There are a number of components to diffusing the bomb (varying in quantity depending on difficulty) and a time limit in which to do so. Each component is essentially a puzzle and the players must work together to avoid failure. The player wearing the HMD must describe the full contents of a puzzle to the second player who must then read the manual and find the appropriate solution. For example, a selection of wires might be present and the players must decide which to cut based on their colours and aligning symbols.
There were a number of different puzzles present in the build VRFocus experienced, some more complicated than others. Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes is at it’s best when both players are novice yet have a prior relationship; knowing a little about how the other player’s mind works most definitely plays a key factor in your chances of success. The player in the HMD has the full timer countdown ahead of them and feels under constant pressure, yet they must still relax and give the second player the time needed to read the manual and decipher the clues that have been presented. Conversely, the second player must ask the player in the HMD for the information they require in a swift yet precise manner.
The question of whether Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes is entertaining has already been answered. Moreover, its value as a VR experience is undeniable. It’s the delivery that’s in question: how long can repeating a series of increasingly complicated puzzles with little interaction remain entertaining? How will the manual be distributed? Will there be an overarching reward system or will diffusing each bomb remain a disparate activity? Fears that Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes will become little more than a game of charades at a social gathering can’t help but surface, and are all the more worrying given that Steel Crate Games certainly deserve more than that.