It’s my fate in life to constantly be on the hunt for good co-op games. My fiancé and I love to game together, but having burned through a lot of great co-op games already — and being a little picky, I suppose — we always feel deprived of good video games to play side by side.
Last week, he suggested we play a PlayStation VR game called Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes. I’ll admit that while I had heard about the game before, I didn’t fully understand it, and I’ve been hesitant to try a lot of VR games so far. The main reason is that I have a tendency to get motion sick, but it’s also laziness. I love the PS VR headset, but what can I say, some evenings I just don’t feel like putting it on.
But my fiancé convinced me to try the game, and it was amazing. Firstly, because it’s a unique concept that makes great use of VR and multiple players. And secondly, because I wasn’t actually the one in VR this time.
In Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, your job is to defuse a bomb. One person wears the VR headset — they are the ones in the field, who are in the room with the bomb. The other player (or players) is ground control with the bomb defusal manual in hand. Together, they must defuse the bomb within the time limit (usually two to five minutes, depending on how complex the bomb is).
I was the “expert” with the manual, which displays on the TV screen from the PS4. My fiancé wore the VR headset, which has its own display so he could be in the field looking at the bomb. He described whatever he was seeing to me, while I flipped through over two dozens pages of complicated bomb defusal techniques (ahem, they’re really just crazy puzzles!) to tell him what to do to defuse that particular bomb.
Here’s an example: He always started off by telling me how many wires the bomb was wearing. I asked him to do that, because that’s what the first page of the manual covers. It’s a simple puzzle to get out of the way early. If he said three wires, I’d go to the section of the page that describes what to do if the bomb has three wires. Then I’d figure out what to do based on what colors he told me. The manual might say, “If there’s no red wire, cut the last wire.” So if I figured that was true of the current bomb, I’d instruct my partner to cut the last wire. He’d do it, the module would turn green, and we’d move on to the next module. After disarming three or four or five modules — however many that bomb had — we would successfully defuse the bomb.
It sounds simple, but it’s surprisingly tricky — especially those first few bombs. One puzzle that kept coming up involved symbols, which I didn’t know the names of. My fiancé had to describe what they looked like in great detail, while I searched the manual for the symbol that seemed to match its appearance. After solving this puzzle a few times, we had nicknames for the symbols (mainly so I could understand them!) — the “backwards three,” the “pig’s tail,” the “upside-down y” — which made the whole process much quicker and easier.
By solving the puzzles together, we created our own shorthand. The more bombs we defused, the stronger our rapport became. There were times when we failed to disarm a module because I couldn’t figure out how a puzzle worked the first time — but the second time around, we nailed it. I started telling my partner, “Okay, this is the one where you hold down the button and tell me the color flashing,” and he knew what I meant and what to do. We defused bombs more quickly, even when the time limit grew shorter.
But it was tense. My fiancé was the one who could see the time ticking down, and while I sorted out a puzzle he might tell me, “Sixty seconds,” which made me feel even more pressured. But that’s part of the excitement. You might not defuse them all, but each time you try one, you gain experience with the puzzles, and your bomb-defusing skills grow along with your partnership.
The sheer size of the bomb defusal manual is also intimidating at first. Upon launching the game for the first time, I didn’t know where to start reading — so after skimming a few sections and flipping through the rest of the pages, I just told my partner, “Let’s go,” and we dove in to figure things out together as we played. Some puzzles were as simple as a process of elimination. Others involved multiple steps, remembering sequences, and communicating multiple actions clearly.
I’m pretty good at reading fast, digesting information, and making decisions. Meanwhile, my fiancé has a great eye for detail and described everything to me really thoroughly, which helped. There were still times when I told him, “Don’t tell me the colors, just tell me if this light is flashing,” or something like that, so he would give me the exact information I needed without bombarding me what what I didn’t need. The same happened in reverse, when I had to limit what I told him to do so he would understand the sequence of events. He also understood when to remain silent while I read through a section of the manual to parse out some new puzzle we hadn’t encountered before. You become pretty in tune with your partner over the course of the game.
It was a nerdy, thrilling adventure — more geeky for me with the manual, and probably much more full of excitement for my partner as he stared at the timer ticking down and cut wires on the bomb. We both enjoyed our roles.
I also think that because my partner had never seen the manual before — he just put on the VR headset and didn’t see my screen at all — he didn’t understand how I was working through the puzzles, which made things more interesting. And since I didn’t know what the bombs looked like or how the modules were even displayed to him, I had to trust him in return. We haven’t reversed our experiences yet, but I imagine the game might lose a little magic once we know what the other person sees. (Looking up images of the game for this post, I’m already getting spoilers!)
In any case, this unique set-up made for the perfect VR experience. I know the game is available in other formats (even mobile), so I recommend you pick it up however you want to play it! Defusing bombs has somehow become my favorite experience so far in VR — and I was just the one reading the manual. =)