Spaceteam, in its own developer’s words, is a ‘Cooperative Shouting’ video game. You and a bunch of your mates take the role of pilots in a virtual spaceship as you journey through the galaxy. Your phone screen doubles as your battle station, and in each round of gameplay there is a number of different actions you can perform. Your team also has many different actions too, and the game is basically about performing as many of these tasks as you possibly can, whilst avoiding wormholes and making sure your ship doesn’t fall apart.
The difficulty in Spaceteam lies in that actions only you can perform, may be sent to your shipmate’s screen. And vice-versa. In theory, this encourages team-work and communication, with you and your team firing off and receiving instructions from each other.
In practice, it’s absolute chaos.
At its best, Spaceteam takes the best parts of Overcooked, adds in the context of Star Trek Bridge Crew, and then sprinkles in some fantastically absurd humour, for an experience that is unrivalled in its simplicity.
As it’s a touchscreen game, it’s control scheme is also pleasantly tactile. For players that might not be comfortable with an analogue stick, or can never seem to find Q on a keyboard, the game can still be an easy pick-up-and-play title. All that is really asked of you is to tap, or swipe.
The simplicity of its controls however, disguises a real complexity in its gameplay. Simple tasks are all well and good, but they’re thrown at you and your team at such a speed that you barely have time to breathe. Even worse, as you continue to play, bits of your interface begin to fall away, and you have to perform maintenance on your battle station. Being able to turn the E-Lazer to 5 is a bit more difficult if the E-Lazer panel has literally fallen off the screen.
However the difficulty is organic. Never at any point are overly complex mechanics introduced suddenly to try and throw you off course. Instead it’s a very straightforward difficulty curve. It just rockets up quicker than you expect it to.
At certain points in the game, an incoming asteroids alert will flash across your screens, and it’s one players job to make sure that everyone else on the team gives their phones a wiggle to divert your ship off course. When this invariably happens, as well as other tasks asked of you in the game, it’s not just a case of politely asking your teams to shake their phones, or to turn the Fluxoflange to 1. Instead, you will find that you will LITERALLY BE SCREAMING AT YOUR TEAM MATES. Because god damn it Susan, I need you to listen to me when I tell you to twist the E-Nipple.
The difficulty in Spaceteam is in communication, and the game would be no fun if it was easy.
When I first played Spaceteam in 2013, it was with my partner and her little brother and sister. We hadn’t been dating too long, so her family and I were still in this awkward stage where we were being extra polite to each other.
By the time we hit Level 3 we were screaming all kinds of obscenities at each other. It was ace, and we’ve never looked back. We both hated each other, but grew together as a team. One bound together by the stress of flying our very own shared spaceship.
Back when I was at University, not long after I first encountered Spaceteam, and severely damaged my relationships with my flat mates because of it, I stumbled upon a project by a final year Digital Art student Sam Billingham. Created for his final project, Command Control was a physical manifestation of Spaceteam. Instead of having to tap away at your phone or tablet screens, you had physical buttons with which you could press, flick and turn buttons as those commands popped up on your screens.
What was previously a virtual cockpit in your Spaceteam spaceship, became real. There I was, stood either side of my friends as we were literally turning the Spectometer to Full.
Since then, I have seen the ‘cooperative shouting’ style of games become one of my favourite sub-genres. Games that are deceptively simple in their mechanics, such as Overcooked, but with such a frequency of instructions and moving parts that you need the temperament of the Dalai Lama to not panic after 30 seconds. Local cooperative games where communication is not only important, but utterly essential to the game, like Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes.
I hope that the recently released Star Trek Bridge Crew will be able to engage me in this way. I’ve not checked it out on VR, but it seems like the Spaceteam sequel I may be waiting for.
Whether it be Overcooked, Star Trek Bridge Crew, or Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, nothing makes me feel as much hatred, yet build as strong as a relationship with my friends, as a ‘cooperative game with added shouting’.
And it all started with Spaceteam.
What other cooperative shouting games have you played? Please help me ruin my closest relationships by telling me to play them in the comments!
Go and cooperatively shout at Cleon on Twitter. Twist his E-Nipple and he promises to turn your BetaRod to Full.