Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes is exactly the party game to prove that virtual reality doesn’t have to be a simply single-player experience that blocks off the headset user from the rest of the world. In fact, it’s got one of the most unique multiplayer concepts I’ve ever seen in a game, and it delivers frantic, boisterous fun for everyone. Yet, it still requires a certain amount of skill due to its reliance on communication and teamwork. In short, it’s a ton of fun and extremely well done.
Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes is a very simple game at its core. It’s not a graphical marvel, given its scope. It doesn’t have a gorgeous soundtrack or some intuitive control scheme. It’s a simply made game, but it’s an insane amount of fun.
The headset user sees a small room with a briefcase bomb on the table in front of him or her. The player must describe what he or she sees to the other players in reality who are crowded around a Bomb Defusal Manual on the TV, a laptop, a phone or even printed out. The players with the manual must communicate with the defuser to solve puzzles and disarm the bomb before time runs out or before they accumulate too many strikes. Either way, failure results in a big bang.
The beauty of Keep Talking is that it’s so simple, yet so complex at the same time. First-time players will enjoy the easier bombs with only three puzzle modules on them. These relatively easy puzzles include cutting simple wires or pressing four tiles with symbols in the correct order. But those who want more of a challenge will have to go up against half a dozen difficult puzzles like cutting a series of complex wires, decoding a five-letter password, reading Morse Code and matching the communicated word with a specific frequency on a radio module, or much, much worse.
As the game goes on, it can become devilishly difficult, and it really requires good teamwork and rapid communication. It’s easy to get sucked into a level and really feel like there’s an actual, live bomb that needs to defuse. As the strikes rack up with mistakes and the clock ticks down to under a minute, panic often starts to set in. Heart rates rise. Calm, steady voices become shouts, and definitive answers from the manual readers become unsure guesses. Thoughtful decisions become Hail Marys, and skill often turns to luck.
And the difference between winning and losing can be as simple as the manual reader not discerning among the homophones “There,” “Their,” and “They’re” in the word-based “Who’s On First” module. Believe me, I know from experience.
But in all honesty, the experience feels exactly like you’ve always hoped it would. At some point or another, I’m sure you’ve fantasized about being a super cool secret agent who has to defuse a bomb and save the world. Keep Talking doesn’t actually turn you into James Bond, but it really makes you feel like a special operative. The adrenaline rush is awesome.
Even better, it’s the sort of game that is fun with any number of friends. Playing with one defuser and one manual reader is fun, and maybe it’s a bit easier to facilitate communication than with a crowd. But when three or four people are crowded around the manual, it’s possible to work on multiple things at once. The stakes are even raised as the crew has to work harder to keep it together and be a highly oiled machine of a team. Maybe one person does the talking, another works on decoding a puzzle while a third person works as a sort of fact-checker, looking for any mistakes that might be made and proofing them before they’re communicated to the defuser.
Or maybe it all crashes and burns because of stupid mistakes and loudmouthed players. Either way, Keep Talking provides the most local multiplayer fun I’ve had in a long time. No matter the outcome of a mission, everybody ends up smiling, laughing, chiding one another for mistakes and overall just having a blast. That’s co-op gaming at its finest, and it feels amazing. And since reading the manual doesn’t involve any gaming skills whatsoever, it’s very easily accessible to gamers and non-gamers alike.
There are enough puzzle types and randomly generated components within Keep Talking to make it a long-lived game worthy of its mere $15 price tag. It’s fun even after completion of all the bombs because if somebody new comes for a visit, it’s the sort of game that makes you say “Dude, you’ve gotta try this,” as you enthusiastically strap a headset on them and throw them into the madness.
With all that being said, Keep Talking is definitely a game best played in virtual reality. It’s possible to play the game without a headset on PC, but the headset is required on PS4. Even so, virtual reality adds a level of immersion that adds to the frenetic nature of the game; if you’ve got the option, you should never play Keep Talking without a headset unless you’re playing solo, of course.
Since the game doesn’t work without a PS VR headset on PS4, it does make it nearly impossible to play solo, which is a bit of a disappointment, but it also purposely reinforces the team-based aspect of the game. It would be too easy to cheat if all players could see the bomb on the TV screen. But at the same time, it would be nice to have the option to display the bomb without a headset for solo play.
As a nice touch, other players can actually view the bomb manual on the TV screen itself since the PS4 can display a different view for the headset user and TV viewers. This allows everyone to play the game without needing a laptop or other device to view the manual, which is incredibly convenient.
Even so, Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes is an absolute blast with few downfalls to speak of. It doesn’t allow for solo play without a PS VR headset, but it’s still a ton of fun to play with either a large or small group. The game is frantic and exciting, and thanks to the immersion offered by virtual reality, it does an impeccable job of making the experience feel real: the players really feel like they’re defusing a bomb together. With simple, fun gameplay and nearly endless replayability, Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes is the ideal party game and makes local co-op multiplayer more fun than it’s been in years.
This review is based on the PS4/PS VR version of the game and reflects the fact that the port does not take full advantage of the capabilities of the PS VR. The game plays roughly the same on PC, but the PC version does offer the option of playing solo without a headset, while the PS4 version does not. The game is fun on both platforms, but this review score reflects the restrictions imposed on the PS4 port.