GET THIS GAME: THE COMMAND-BARKING BRILLIANCE OF SLEEPING BEAST’S SPACETEAM


12.11.2012

Brandon Boyer

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Here’s the secret that Spaceteam hides: it’s not at all the co-op “space bridge simulator” that you might first assume from a cursory glance at its serviceably rendered and awkwardly labelled display screenshots. You might assume that its a simply a game about deep coordination, overcoming imaginary adversity, delegating responsibility.

It’s only when you see it in action (as via the video below), or get begrudgingly roped into playing it, that it all suddenly comes clear. All of those things are half-correct, but they don’t strike at the core of what Spaceteam actually is, which is the barest, perfect framework that mediates the pure joy of drunkenly shouting nonsense with and at friends.

Created by former BioWare programmer Henry ‘Sleeping Beast‘ Smith, its mechanics couldn’t be simpler: each of up to four players is given a distinct set of buttons, switches & dials and a rapid-fire set of commands that need to be completed within seconds.

Those commands might be on your own display, but more likely are on one of the others, and so each round begins and sustains itself with all players shouting at once for the others to carry out the command in front of them.

Spaceteam wouldn’t work at all if it didn’t elicit an extremely finely-tuned sense of impending panic, which comes not just from its countdown timer for each command, but its dynamically decaying display — each panel popping off its hinges and bursting into showers of sparks the worse you and your team perform, and external asteroid & wormhole threats that, typically, only one of you spots and needs to suddenly relay to the rest.

Even running at peak, calm capacity, you and your teammates will find the situation rapidly devolve into unmanageable chaos, usually within well less than a small handful of minutes, but, like all the best infinitely replayable games, a fast end always feels like your fault, and you’re consistently certain you can do better, this time, if everyone would just chill, the, fuck, out for like half a second and work as a team.

Smith seems to have anticipated that the game might not spread as virally as it has without being released for free — making it more or less impossible for your friends to refuse to join in — with optional micro-purchase packs that unlock trivial, cosmetic upgrades that serve as little more than a tip-jar to show your appreciation, which, to be honest, won’t take more than a few rounds for you to do, as you quickly realize that it is, in all honestly, one of the year’s best and most thoughtfully designed multiplayer experiences. [Spaceteam (App Store link)]

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