I can’t express enough how fun this game is.
From what I gather from the Steam forums and reviews, players who thought the game was boring or lacking either weren’t fully aware of the game’s complexity or they didn’t play it with a full group. To be fair, it’s a complex game, most of which you’ll be expected to learn on your own and while playing with others (though there is a campaign that serves as a tutorial, but it was released later on). Plus, if you can’t convince a full group to play, you’ll be out of luck, because the game’s online is unfortunately dead. Either way, it’s a shame, because many people who tried it ended up overlooking a unique and interesting game, and others passed it up because everyone told them it was a dead and/or boring game.
So, what is this game? The developers previously described it as an “XCOM-like game with Werewolf/Mafia party game features.” However, that description is brief, so let me explain. It’s “XCOM-like” in the sense that it’s turn-based, handles actions made within a turn with action points, features wall cover of varying defensive levels, features a variety of both ranged weapons (pistols, rifles, lasers, grenades, grenade launchers, rocket launchers, and EMP rays) and melee (whips and unarmed), takes place in a science fiction setting with aliens against humans, and involves similar combat and risk management tactics (particularly due to the fog of war).
The rules of the game are inspired by Dmitry Davidoff’s Werewolf/Mafia party game, which is, from Wikipedia, “[…] a conflict between two groups: an informed minority, and an uninformed majority. At the start of the game, each player is secretly assigned a role affiliated with one of these teams.” Basically, there are six players in a game, two of which will be randomly chosen as monsters and who can see other monsters/infected civilians as well as share their view range. Human players are not “in the know” and have a limited view range, suffering from the penalties of the fog of war to a greater extent.
Humans and monsters play very differently. Humans have a Morale bar, which increases when you take action against a monster or save a civilian, or decreases if you wrongly take action against another human. Humans can spend their Morale to combine their pickups and weapons into special abilities (with dozens of combinations equaling dozens of abilities). The human abilities are all unique and wildly alter the game’s dynamics: there is an ability that lets you share your view with another, an ability that enables you to disguise yourself as a monster, and an ability that lets you teleport to any spot on the map, just for a few examples.
Meanwhile, monsters move farther than humans per turn, can infect humans and can shapeshift into the form of the humans they infect or into any form randomly. Infecting humans and converting them into new monsters is typically the most efficient way for the monsters to win a match. It takes two turns for a monster to infect a human, and getting attacked before the infection is complete will halt the process. After a human civilian or player is infected, it takes five turns before they become a monster and switch to the other team; however, this can be circumvented either by using a syringe or by taking your own life with your gun, which will make you jump into another human civilian on the map rather than join the monsters.
As a human or a monster disguised as a human, you can also have civilians follow you, so you can either keep them by your side to make it harder for monsters to infect them or take them to isolated zones so you can infect them as a monster. This can lead to many different kinds of situations among players.
Right now, there are four different game modes, each with its own unique stage. Each game mode introduces a different set of objectives for the humans and monsters from which a vast number of complex scenarios can emerge. Each stage also has a different layout and different environmental mechanics. For example, some stages have ferns you can conceal yourself in, and camera systems to activate and doors you can seal from a computer terminal. One stage has a ventilation system that can be contaminated or purified, while another has escape pods for civilians. With all of these elements plus the differences between humans and monsters, you can play dozens of matches of just one game mode on the same map and not one match will play out the same for you.
And when you die, it isn’t game over for you right away. Every stage has a number of civilians on it that the player could take control of after they die, and exactly which civilian you jump into is assigned at random, with the sole condition being for the monsters: monsters can only jump into civilians who have been infected. This makes dying for the monsters a riskier business at the start of the match, but the monsters’ superior mobility and combat strength as well as the tactical disguise they are given makes up for it.
You can also choose to skip your turn and feign as an uncontrolled civilian so that other players don’t immediately notice who you jumped into, and you can employ this tactic to surprise other players. It’s up to you. When you communicate through the game’s chat, you’ll appear with the name of your civilian, so use this to your advantage whenever possible.
Up until now, I have just been reviewing the multiplayer aspect. There is a singleplayer campaign as well, which was released later on. The campaign serves the purpose of introducing these rules and mechanics to the player, while also making each civilian design a character in a story, adding some narrative depth to the game’s setting. The writing of the campaign is humorous, and some of the ways that the mechanics are introduced to the player are clever and interesting. The cinematics also seem to visibly resemble Another World, which grants the campaign an old school adventure vibe. The campaign is also fairly long, coming in at over 30 playable missions, and can get pretty challenging.
When all is said and done, I am not a Monster is a blast with company. All of these rules, features, and systems combine to create a game full of uncertainty, surprise, trust issues and much hilarity. The name of the game is deception: how well can you deceive your opponents? How well can you detect deception? Will you be betrayed, or will you betray someone? Will you succeed in gaining someone’s trust, or will you falsely accuse someone on your side? Ultimately: can you become a better monster than your opponent in order to win? The possibilities are immense. I have straight up blown people’s goddamned minds with some of the tricks I have pulled off in this game, and I have exploded with wicked laughter from some of the shenanigans I have seen from other players. This is a well-crafted game with a highly immersive multiplayer design that we don’t ordinarily see in games today, and it sadly flew under so many people’s radars.
As for any negatives, this game definitely needs some more stages for the multiplayer game modes. After a while, you will learn the four stages almost perfectly, and while the game will continue throwing curveballs at you due to the complex mechanics and rules, the element of surprise will eventually fizzle out. The singleplayer campaign introduced many new ship areas that could be used as multiplayer maps, but unfortunately the developers have not done this. Perhaps the sales were too modest to justify it. On top of that, it needs a slightly modified pricing model: as it stands, the multiplayer aspect is sold as DLC for $1.99, while the singleplayer campaign is sold as the base game for $10.99. This is an odd and unconventional choice that can be confusing or off-putting and is likely affecting the sales even further. But these issues are minor, and it will take you many hours of playing, far more than necessary to justify the purchase, before you reach a point where you feel that you need more content.
To end this review, I’ll just say the game is really gorgeous and has fantastic art direction—I heartily wish more games used the retro science fiction aesthetic so well. The interface, including the main menu, is designed to appeal to retro science fiction novel readers. So if you want a multiplayer game based around classic party game rules with a strong retro science fiction theme, look no further, but remember to bring some friends with you.