Lethal company — what’s the hype about anyways?

Okay, I may or may not have lied in the blurb. Despite also being a co-op game, and reaching similar levels of success as the two games I mentioned in my click-baity blurb, Lethal Company could not be more different than them. While it is comparable to the two games in how it also gained fame through exposure, with Twitch or Youtube gamers showing how fun (and easy!) the game is, attracting more people to play it, who then share it with their friends, so on and so forth; it deviates significantly from the two multiplayer games in the simple fact that it has variety. 


All three games rely on a basic premise and start with easy gameplay, so as to provide a comfortable entry-point for non-gamers, but while Among Us and Phasmophobia are confined to essentially the same setting and consistent gameplay, Lethal Company offers a myriad of experiences while playing it. Not only are there varying levels of difficulty for the different moons you and your friends land on, there are also unexpected elements both indoors and outdoors, with unpredictable weather conditions hindering your sight or mobility outdoors, and random landmines or automated turret guns that eliminate unsuspecting players while indoors. Oh, and did I mention there are monsters? All these randomized elements provide an unique experience every time you play the game, making the game highly replayable and non-repetitive. 


All this text and I somehow still haven’t arrived on Lethal Company’s most unique selling point — which is that it is somehow the funniest horror game. Don’t just trust me on this, there are a plethora of people dubbing it as such online. How does the game’s developer, Zeekerss (who also created other hit indie titles such as It Steals and The Upturned, bless him), manage to mix both horror and comedy? To answer that question, we need to first look at what makes comedy so hard to achieve in games. 


In most settings and mediums, comedians are normally in control of the pacing and perspective of the joke, reeling the audience in so they’d fall for the joke hook, line, and sinker. However, this is almost impossible to do in games, since the pacing and perspective would now be in the player’s control, and gamers aren’t exactly known for their liking to follow directions. Additionally, games that fail or are known for being bad at creating humor typically exclude the player, as they end up watching the joke happen, rather than being the one involved in it, which not only leads to less laughs, but also sometimes causes frustration since the player’s control is being taken away from them, when they have to half their gameplay just for a joke that they might not find funny. By allowing players to become the comedic foil, or to be the one to carry out the joke, causes them to be more engaged, and this interactive form of comedy conversely embraces the gamer’s role as essentially the god in game.


Focusing back on Lethal Company, it’s systemic flexibility and in-game items then provide the necessary set-up for comedic situations — ones that players create themselves, without the game forcing the jokes upon them. The fact that you can kill your friends in a variety of ways (pushing them off a cliff, hitting them with a shovel, you name it, you can probably do it), and then sell their corpse for more money to buy virtually useless items such as a toilet or a romantic table, shows how the game aids in creating humor by allowing the players to mess around. The inclusion of seemingly useful items that just turn out to be hindrances such as an impossible-to-control jetpack, a shovel that only kills a select few monsters, and an excessively loud (and annoying) air horn, only add to the possibility of funny situations, typically leading either to players dying in absurdly humorous ways, or to laughable screaming and panicking as a player struggles against a monster in their last moments, which is made audible to other players near them through proximity chat, with the sudden cut-off scream acting as a prompt for even more laughter. 


You may have noticed by now that the humour of this game is mainly derived from gallows humour, with players and viewers alike reacting to other players dying in dumb ways or laughing at their struggles. While the death of a teammate may not be a laughing matter in other games since it implies a lost resource or helping hand, thus hindering the progress of the team in-game, this fear of losing progress isn’t a problem in Lethal Company since you as a player already expect to die. And when death is the expected outcome, then situations that would’ve been frustrating in other games are now just fuel for laughs. Lethal Company thus leans into this opportunity for humour, since Zeekerss seems to be aware of how co-op games typically translates to funny and immature interactions while playing with friends, causing the game to ultimately not be taken seriously, so his game opts to lean into that lack of sincerity rather than insisting on serious gameplay. 


Aside from creating comedy, Zeekerss’ manipulation of typical co-op game features also adds to the horror in the game. Lethal Company practically forces you to cooperate with your teammates, with the limited communication and inventory (even flashlights aren’t a given and take up a whole slot within the mere four slots you are given for inventory) leading to a reliance on your friends. And once the player gets accustomed to the company (see what I did there) and conversation of their friends, it makes the inevitable solitude when your teammates are either split up and dead even more horrifying, since the indoor buildings you scavenge for loot in are entirely silent save for your footsteps clanging against the metal floor (or wooden, if you’ve progressed to that level already). Additionally, the in-game tools produces suspense organically, such as the walkie-talkies that you use to talk to far-away teammates requiring both hands, forcing you to forgo self-defense weapons or heavy loot for communication. Not only is this inconvenient, it also creates a feeling of paranoia when your teammate doesn’t reply, since they could be either dead, defending themselves against a monster, or simply too busy carrying items to reply — and you have no idea which case it is until you arrive back at the spaceship again.


Furthermore, the monsters that occupy both the indoor and outdoor spaces are rather distinct from the gaggle of loud, jumpscare-type enemies in horror games nowadays. For starters, none of them ‘jumpscare’ you per se — most of the monsters chase after you and you die a quiet death, with the player’s exclamation of shock and horror typically being the only sounds heard while being attacked, rather than an obnoxiously loud jumpscare sound effect. These monsters also lack consistency, as while enemies in other games typically have a set route or area that they are likely to spawn in, these monsters are randomly generated, creating a sense of fear every time you enter a new area since you never know what horrors lie within, and how exactly you can deal with them. The creatures that do emit sounds are sometimes even more horrifying, since they tend to be harder to avoid or defeat (the invincible ghost girl is accompanied by the tolling of bells and the location-tracking jester plays a distorted version of the jack-in-the-box theme as it winds up), and the presence of sound itself serves to send a chill down your spine when you play alone. Take the coil head for example, who operates in a way similar to SCP 173, except rather than teleporting closer to you, you get the nauseating audio experience of hearing its feet stomping over to you at an impossible speed, which sent literal chills down my spine the first time I encountered it.

With this masterful combination of well-executed horror and comedic elements, it’s no wonder that Lethal Company became a much-beloved co-op title almost overnight, with its sales surpassing Call of Duty V last year. And although the hype for the game has died down a bit now, it’s still attracting tens of thousands of players daily, and I, wilfully ignoring my degree, am definitely becoming one of them.

Featured image: PC games info on Flickr

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