A still from Lethal Company

The Hottest Game of Thanksgiving Weekend Is Also the Stuff of Nightmares

It's easy to learn, hard to survive.

If you went home for Thanksgiving and happened to have a decent gaming computer back at your parents’ place, chances are your friends invited you to a round of Lethal Company.

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Released on October 23 on Steam, the game tasks up to four players with collecting various bits, bobs, and thingamajigs across a series of abandoned moons. Along the way, players must traverse buildings infested with creepy alien monsters, where one wrong move (or one wrong glance) is the difference between life and death.

So, why is Lethal Company such a runaway success? What made this game take off during the holidays, and why is it such an instant classic? Let me explain, as someone who started Lethal Company over the holiday break and simply can’t stop playing it now.

How did Lethal Company get so popular?

Lethal Company saw its first major spike right around November 18, the weekend before Thanksgiving, followed by a massive leap forward one week later. As Americans took off for the holidays, they sat at home, browsing TikTok, wondering what to play with their friends before the long weekend ended.

Lethal Company was already gaining a viral following on the social media platform as YouTubers and Twitch streamers began playing, and it wasn’t long before TikTok was flooded with hilarious clips showing content creators’ unfortunate adventures.

An example of Lethal Company's gameplay

Although Lethal Company scored its highest peak player count on Sunday night, right before the Thanksgiving break ended, the game remains immensely popular even after the holiday. Over the past seven days, Lethal Company was the 12th most watched game on Twitch, according to Sully Gnome.

In theory, nothing about Lethal Company is particularly new. Horror co-op games have been around for ages, with four-player ghost-hunting title Phasmophobia offering similar survival horror-like gameplay in 2020. Nor is Lethal Company looking to significantly innovate on the co-op survival horror genre. The title’s gameplay loop is surprisingly simple: Land on a moon, explore an abandoned facility, collect material, and try to survive the horrors that lurk within. Try your best to bring all the scrap back to the ship, and make sure you hit quota on the last day. If you don’t, you’ll be jettisoned out to space.

Why you should really buy Lethal Company already

What makes Lethal Company so enjoyable isn’t some sort of overarching complexity, nor a desire to amaze players with tons of never-before-seen new features. There are no skill trees to unlock, no gimmicks to be had. Rather, solo developer Zeekerss offers a multiplayer experience that’s been painstakingly refined, throwing players into the lowest lows of terror and the highest highs of cathartic relief, all by keeping things as straightforward as possible.

Moons are static entities with familiar landscapes, but the facilities players explore are procedurally generated each day, offering endless labyrinths to get lost in. Players communicate with each other through proximity chat, and the acoustics of different areas change the way players sound. Where you hear a player and how they sound can help teams stay together if they’re split apart. Just as well, when a player suddenly and unexpectedly dies to a monster’s attack, their screams of fright and panic are all the more realistic: first an echoed scream in the hallway, then nothing.

Your voice is a blessing and a curse in this way, as unexpected shouts or screams can panic your teammates—and your voice can even attract enemies lurking in the shadows.

Monsters roam the corridors alongside players, but the game doesn’t hold your hand in telling you how to survive encounters with these alien creatures. This creates a trial-and-error experience, and given how many enemies quickly and easily dispatch players, a close call with a hostile entity sparks just as much fright on the 100th time as the first.

Lethal Company offers one thing more than any, though: It doesn’t get in its own way. Its simplicity lets players feel embedded in the game’s world, allowing them to revel in story after story with each (mis)adventure. One time, my friend ran outside the ship at the crack of dawn, only to be swarmed by circuit bees. When I ran outside to make sure she was still alive, another swarm chased after me. As I screamed to my friends to close the ship door, we accidentally pressed the “close door” and “open door” buttons simultaneously—reopening the door and resulting in my untimely demise. Since then, my friends and I now have “Bee-TSD” around circuit bee nests.

Another time, two other friends and I crawled through the bowels of a facility, only for my crewmates to be cornered and webbed up by bunker spiders. Realizing I was alone, I was only able to make it back to the ship by sneaking around the spider, uttering “oh fuck” and “oh shit” as I carried an enormous, glowing apparatus in both of my hands. “I’m the hero of this playthrough,” I said afterwards, my friends patting me on the back for my clutch play.

Lethal Company may not have a lot of bells and whistles, but that’s because Zeekerss clearly spent a significant amount of time making sure the game’s core gameplay is as enjoyable as possible. There’s a quota to reach, there are dark hallways to explore, there are monsters that may or may not chase after you, and all this is damn good fun. Lethal Company has its priorities straight, and this gives way to all the complex emotions and stories that players can have as they play, easily making this indie horror game worth your 10 bucks.

(featured image: Zeekerss)

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Image of Ana Valens
Ana Valens
Ana Valens (she/her) is a reporter specializing in queer internet culture, online censorship, and sex workers' rights. Her book "Tumblr Porn" details the rise and fall of Tumblr's LGBTQ-friendly 18+ world, and has been hailed by Autostraddle as "a special little love letter" to queer Tumblr's early history. She lives in Brooklyn, NY, with her ever-growing tarot collection.